Tesla Model S P100D review: the ultimate status symbol of California cool
Sep 8, 2017  Tamara Warren

[images  / Tamara Warren / The Verge

From the driver’s seat of a flaming-red Tesla Model S, a young teenage boy
sends a text message: “Gotta charge my car see you in the AM.” It’s a scene
from the family-friendly movie Disconnected, in which the Tesla Model S
plays a starring role.

The lead character Shawn, played by Bridger Zadina, makes an eight-hour
journey from Los Angeles up to Santa Cruz. Shawn, who is too young to have a
driver’s license, steals the car from parents’ garage in an act of rebellion
and desperate teenage desire: he needed an escape route to reach his crush.
There’s a scene that depicts his journey, window-down, wind whipping, as the
gigantic 17-inch Tesla screen guides him on his journey up the Pacific
Coastal Highway 1, a symbolic break away from the control of his helicopter
scientist parents. The only snafu: because he’s driving a Tesla, mom and dad
can track his whereabouts using the Tesla app from a phone.
" I was in Tesla country"

Two weeks ago, I drove a Tesla Model S P100D along the California coast in a
similar racy red hue. I was commuting from San Francisco to Pebble Beach and
back for Monterey Car Week, and I also took the long way, toward Highway 1,
one of the world’s most fantastic roads. To get there, I made my way from
the clogged Silicon Valley suburbs onto a two-lane, twisty road surrounded
by pine trees, through a bit of mountainous terrain, and at last, onto wide
stretches of road on the edge of the Pacific Ocean. Monterey is north of Big
Sur, the section of Pacific Coast Highway that’s still closed for repairs
after a massive landslide wiped a chunk of it away.

It’s one of the best weeks to drive to Monterey Peninsula, because of the
classic car eye candy that can be seen along the way. But still, I was
reminded by the glint of the T-logos all around me on the freeway that I was
in Tesla country. I came across at least a dozen Model S drivers, and at one
point, several of us were lined up in a queue, as if in formation. There’s
even a Supercharger station in Monterey, which, with 315 miles of range, I
was able to reach, without stopping, to charge along the way.

It may seem as if the Model 3 hype has stolen away the sheen from its more
substantial sports sedan, the original symbol of Tesla grandeur. While the
Model 3 earns the title of Car the Summer, it’s splashy debut helped nudge
the Model S past a tipping point. After five years on the road, in many
markets, the S is no longer an eccentric outlier, but instead it’s the
luxury standard-bearer, and the obvious car that you see flying by you near
wealthy California enclaves. As of the most recent quarter, Tesla has sold
22,026 Model S vehicles this year.

Sure, the Tesla P100D customer who can spend $162,000 (the sticker price on
the model I tested) can likely also afford another luxury car or two, but
it’s hard to match the cache and head nods one earns while driving this
thing. When it comes to the S exterior design, only slight sculptural
changes have been made to the front fascia since it debuted in the 2012
model year. Its understated form is ubiquitous.
"The S is no longer an eccentric outlier"

As Elon Musk pointed out at the Model 3 reveal, the S is still the more
desirable car, and the P100D is the top performance dog in its S range.
After driving both the 3 and Model S P100D, even for a short time, there’s
really no direct performance comparison. We’ve already broken down the
differences between the Model S and the Model 3; while Model 3 has early
adopter cache, the Model P100D is in another class. It is the ultimate
statement car of the moment, more than car makes that come with a higher
price tag like Ferrari, Porsche, or McLaren: I’m wealthy. I am forward
thinking. And now, get outta my way.

Part of its appeal is that Tesla is playing the numbers game. Though P100D
debuted a year ago, we’re still talking about its jaw-dropping statistics. A
few weeks before I drove this model, as a sideshow during the Tesla Model 3
handover, a Tesla employee demoed Ludicrous Plus mode for me, illuminating
Easter egg moments and all. This push of a button earns Tesla the industry
best 0–60 mile per hour time of 2.4 seconds, and the stomach-dropping
delight / panic it creates (depending on the passenger) to brunt intensity.
The closest comparison I can conjure is the memory of a delirious Formula
One three-seater at track in France. But unlike most cars capable of
dizzying speeds, it has more practical qualities.

Sure the Tesla is fun to stunt in, but sometimes a mid to full-size sedan
can feel cumbersome to handle on more meandering roads. But the Model S
really never feels like too much car. It has a 116.5-inch wheelbase, and is
196 inches long (equivalent to the BMW 5 Series), but it handles its girth
with grace on winding stretches of pastoral roads. Its design language
doesn’t blare supercar, so it doesn’t feel weird or ostentatious to pull
into a diner parking lot.

The biggest problem of driving this Model S: keeping speed in a sensible
range. It’s easy to fly. This is one reason to engage AutoPilot’s Traffic
Aware Cruise Control as a way to hold back on temptation, capping off
highway speeds at 90 miles per hour.

I experimented with the newest update of the second-generation AutoPilot,
powered by a version of Nvidia's Drive PX2, in spurts throughout the drive.
Though the car now has eight cameras as part of its plan to reach full
self-driving capabilities, it is only using four. The cameras add 360-degree
visibility and 820 feet of sight. When the icon, which resembles a blue
alien, appears signaling access to AutoPilot functions, I squeezed the lever
next to the steering wheel to engage AutoSteer. As it tracked the lane, it
lacked the fluidity of the natural body movements of hand to wheel in its
efforts to navigate the road. But I never felt as if I was in a precarious
position when it was engaged.

On the more beautiful stretches of road, I switched back to the more
satisfying sensation of driving. I treated AutoPilot as the passenger who
might hold the wheel when I was slightly distracted, rather than as the
student driver who is being tested for proficiency. I did allow it to guide
me toward my exit, but I wasn’t ready to give up control and put all the
system’s capabilities to the test. Test-driving a press car on unfamiliar
public roads is no time to discover my inner stunt driver. I remembered the
strict warning about using AutoPilot in beta: at my own risk.

Had I lived with this vehicle for a bit longer, I would have tried out its
other abilities: such as merging onto another highway and self-parking. But
when I longed to use AutoPilot most — during headache-inducing Silicon
Valley commuter traffic on the 280 — it wasn’t accessible. Tesla isn’t ready
to let drivers zone out in rush hour just yet.

In some ways, what makes the S appealing is its versatility. Its
spaciousness makes it well-suited toward weekend getaways, and what makes it
feel like a larger car. My small carry-on bag was swallowed by the ample
trunk space in the rear, and I still had the front trunk at my disposal.
It’s ideal for the traveler who doesn’t travel light.

The car I drove on my Pebble Beach journey came off the Fremont, California,
assembly line in June. It had a base price of $140,000, and was souped up
with another $22,000 of features. Those upgrades included the $5,000
Enhanced Autopilot, a $3,300 white interior, and $4,500 for 21-inch gray
wheels. It also had an all-glass panoramic roof for $2,000, a subzero
package priced at $1,000, and was capped off by the $3,500 premium upgrades
package like a battery range upgrade, red brake calipers, and my favorite
nifty feature: Bio-Weapon Defense Mode, which is an air-filtration system
salve for allergy-sufferers like me, who are often sneezing at the wheel.
All these creature comforts, paired with the extended range of the P100D,
worked to make the ideal road trip candidate.

My primary interactions with the screens were for navigating unfamiliar
roads, where charging stations are clearly marked. As my colleague Lauren
Goode wrote, the displays are easy to interpret, there are no complicated
dials or gauges, and the speedometer is in big, bold numerals. One
observation: using the map on the screen’s considerable space felt like the
digital version of a road book map splayed across the dash.

Even after five years, it’s too early to say if the Model S will have the
staying power of a design like the Porsche 911, a classic which has never
really felt out of date. Will we see the same basic Tesla form on the road
in 50 years, or are we near the peak of the Model S era? As Tesla works to
provide all of its vehicles with full self-driving capabilities, it doesn’t
seem to be planning for obsolescence.

A few months ago, several auto industry leaders said the industry is
watching Tesla and talking to its customers. “We have great respect for what
Tesla has done,” Porsche president and CEO Klaus Zellmer said in an
interview. “They provided technology that people didn’t believe in a luxury
segment in a high price point, but they are still not making any money. I
can understand why there is this hype about Tesla.”

The staying power of the high-end Model S in its current iteration may soon
be tested by a number of new electric luxury models by Lucid, Karma, and
Fisker. All-electric cars like the Aston Martin Rapide are coming soon and
most recently the Mercedes-Maybach electric convertible concept was unveiled
ahead of the Frankfurt Motor Show.

Until Model 3 cars reach actual customers, Tesla remains a luxury car
company, and a maker of a bold sports sedan and a space-aged luxury
crossover. The success of the Model 3, and its ability to make good on money
spent, will play a large part in this future. Tesla claimed it will produce
1,500 Model 3s in the third quarter of 2017, and 10,000 per week by the end
of 2018. But it’s about more than its electric powertrain that gives Tesla
an edge in the small electric car market. It’s the pivot to AutoPilot and
industry firsts, like over-the-air-updates attributed to Elon Musk’s
ambitious vision that set it apart. The outside might not change, but Tesla
serves a new kind of gearhead: one who’s interested in software, radar, and

And that’s why, at least for today, the Model S P100D retains its status as
the car of choice for California cool, where superchargers never seem to be
too far. Living with the P100D every day isn’t about the psychosomatic
abilities to break record speeds or to let the car drive. The whole point of
a car like this is knowing that, as the car updates, your car will do more.
"Tesla remains a luxury car company"

A few days after I returned from Monterey Car Week, I watched Disconnected.
At one point in Shawn’s drive, it looks like the jig is up when he parks at
a hotel in order to charge and the hotel manager finds him sleeping there in
the morning: “You unplug your spaceship and get off my lot, and I’ll
consider not calling the cops” In the end, if not a feel-good film, it’s a
feel-better film, and his fate is never really in question. The Tesla stays
pristine, making the ride home a smooth journey, with Shawn’s scientist dad
at the wheel, back in charge.
[© 2017 Vox Media]

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