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Tesla Model S P85
If you think about American cars, it's likely that you'll fall into one of two camps. Memories of dire, ancient rental cars, the size of Utah, with woolly steering and an aversion to going round corners will be what many recall about driving stateside.
Either that or thoughts will be of large capacity muscle cars, bulging V8s, drive-in movies, and cruising with the roof down with some beautiful girl sitting next to you. So when we learnt that a car from the good 'ole United States of America would be arriving on test, it was hard not to recall these stereotypes. The car in question is a Tesla - a what I hear you say? A Tesla, made in Fremont, California, just up the road from Silicon Valley and home to the biggest bluechip companies.
When Tesla's designers and engineers got together to come up with the Model S, it's clear that they tore up the rule book. Brainstorming sessions no doubt discovered a list of pet hates for drivers, and the company sought to solve them. And the end result is a creation that is like no other car on the road. Judging by the number of times that the Eco Car team were stopped in the street and engaged in conversion by passers-by, this is a car that some have heard about but never seen. There were people that asked - what is it?
And others that knew what it was, but wanted to take a closer look. If Tesla can harness even a little bit of this enthusiasm for the marque, we reckon the firm has a bright future ahead. Think of an electric car, and it immediately conjures up the worries of range anxiety, problematic charging and high cost.
Thankfully, with a optimum range of 312 miles, that's one of the problems that shouldn't be much of an issue, as a single charge, in perfect conditions, should get you from London to Cardiff and back. Tesla has a range of different home chargers on offer for buyers, reducing the painstakingly slow 27 hours for a full charge if you plug it into the mains using a regular three-pin plug. For instance, a wall charger will bring that time down by half, and using one of Tesla's network of free Superchargers that have been set-up across the UK and Europe, it takes around 30 minutes to get 170 miles of charge.
The Model S drives in a way that no electric car should have any business doing. Acceleration to 62mph is in a lightning fast 4.2 seconds, and the first time you floor the right-hand pedal, you're pushed back into the driver's seat and wonder what has just happened. This side of a supercar, there's nothing else quite like it. And this performance is delivered in almost-silence with zero tailpipe emissions. Make no mistakes, this is a massive car - almost 2.2 metres across and 5 metres in length, which puts it into BMW 7 Series and Porsche Panamera territory. And yet, it doesn't drive like a large car, feeling lithe and light on its tyres, with only a modicum of body lean when cornering, although you do sometimes feel the weight transfer in tight bends. It's quite easy to get the back sliding out if you drive like a loon, but in everyday motoring it is incredibly docile.
And thanks to the adaptive suspension, there's limousinelike ride comfort, gliding over bumps and potholes with grace. Simplicity was no doubt one of the engineer's watch words as everything about the Tesla is designed to make life easy.
Walk up to the car with your key fob in your pocket and the door handles automatically extend as you approach. When you get in, the enormous 17-inch i-Pad-like screen (yes it really is 17-inches - the size of a portable television on its side) is ready and raring to go, already displaying Google Earth mapping. There's no start button to press, the system is already ready, and you just need to select forward or reverse on the column stalk to get moving.
What about the handbrake we hear you ask, well that's taken care of, too, automatically releasing and activating as you go. It all feels quite odd at first - like you should be doing more - but becomes second nature after a few days. And that's the beauty of the Tesla - everything is so easy and simple. Cabin quality is excellent, with softtouch materials wherever you look and feel.
There's some Mercedes-Benz switchgear that you'll recognise, thanks to a tie-up between the two companies, and there's acres of legroom both front and rear. Headroom is superb, even with the optional sunroof, and middle seat comfort in the back is great because of the almost totally flat floor. There's even the option of a pair of rear facing child seats for the boot, increasing the number of chairs to seven.
The driver's seat is beautifully supportive and multi-adjustment to both the chairs and steering column make it easy to find a perfect position. Oddly there's no door pockets, but there's a large central tray that runs between the two front seats and underneath the dashboard. It's a curious solution, but one that seems to work. At the rear, there's a huge boot, with 745 litres of space with the seats in the upright position, opening up to 1,654 litres with them folded down. And if you thought that was good, there's a further trick up the Tesla's sleeve, as there's a second storage area in the nose of the car that can carry a further 150 litres.
This is one astonishing car. Yes it wears a price tag of almost £70k, but so do many diesel luxury saloons. As an alternative to a Jaguar XJ or Audi A8, it's an impressive machine, and if you have the cash burning a hole in your pocket, and can make one fit into your lifestyle and live with the 300-odd mile range, we recommend that you buy, buy, buy.
Made in Fremont, California, USA
Configuration 5-door hatchback, 5-seats, rear-wheel-drive
Transmission 1-speed automatic
Power output 416bhp
Maximum torque 443lb ft
Top speed/0-62mph 130mph/4.2 secs
CO2 emissions (tax band) 0g/km (A)
Range 312 miles
Recharge time: AC 3.7kW/AC 7.4kW/22kW 27/13/4 hours
Insurance group/BIK rate 50/0%
Size (length/width with mirrors) 4,970/2,187mm
Boot space (minimum/maximum) (front) 150 litres (rear) 745/1,654 litres
Kerb/max towing weight 2,100/0kg
Euro NCAP safety rating HHHHH
Tesla Model S P85 - image gallery