First Drive: Tesla Model S

As we put our foot down on the accelerator, the Model S punches into action and we are off. Yes, we've just driven one of the first right-hand drive Tesla Model S cars to arrive in the UK - ahead of the official launch and the delivery of the new electric car to the first five customers.

From a distance the Tesla Model S looks like any other executive ride. Aside from the logo dotted on the front, side, and rear of the vehicle telling you clearly that it is a Tesla, there is no reason to think that this is an electric car. That's because, while it is purely electric, there are very few similarities between this and the smattering of electric vehicles that have come before it.

Banishing those electric vehicle sticking points

To get the usual sticking points out of the way, the battery lasts 150,000 miles, while the range of a full charge is 312 miles at 50mph giving you performance that you would almost accept for a standard petrol or diesel engine.

Aside from a slight premium - the entry-level model is £50,000 and you can go mad all the way up to around £92,000 - there is very little between this and a BMW Series 7 or the Mercedes S Class in terms of performance. Even those looking to go fast will enjoy the 0-60mph in just over 4 seconds.

Drive time

But what's it like to actually drive? Fun, spacious, clever, and quiet are words that spring to mind.

The fun comes with the treats you get along the way, the 17-inch touchscreen display that is the size of two iPads stacked on top of each other, the key that is shaped like a Model S, and the door handles that disappear when you walk away, are just some of the many toys for owners to play with.

The clever parts - aside from the performance aspects - come in the guise of things like automatically turning on when it senses your heavy body is sitting in the driving seat, or allowing you to open the sun roof - which spans the entirety of the roof - via a percentage.

Want the roof open 34 per cent, no problem? It is this level of detail that shows you Tesla is serious about what it does, and making sure that you have plenty of choice.

As a driver and passenger the car cockpit is incredibly spacious mainly due, in part, to the lack of a transmission tunnel running between the driver and the front passenger. It means that the cockpit floor is flat. That means you have a huge dumping ground for your junk. It would be nice if this was slightly compartmentalised only so you don't see things go flying as you brake hard for a traffic light.

Light and airy

The cabin itself is light and airy with a good use of materials, many of which are customisable when you buy the car. Our test drive vehicle had a modern wooden finish, but you can get it in carbon fibre and other materials too. Later in the year, Tesla has told Pocket-lint, it will be introducing even more materials, like Alcantara leather.

The standard configuration is as a five seater, but if you need to ferry kids around as well you can get an extra two seats for the boot. Yes, the Model S could theoretically replace your Renault Espace, just don't expect any room for your luggage as although there is a front boot, it's still fairly small.

That 17-inch display panel

Yep, it's as huge as you can imagine and one that can be slightly overwhelming at first. It is fully touchscreen, no tricks here, and can be managed and manipulated to display a range of information from the web to controlling the stereo to geeking out on graphs and stats about the way you drive.

The Tesla Model S comes with its own 3G connection rather than piggybacking off your own phone, and can be used while driving if that's your thing - we would recommend against it.

For the most part the panel is spilt into two areas, but it doesn't have to be that way, and you can switch them any way you fancy.

So you don't have to look down all the time, the standard dash - which is also all digital - displays your speed via a dial, and a number and the power consumption of the car and whether or not you are giving back power or taking it.

Like Jaguar and others, any navigational information is also displayed here, although we found the large bulky steering wheel blocked our view quite a lot. It could be that our test route involved a lot of roundabouts, or that we were sitting in the wrong position, but talking to other journalists at the event they experienced it too. It's something worth bearing in mind when you come for your test drive.

Charging

When it comes to charging the Tesla Model S it is not that different to other electric cars. You can either use a standard electric charging bay found on the street and this will take around 6-12 hours or pay £95 for the government to install a faster charger in your home so you can do it from your drive. There is also an option of a slower charger for the home, which is free. 

Realising the paperwork involved might put people off, Tesla is also planning on rolling out its supercharging stations across the UK so that the whole of the UK is covered within the next 18 months.

Think 10s of stations instead of 100s, the supercharging stations will start in London and the South and roll out quickly meaning that you'll be able to drive around the UK without hassle.

Tesla then says that any Tesla driver will be able to charge their Tesla for free. The superchargers, already proving popular in the US, will charge the Model S to 50 per cent capacity in 20 minutes and full charge in 50 minutes.

With no road tax and no electric charging costs you can see this becoming an attractive proposition.

First Impressions

Our drive wasn't very long, and it would be good to get some more time with the Model S, but from what we've seen and enjoyed so far, we have say it's hard to see this as anything but the future.

Tesla is yet to detail where those supercharging stations will be, but talking candidly with Tesla employees they suggest that they will be in centralised spots along major motorways and a first for the company, in London making them ideal for those in the Capital. 

Sadly for anyone keen to get one straight away in the UK, there is already a 5 month waiting list.