What’s all the fuss about?
1300 miles. Five countries. A whole lot of mint imperials. Driving from the outskirts of London to Germany’s culture-packed capital city and back in one weekend seems far from a walk in the park even for the most cruise-friendly, comfortable combustion-powered car going. But how about doing that very same adventure in an EV? We were either really faithful in Elon Musk’s products, or very, very stupid, when we decided to do just that in a Tesla Model S back in May for the 2015/16 Formula E Berlin ePrix.
On a clear run, the route should’ve taken around 11 hours each way without petrol stops in a ‘normal’ car, according to our favourite map website. But what about an electric motor? Sure, cars such as the Nissan Leaf and Renault Zoe have, up until their most recent updates at least, proven to offer fairly shocking miles from a full charge, that could’ve meant we were still lost somewhere in continental Europe to this very day. But we thankfully had something a bit more special at our disposal for the trip: the top-spec P90D-version of the Tesla Model S, that’s equally as happy to dish out those bonkers acceleration times as it is to provide you with over 300 miles of hassle-free motoring, depending on how heavy your right foot is. Time to prove that EVs aren’t just for the shopping run…
We’ve already reviewed a Model S and are sure you’re already familiar with just what a joy it is to use and drive, so we won’t go into that fantastic, intuitive big screen and silent, savage power train too much. What did impress us this time, however, was the seemingly effortless way the car’s computer worked out where we should take our fairly fleeting Supercharger and coffee breaks along the route, and giving us an estimated journey time of 13 hours 48 minutes while doing so (breaks included), meaning the overall door-to-door timescales promised to not be too far off each other. So long as we didn’t boot it too much, of course…
The route itself would pretty much follow the same path you’d take in a combustion-powered car; wafting along the famous E40 motorway that cuts across northern continental Europe. Once over the water, Tesla told us we’d need to stop at Superchargers in Calais, Ghent, Moers and Lauenau, before one last trickle charge on the outskirts of Berlin (Hohenwarsleben), before reaching our hotel in the centre of town. Interestingly, the default system for long journeys is to get you stopping frequently and briefly, rather than dolloping one massive charge on you halfway through, which may seem strange at first but means you often have to spend less than half an hour in each place before getting back on the road. Oh, and the stopping points are almost always cleverly thought-out to be close to decent, local cafes and other amenities (motorway service stations eat your heart out…)
We’d driven some lesser models of the Model S, but this was our first go in the big daddy; the Ludicrous Mode-enabled gut-busting power machine. As my colleague Jimmy picked me up to start our first leg of the trip to Dover’s ferry port, proceeding to floor it out of every junction and giving no regard to my recently-consumed breakfast, it soon became apparent that my stomach muscles would need to be re-wired in order to last the trip without spewing my guys out at every set of traffic lights. This car really is that physical – it’s frankly absolutely hilarious!
This is what the family thought of the acceleration…
Still, we made it to Calais with only a little less charge than our brilliant car estimated we’d have by the time we got there, meaning a 15-minute top-up was all it took before we were well into continental roads. You really can’t fault the EV on a motorway blast, as its silent cabin (complemented by a Spotify Unlimited subscription), means that its about as pleasant as being in Business class on a Etihad Jumbo Jet when taking any pew in the Model S. Charge levels run down as you’d expected, meaning no funny surprises and no frantic searches for nearby chargers last-minute. What are the EV haters worried about?
It’s when we got onto Germany’s Autobahns that things got really impressive. We’re sure you’ve experienced how hot the outside lanes of the unlimited sections can be. ‘If you’re not going 120mph+, don’t even bother pulling out’ is often the best philosophy to exercise here. We stretched the P90D’s legs (well it’d be rude not to, right?) and found ourselves lost for words with the way the car shot from a cruising pace up to 145mph and beyond. Attracting cars such as Porsche 911s, BMW M3s and even an i8 always ended in the same way – with the Tesla keeping well ahead as those who took it on desperately tried to keep up, usually to an embarrassingly loud soundtrack that was doing nothing to help the situation.
Anyway, it transpires that booting a Model S, even up to frankly irresponsible speeds, does not result in as much of a colossal drain in range as you’d expect. We still managed to hit every planned Supercharger without any hassle, perhaps for a little longer than anticipated at times, but never for much more time than it took to tuck into a large Big King Meal and Coke and play with some of the car’s remote control functions from the app (scaring people by beeping the horn as they walked past was a highlight).
Our ridiculously short stop in Germany’s stunning capital left us with a fully charged car ready for the journey home before we knew it. This proved to be a very similar affair to the outward leg, with the exception of a hairy moment deep into Belgium where a traffic jam caused the range computer on-board to have a bit of a hissy fit and take us as-the-crow-flies to the nearest charger (see vid below) – after a couple of minutes of following the sat nav down a dead end path, we soon utilised common sense that sometimes humans ARE smarter than computers and got back on the beaten track. Getting back to British soil with just 35 miles to spare also meant a fairly lengthy charge at Maidstone Services was in order at some ungodly hour of Monday morning – the only other time we were desperate for a petrol car again throughout the whole trip.
Can an electric car do long distance, then? Well, it’s probably fair to remind ourselves that we had a £100k+ car to play with here, perhaps the most capable for the job that money can buy until the P100D model is released. And whilst this flagship beauty did perform the whole thing without missing a beat, how long must we wait until this kind of performance can be reached in a fairly hot EV hatchback? Knowing how quickly technology likes to improve these days, we’re thinking probably not as long as you might imagine…
Cars taken out on the Autobahn in the P90D
– Modified E92 M3
– 991 Porsche Turbo S (up to 150mph at least…)
– BMW i8
– Modified 964 911 Carrera