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Have you ever driven a Tesla? I have!

Posted on 09/08/17 |

In the summer of 2016, after Andy Bowrah and Adam Westcott from Wellington Nissan popped along to give a talk on the new all electric ‘Leaf’, I took the car out for a test drive and was very impressed by its speed, torque and pick-up. You may remember, I wrote an article about it for the Summer Newsletter. 
Well, some time in December I was happily wandering around that wonderful temple of commerce and shoppers’ paradise, The Mall at Cribbs Causeway (and if any of you think I’d happily wander around ANY shopping complex, you’re sadly mistaken!) when out of the corner of my little eye, I spied the Tesla shop. Now that grabbed my interest! I certainly wanted to wander in there! However, it was not to be. The bride (God bless ’er) was on a mission to shop and that didn’t include anything for me, nor in any way anything that I would find of interest! Oh no, shopping that day was to be confined to anything to do with togs for the gentlewoman about town and blow any ideas that hubby might have of moochin’ off  to somewhere of real importance! 
And so it was, gentle reader, that it was about six weeks later that I again found myself at The Mall, only this time I did manage to extricate myself from wifely grasp and make it across the threshold of the Tesla Store.  
There I was greeted by a young fella m’lad who was very interested in selling me one of these marvels of modern technology whilst I, on the other hand, was simply very interested in taking the sleek beauty out for a test drive, no strings attached! 
To be fair, there were no strings and they were most accommodating. An appointment was duly set up for Andrew Griffiths and I (well I couldn’t leave him out, now could I?) to go up sometime in mid-January for a test drive. And what a drive it was too. 

 
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Andrew & I suitably exhilarated after our drive
 Aside from being a really pretty car, it’s quite luxurious and great fun to drive. I remember being in awe (sad really) when I pressed the inlaid chrome handle wondering how I was going to open the door when, with the brush of a finger tip, it just popped out to reveal a standard door handle. 

Genius! Not only that, but as the car moves off, the handle retracts again to regain its sleek aerodynamic form.  And if you can see how excited I am about just the door handle, you can guess what I thought about the whole car! No 143 tesla2
But whilst the outside is just pretty, you really need to look inside to get a clue of the marvels of science and technology that this car presents. Aside from everything being plush leather (obviously) and having absolutely bags of room (Duh!) the technology really is phenomenal; and, to the likes of me, somewhat overwhelming at first glance, too. In fact, it was still somewhat overwhelming at glances 8 or 9, if I’m honest. 
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Almost everything on the Tesla is controlled from the large 17” touchscreen. From this, apart from a rather good sat-nav system and  in-car entertainment, you can control such things as your  steering & suspension settings, open the all glass panoramic roof, customise the automatic climate control, and even set a maximum limit on your speed. 
Tesla tells me that the touchscreen, digital instrument cluster, and steering wheel controls seamlessly integrate media, navigation, communications, cabin controls and vehicle data. Which I’m sure they do. I’m equally sure that after a couple of hours at the controls I may have mastered one or two of them as well; but after just ½ an hour? No chance. 
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Not only does it have a really great map (of the world!) showing all of the current Tesla ‘Supercharger’ charging points, it will even plot your journey from say Taunton to Nottingham and back again through central London and Plymouth via the most convenient charging points along the route. It will also tell you how much charge you’ll need at any particular charging station to complete either your journey or the next stage. 
We were accompanied on our drive by one of Tesla’s finest, who, because I’ve been asked by Tesla UK not to mention their staff by name, I shall refer to as Mr. Beauregard who as you probably all know was the car salesman in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. 
I’m told that using the Tesla ‘Superchargers’, you could be 80% charged in ½ hour. Unfortunately, using other manufacturers charging points will be somewhat slower and you’ll need an adapter to use them.   
The Tesla ‘S’ that Andrew and I drove had a range of some 200 miles on one charge but by using acceleration sense for engine braking (as we do) this produces a mobile charge of the lithium batteries. This ‘regenerative power’ naturally extends the distance that we had before our next charge. Information on the dashboard kept us informed of how much charge was remaining and the range achievable without further charge. The more you let the accelerator up, the more retarding the engine braking becomes and eventually the brake lights will illuminate to inform following drivers that the vehicle is now slowing rapidly, and yet no brakes are being applied. It’s really clever stuff. 
But the big question is, “Does this thing shift?”  Oh dear me, yes it does! It goes from 0 – 60 in a blistering 2.3 seconds. Now I can’t honestly claim that I did that, y’understand.  No, I’m an Advanced Driver, so I was a little bit more cautious and restrained. It took me about 3½ seconds. I know that because Andrew timed me from the back seat. (He was quicker than me, he got 2.6 seconds).
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There are several models available, each offering a different power pack, but the one that we drove, the P100D, produces 603 bhp from its twin electric motors, and, as I said, is capable of a mind-blowing  0 – 60 in 2.3 seconds, which for those of you who know, is 0.7 seconds faster than a McLaren F1. Now, how’s that for quick off the mark?! 
Tesla proudly boasts that the car is build from the ground up and is the safest on the road. Much of this is accredited to its unique electric drivetrain that sits beneath the car’s aluminium and steel monocoque and contributes to torsional rigidity. This unique positioning both lowers the car’s centre of gravity, which improves handling and minimises rollover risk, and, according to the website, “replaces the heavy engine block with impact absorbing boron steel rails”. (No, I don’t know what they are, either). 
I also read that “the whole front reinforcement and generous crumple zones afford it impressive crash strength. Side impacts are met by aluminium pillars reinforced with steel rails to reduce intrusion, protecting occupants and the battery pack while improving roof stiffness. In the event of an accident, six airbags protect front and rear occupants, and the high voltage power source is automatically disconnected”, which I have to say all seems jolly clever to me.
Like most modern cars it comes complete with some standards, such as daytime running lights, the already noted six airbags, electronic stability and traction control programmes. But it also has other, perhaps not so common, goodies thrown in too. These various safety technologies include: collision avoidance and automatic emergency braking;  ‘Smart Air Suspension’ for raising and lowering ride height; plus four wheel antilock disc brakes with electronic parking brake and enough ISOFIX attachments to fit 3 child seats in the back.  
And it’s comfortable; both in the front and in the back. I’ve read a few reports complaining that the seating and upholstery is less than comfortable, but I certainly didn’t find that. The sumptuous leather encased me and held me snugly in my seat. Even without giving credence to the various side impact airbags, I felt very safe in the Tesla.
I mentioned the collision avoidance system. I understand this is properly named the ‘Traffic Awareness Cruise Control’ but whatever it’s called quite simply put it’s an automatic anti-collision system. 
This rather unique system can be pre-programmed for personal preference to maintain a distance of between of between 1 and 7 car lengths (i.e. between 4.5 metres to 31.5 metres) from the vehicle in front. 
In our test car, the Tesla team had already pre-set the distance to just 5 car lengths (22.5 metres), which on any road carrying a 30 mph speed limit and in good weather, would be acceptable. But on a road carrying a speed limit of 70 mph where the overall stopping distance is 96 metres or 21 car lengths? 
It’s fair to say that both Andrew and I were more than a little disconcerted at having an overall stopping distance of just 7 car lengths. And don’t forget that you need to double your stopping distance in wet weather and increase it to a factor of 10 in icy conditions.  
But putting aside my concern about such a short stopping distance (no matter how great the technology) to use this system the driver simply allows the car take control over the accelerating and braking. 
In other words, the car brakes and accelerates in accordance with the traffic on the road. To demonstrate this point, our Mr. Beauregarde suggested that on each of our drives, we chose a slower moving lorry travelling in front of us and then kept on the power, which we did, but in a very tightly controlled manner with neither quite trusting the technology. When the car detected that we’d entered into the ‘restricted space’ as already pre-set, it simply eased on the brakes and kept the distance open between us. And I have to say, it really does work!
As advanced drivers we talk of keeping a bubble of safety around us. i.e. keep a good distance from the car in front, use the zone of relative safety when you’re overtaking, make sure that you use all round observation, you know, that sort of thing. Well, the Tesla sort of does this for you. The car has an ‘Advanced Sensor Coverage System’ that is almost beyond belief. It has 8 surround cameras providing  360° of visibility around the entire car at up to 250 metres of range. It has 12 ultrasonic sensors that compliment this vision allowing for the detection of both hard & soft objects. Its forward facing radar with enhanced processing, provides additional data and is able to see through heavy rain, fog, dust and even the car ahead. Which I have to confess is probably a bit better than me and my varifocals, then.
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Because of it’s electronic drive train, there’s no need for a transmission tunnel. This extra space in the car’s cabin gives a wider, more generous feel to the interior. It also means that an adult sitting in the middle of the back seat doesn’t intrude on his fellow passengers. However, more importantly than that, being an all electric vehicle, the front engine space is left as an additional storage space, allowing for a total of 1,795 litres of luggage space. 
I mentioned that whilst we were on the M4, we both tried out the ‘Traffic Aware Cruise Control’ anti-collision system. Well as you can imagine, that was interesting. I mean, ploughing on towards a slow moving truck hoping that the computer’s as good as our accompanying Mr. B.  said it would be and that it would take over and slow us down. To say I was a bit un-sure is a not overstating it. However, just after that our man also mentioned the ‘auto-pilot’. 
Tesla say that the “Enhanced Autopilot adds these … capabilities to the … driving experience. Your Tesla will match speed to [the prevailing] traffic conditions, keep within a lane, automatically change lanes without requiring driver input, transition from one motorway to another, exit the motorway when your destination is near, self-park when near a parking spot and be summoned to and from your garage”.
This is clearly the stuff of the future and to demonstrate the point, our  Mr. Beauregard touched his smart-phone screen (it was linked in with the car) and told me to take my hands off the steering wheel. 
I tell you, I wasn’t ready for that, bearing in mind that we were travelling along the M4 at a good 70 mph at the time. 
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NB. Internet stock photograph.  Note the driver resting his hands on his thighs. No, we definitely didn’t do that! But it does demonstrate my point of ‘hands free’ driving.
 
Not being as brave as some of the Air Line Pilot buyers he told me about, y’know, the sort that would quite happily rest their hands on their thighs at this point,  (See the photograph above) I declined to let go of the wheel but did ever so slightly release the pressure with which I held it and made sure that my palms and wrapped fingers maintained a constant contact with the wheel. (And I know that Andrew took the same pragmatic approach as I did when he was driving!) But, true to his word, the car maintained its course, heading and speed as we cruised along. 
What was happening was that the on-board cameras (remember, I said there were 8 of them as well as a fully functioning radar system?) was monitoring the lane markings and making sure that it stayed on course. Having checked that all was clear behind, I flicked on the indicator and just nudged the wheel whereby the car effortlessly glided out to a normal driving position in lane 2. Having overtaken the truck, still hands-free as it were, I again nudged the steering wheel and the car gently glided back in to lane 1. It was really, really  impressive… and I never want to do that again! 
Oh, and if you were wondering; as the on-board cameras see, and the car’s computer interprets, the road markings, it would prevent an overtake if it detected a solid white line in crown of road. Clearly this feature relies on good quality road markings for the 8 on-board cameras to fix on. All I can say to that is it would never work in Cornwall! 
Tesla UK tell me that “in terms of Autonomous driving, the hardware that will be capable of full self-driving is now available in all new cars so they will technically be able to drive themselves once software and regulation have caught up. This is not just for the UK but globally”. In other words, although fully commissioned in all Tesla cars, ‘Autonomous Mode’ is not yet accredited for use in anywhere in the world… yet!  
At the Tesla Service Centre, we all got out of the car and our Mr. Beauregard demonstrated the push off and find a parking space mode. (I don’t know what it’s technical name is, but it was another point and touch thing with his smart-phone). On command, the car set off and found a suitable parking space and then came back again when summoned! Brilliant, absolutely brilliant! Real science fiction stuff and I loved it!
The truth is there’s just so much to tell you about the car. I could go on and on, but suffice to say (in case you hadn’t worked it out yet) that I really loved the car and all it’s technology. It was great fun to drive, if not a little hairy at times, but that was only because I’m used to being the driver and found it quite strange for a car to ‘think’ for itself.  But for all of the technology, it really is a driver’s car.
And in case you’re wondering, there’s an almost constant to back and forth link between the cars and Tesla’s Central Computer Centre. This means that any and all of their regular software updates are instantly transmitted to the whole fleet. Likewise, if a Tesla in say, Somerset reports a pothole, within minutes all Tesla vehicles around the world will know to raise their suspension as they traverse those particular co-ordinates. (Although your Tesla must be parked up for that to happen so that uploads are prevented when the car is mobile). 
If I could afford one, I’d have one like a shot. 
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For news about our recent test passes, go to Congratulations!