This article is written purely from the perspective of a performance car driver, not someone who is interested in the whys and wherefores of the Model S happening to be powered by an electric motor (or two electric motors in ‘D’ variants).
Introduction and context
To provide some context for the article, I think that it is worth mentioning that I am a long time car enthusiast and have owned a variety of high performance and super cars. I currently have a P85 Model S and am anxiously awaiting delivery of my P85D in August 2015 (we are a little behind in the UK!).
For the avoidance of doubt, the performance numbers quoted in this article refer to the Tesla Model S P85D.
Is the Model S a performance car?
In accelerative terms the answer is a resounding ‘yes’! The Tesla Model S P85D variant is very fast. It is the fastest-accelerating saloon car in the world by a considerable margin, and will out accelerate motoring icons – such as Ferraris Enzo and 599 GTO models – from 0-60MPH. The most incredible part of the Model S performance happens from 0-30MPH, which takes 1.6 seconds (thanks to all wheels providing traction and the 100% availability of torque from a standstill).
So whilst the Model S is absolutely a performance car on the basis of its huge acceleration, it is important to note that it weighs in excess of 2 tonnes. Unfortunately, despite its highly advanced drivetrain, it cannot defeat the laws of physics, which means that, as a heavy car, it will not be as nimble as a sports car when rounding corners or braking.
It is important to note that, once the Model S exceeds 80 MPH, the lack of total sustained power versus an internal combustion engine considerably blunts the acceleration of the car. So, above this speed, it moves (in terms of acceleration) from a Ferrari-beater to simply a fast saloon.
How does it perform on the road?
The Tesla Model S is well suited to fast road driving on the basis that, outside of the German autobahn, long periods of sustained high speeds are unlikely to be required. Pulling away from traffic lights, overtaking vehicles on a two way road, putting down power in slippery road conditions and not even having to think about being in the right gear at the right time means that the Tesla Model S is very fast in real-world driving.
The Tesla Model S balanced throttle game!
For those of you who are aware of the benefits of a balanced throttle whilst cornering, please move to the following paragraph. The fastest way to drive any car around a corner is to do so with a balanced throttle, so that you are neither braking (regeneratively in the case of the Model S) nor accelerating. A balanced throttle means that all available grip from the tyre can be concentrated on the lateral forces associated with cornering, as opposed to it being diluted by the longitudinal forces associated with accelerating and braking.
Negotiating a corner using a balanced throttle traditionally requires both intuition and some familiarity with the car that you are driving. In the Tesla Model S a “Power Meter” is provided on the right hand side of the speedometer which turns orange if you are using energy from the battery and turns green if, under regenerative braking, you are putting power back into the battery. For the purposes of cornering with a balanced throttle the “Power Meter” provides a perfect visual indication as to whether you have got the corner 100% right (from a balanced throttle perspective).
My method of playing the balanced throttle game goes as follows: Approach a high-speed corner as you would in any other car and, just before you turn, lift off the throttle to engage regenerative braking (and brake if you need to) to shift weight to the front tyres to help with turning in. As you turn into the corner, apply throttle to the point that you are neither accelerating nor decelerating through the corner, then feed the power back in as you straighten the steering wheel and exit the corner. During the corner, make sure to glance down to check how you are doing with the balanced throttle- the “Power Meter” on the right hand side of the speedometer should be a single orange line, meaning that you can award yourself a 100% score in the Tesla Model S balanced throttle game!
Limitations of the Model S as a performance car
Before the ‘health and safety’ brigade get started, I would like to point out that most of what is contained in this section results from research conducted at an airfield where I performed multiple 0-60 MPH dashes and several runs to 130MPH.
The Tesla Model S has an advanced battery management system that can both heat and cool the battery pack depending on conditions. When the battery pack is cold, performance will be limited until the battery pack has warmed to an acceptable level. If the car is driven aggressively this will generate considerable heat in the motor/s which can result in the car limiting available power until it has cooled down.
During fast road driving you will rarely encounter the power being limited for motor heat reasons. However, multiple short-order full throttle starts and very fast road driving in excess of 100 MPH may result in the dreaded dotted lines at the top of the Power Meter indicating that you – temporarily – no longer have full beans available from the Model S.
The only other limitation of the Model S when driving quickly is the effect on range: Fast road and Autobahn work (consistent speeds of 80-120MPH) will see the real range of the car drop below 150 miles.
In conclusion, the Tesla Model S is a performance car and is extremely quick in almost all road driving situations. Its only significant limitation is that, in very high-speed environments, its power is likely to be limited by the drivetrain management system.