What is it?

The Tesla Model S is the quintessential electric car. Launched way back in 2012, Tesla has sold over 200,000 of these battery-powered saloons, providing the company with the funds to build the Model X SUV, and the Model 3, the small saloon designed to bring all-electric motoring to the masses.

The Model S, however, is not for the masses. You can have it in three guises in the UAE – 75D, 100D and P100D – but whichever option you choose, you’re going to be spending a lot of cash for the privilege of guilt-free motoring. The cheapest model, the 75D, starts at 326,000, but that price rockets up to AED 560,500 for the high-performance P100D with the infamous ‘Ludicrous Mode’.

Naturally, the P100D is the one we tested.

What do you get for your half-a-million dirhams? Well, you get supercar performance. The P100D will do the 0-100 km/h dash in 2.7 seconds, and go on to a top speed of 250 km/h. It’ll also provide a theoretical range of 613 km, running on electric-only power. That means you can speed about safe in the knowledge that you’re contributing nothing to air pollution, the burning of fossil fuels and the emission of greenhouse gases. Going green may be expensive, but it sure feels good.

 

How does it drive?

Let’s get Ludicrous Mode out of the way first. The Tesla Model S P100D is the fastest car we’ve ever driven, hands-down. The way it gathers pace beggars belief. You stomp on the throttle, and 762 bhp is instantly available. There’s no build-up of revs; it’s just a hammer-blow to the face as you rocket towards the horizon. The G-force pummels your stomach to the point that, if you do several top-speed runs, you’ll end up feeling nauseous. It’s insanely fast, this thing. Ludicrous, if you like.

But you’re not going to be driving about in Ludicrous Mode most of the time. If you did, you’ll see your batteries and hairline deteriorating rapidly. Happily, there are two other driving modes to choose from – Sport and Chill – and there’s a lot to distinguish the three from each other.

Chill is at the opposite end of the spectrum from Ludicrous. It turns the Tesla Model S from a mind-blowing super-saloon into something of a luxury limo. It’s quiet and refined, and in no way encourages you to drive quickly. Even when you stomp on the throttle, you’ll find that there’s only a moderate amount of power available – enough to get you up to highway speeds, but nowhere near enough to give you goosebumps.

Funnily enough, Chill mode is probably the best fit for the Model S. After all, this is a comfortable, spacious saloon, and wafting around silently in it is an extremely pleasant experience. The steering is light, the ride compliant – it’s no wonder limo companies are turning out to be great Tesla customers. You’ll get more kilometres between charges when you drive like this, too.

Sport is a nice mix between Ludicrous and Chill. While it doesn’t provide access to the full 762 bhp that can be extracted from the batteries, you do get some pretty spritely performance – enough to see 100 km/h in well under 5 seconds. The ride and steering, meanwhile, stay relaxed and light. It makes for an effective way to see off motorway miles with ease.

If you do happen across some corners, though, the Tesla Model S won’t disappoint. Delve into the sub-menus on the enormous infotainment screen, and you can add artificial weight to the steering and firm up the suspension. Even with everything set to their most comfortable settings, though, you’ll find that the Model S is quick and responsive through the bends, with the car managing to hold incredible levels of traction through fast corners. The steering is a little distant, providing very little feedback in terms of what’s happening to the front wheels, but it’s easy enough to sense what the car’s doing and adjust inputs accordingly.

One thing that really takes getting used to, however, is the regenerative braking. It effectively kills your ability to coast – if you’re not on the accelerator, you’re slowing. A lot. This can be annoying at first, but then you notice the green charging bar filling up as you slow, and it becomes something of a mission to max it out. Plus, if you don’t like it, you can turn it off.

Otherwise, the faux-leather (for environmental reasons) seats are excellent, the cabin is spacious and bright, and the back seats fold flat, meaning you can carry large loads about no problem.

And range anxiety isn’t really an issue in the 100 models, which carry larger battery capacities (though the P100D uses the extra juice for power, rather than range). The claimed range is 613 km, but you’ll probably get around 500 km in real life. That still isn’t bad, so long as you can plan your journeys around the half-hour it’ll take to charge through a Tesla supercharger, or eight hours through a normal mains outlet. For most people in the UAE, though, journeys aren’t going to be long enough to have to worry about running out of juice.

Interior quality and tech

Being a car designed to usher in a new world of personal transportation, the Tesla Model S obviously goes big on tech. As a result, there are no buttons on the dashboard – every control is instead found on an enormous, 17-inch tablet display at the top of the centre console.

It looks complicated, but what’s actually disarming is the simplicity of the whole thing. You climb in, and your first instinct is to search for some sort of start/stop button. But you’re a Tesla driver, not a caveman, so there’s no need. Instead, the key fob – which looks like a little toy Model S – recognises you’re in the car, and you can simply switch the gear selector to Drive and go. It’s the same story when you exit the vehicle – just get out and it’ll turn itself off and lock.

And while you can just drive about in your Tesla without paying much attention to the screen, you’ll want to unpack its myriad functions. There’s on-demand internet radio, meaning you can tune into any station from anywhere in the world. There’s an amazing sat-nav that’s basically Google Maps displayed on the gigantic display. There’s a properly good park-assist function that displays your distances from whatever objects are around the car. The lists goes on.

And that’s before you start diving into the car’s settings. Through the screen, you can change everything from how long the interior light stays on after you exit to how forceful you want the regenerative braking to be. And you get notifications about when your car’s due a service, and when over-the-air updates have been delivered. It’s properly futuristic, this thing.

The same can be said of the overall cabin design. It feels like a concept car that was actually put into production as is. There are swooshing lines along the side-sills and large glass panels, and the fact that there are hardly any buttons only adds to this feeling of technological advancement.

The materials aren’t quite up to the same standard as you’d find on, say, a BMW M5, but they’re by no means unacceptable on a car as expensive as the Model S. Overall, the Tesla Model S feels like a quality product, and it’s easy to see why its owners are so fond of it.

Running costs

This is where things get interesting. While you’ll have to fork out at least AED 326,000 for your Tesla Model S, you should at least be able to run it for next to nothing, right? That’s tempting with petrol prices climbing.

As its name suggests, the Tesla Model S P100D contains a 100 kWh battery. In Dubai, buying your electricity from DEWA, filling the battery up from zero will cost you AED 23. That’s incredibly good value for 500 km of driving. We run a daily Fiat 500, one of the least thirsty cars available, and 500 km will cost us around AED 80.

Plus, if you’re so inclined, you can top up your Tesla at various free (for now) charging points dotted around Dubai, so if you were really looking to save money, you wouldn’t have to spend a single dirham on battery juice.

But what about services and battery replacements? Well, Tesla will give you an eight-year, unlimited mileage warranty on your car, including the battery. And if anything does go wrong with the car, Tesla reckons 95% of issues can be fixed via over-the-air software tweaks that are worked out by running through the car’s diagnostics.

If you’re running the P100D, though, one thing you’ll have to budget for its tyres. Our test car ran on high-performance Pirelli rubber, and those tyres don’t come cheap. Likewise, you’ll have to set aside quite a bit for fully comprehensive insurance – a half-million-dirham car is expensive to cover no matter how green it is. Expect to pay at least AED 28,000 for a fully comprehensive policy.

Our verdict

The Tesla Model S really does feel like we’ve arrived in a petrol-free future. It delivers real-world usability with its impressive range, and enormous thrills if you opt for the P100D. Make no mistake, this is a hugely expensive car, and Tesla’s credentials as a luxury brand aren’t quite up there with the established manufacturers. But if you’ve got the money and you want a taste of things to come, we’d recommend the Model S over any other electric car (and even over a lot of conventional cars, too).

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