THE first time you doubletap the cruise control to switch on the Autopilot system of Teslaís Model S is an act of blind trust.
Youíre putting yourself in Youíre putting yourself in the hands of the coding skills of Elon Muskís best and brightest.
The steering wheel begins making tiny adjustments of its own accord, the instrument panel draws a lock on the vehicle ahead, and you can take your hands off the wheel and relax. You can, but Tesla doesnít recommend this, covering itself by claiming you should keep your paws resting on the tiller at all times.
The thing is, Autopilot seems so bloody good that, after a short while, you gain faith. The way it scribes an arc around sweepers without pinballing from left to right within its lane is hugely confidence-inspiring, as is the way the radar cruise control holds station with traffic up the road, the distance driver-selectable.
Whatís not quite so reassuring is the way the lane-change system lets you move just slightly too far to the edge of the next lane before it catches the car and straightens up. Here in Australia, we donít get the US-spec ability to just click the indicator with the car doing the rest of the lane change. Youíll need to put a tiny amount of pressure on the steering wheel, which is awkward, especially as a fraction too much makes the car think youíre trying to retake control and switches the Autopilot off.
Autopilot engaged, itís easy to be lulled into thinking youíre in some omnipotent form of automotive higher intelligence, only to realise that it wonít slow down for revised speed limits or traffic lights. Itís easily flummoxed by the weak link behind the wheel too. With the indicator on the left and the similar (non-detented) column shift on the right, itís all too easy to accidentally flick it into neutral and find yourself flatlining but going nowhere.
Autopilotís not perfect and customers have to assume liability when using it, but having tried it for a week, itís something you really would use on major roads. I still have nightmares about some villain with a pot of white paint sending Teslas whistling off into the undergrowth, though.
The self-parking system is another jaw-dropper. Unlike most vehicles, which require you to operate the throttle and brakes while they automatically twirl the wheel, the Model S can now perform the whole show, right from identifying a space to shuffling you into it, leaving a scant few millimetres from kerbing those big alloys.
Which brings us to the ĎLudicrousí performance mode, Teslaís next step after ĎInsaneí.
Bring the twin-engined, allwheel- drive Model S P90D to a standstill, grip the wheel and stamp the right-hand pedal; itís that straightforward. The mute violence of what happens next is hard to comprehend. Itís as quick to 100km/h as a McLaren P1.
This otherworldly combination of theme park ride and airline turbulence is initially panicking.
It feels as if the fluid in your brain has sloshed and pooled in the back of your skull, and your guts get squeezed like youíre wearing a g-suit. Everyone who sampled it for the first time came away feeling slightly nauseated, the lack of audible cues or let-up in the seamless surge of torque serving to utterly scramble the senses.
You do get used to it, though, and begin searching for pole position at the traffic lights. A couple of seconds or so after they turn green, you already have a hundred metres of clear road. Now thereís a contribution to safety we can all get behind.
Wide pillars; feeble headlights; poor interior storage; expensive; gadgetry Devastating pace; refinement; ease of use; space; gadgetry
The P90D has three steering settings: Comfort, Standard and Sport. The car feels optimised for Standard, with Comfort offering almost zero feedback through the wheel and Sport making the helm feel as if itís trying to escape the Boston Molasses Disaster.
Select maximum brake regeneration and you can drive the Model S largely with just the throttle pedal.
Roll off the juice and itíll decelerate firmly, with brake pedal intervention required only to come to a full o sharp stop. The regení braking does activate the brake lights.
The P90D is full of nerdy tricks. Hold down the Tesla logo on the screen and type Ď007í when prompted for an access code and the carís on-screen image turns into Bondís submersible Esprit (which Tesla mastermind Elon Musk owns). r
The Model S P90D is a series of upgrades to the P85D. The upgrade from 85 to 90kWh costs $4500 and increases range by six percent. Autopilot software is another $3800.
Ludicrous mode? Thatís $15,000. This features main battery-pack contacts made of Inconel super alloy that increases the current-flow rate from 1300 to 1500 amps, and a smart fuse for the battery. This fuse has its own electronics and a tiny lithium-ion battery built into it that smooths the step between normal and peak operating currents.
$285,300 Give range anxiety the flick with Weissachís leviathan 3.0-litre V6 hybrid. Economy of 3.1L/100km and 0-100km/h in 5.5sec make for convincing counterpoints.
$378,500 Two choices here. Buy the sonorous Rapide right now for some prehistoric V12 goodness or wait for the moral rectitude of the all-electric RapidE version.