Stick Shift: 2017 Tesla Model S P90D

I’ve been to the future and back! Only, instead of using “Doc” Browns’ early eighties DeLorean from Back to the Future, the journey was made in a brand new Tesla Model S 90D. My first exposure to the Tesla brand was the Roadster, and that was only through a racing simulator on Playstation. Now, eight years later, Tesla has experienced a meteoric rise. A quick cruise around southern California will prove that more people are driving the Model S than a Toyota Corolla these days. The reasons all add up. Tesla has finally delivered the solution that plagued every all-electric car up to now, an utter lack of range. Now, with a hair over 300 miles at your disposal on a full battery, and fast charge stations all across the Continental United States, there’s really no limit to where you can go.

Image via Brandon Randall.
Image via Brandon Randall.

Our newest model has ditched the traditional front grill for a fuller, more aerodynamic front bumper. The result is striking, as their really can’t be anything else quite like it on the road. With no need for a radiator, oil cooler, intercooler, or anything else of the sort limiting the design, Tesla is able to go in a direction that’s refreshing and different from anything else. LED running lights and automatic headlamps offer a fitting, modern look. The new 90D has a sleek profile, long lines and a sharply raked roof. The flush chrome door handles never cease to delight either. This new style is a definite step up from the previous model, further setting the Model S apart as something truly unique. Which it absolutely is.
This becomes all the more apparent the second you slide in behind the wheel. An oversized 17 inch capacitive touchscreen with a full digital instrument cluster sits front and center. With the exception of a couple air vents, it’s all there is. The interior controls are entirely found, in digital touchscreen form, on this commanding screen. This gives the dashboard and interior in general an immensely modern, sleek look. No dials to turn, knobs to manually manipulate or buttons to push. Instead you adjust everything, from climate and radio to the retracting sunroof with the effortless swipe of your finger. IPhone integration couldn’t be better, each car coming with its own Apple lightning dock to plug into.
The interior space could best be described as airy and spacious. With a tinted panoramic sunroof and big back seat, there’s plenty of room to comfortably seat four. This is largely due to the lack of a transmission tunnel and no bulky engine pushing into the cabins square footage. Onboard maps and navigation look incredible on the big display, and you can run multiple screen at once to control media, temperature, your smart phone, view energy consumption, adjust all the personal vehicle settings, and even have a video feed from behind your car to see slower traffic quickly fade away to tiny colored dots. Voice activated controls work beautifully. There’s WiFi and even an active mobile network onboard so you can stream effortlessly without interruption. They even threw in a couple USB ports for good measure. A couple odd choices in the cabin stand as proof that Tesla had more important things to worry about than sufficient cupholders or adequate storage places. Small potatoes with all things considered, and easy enough to rectify.
The LCD instrument cluster behind the wheel is clutter free and extremely useful as well. From it you can see your speed, energy use with remaining range, audio and turn-by-turn direction while using navigation. What’s more, while using autopilot, this display made the overall experience much more comfortable and reassuring, with graphics that show your car in the dead center of the lane and also display all the traffic around you. The sensors are so good that they can pick up the different vehicle shapes within their reach, displaying a truck as truck and a sport compact as just that. With its far reaching forward camera, sensitive radar and 12 sonar sensors, the new Tesla Model S is confident acting the part as chauffeur. The occasional lane change with traffic and off-ramp made it fumble enough where I felt inclined to take over, but on the whole, I’ve never been so at ease letting a car take the wheel for me.
Over-the-air software updates mean you’ll always be up to date without inconvenient visits to the dealership. Walk up to the car with the Model S shaped key fob in your pocket and the door handles automatically extend out and unlock. Sensing your body weight in the front seat, the car starts up on its own. Zero fuss, beautifully thought out and integrated tech. More tricks have been engineered into a handy smart phone application that will allow you to keep an eye on charge levels, summon the car from across a parking lot or get out and let the Model S park itself. It’s all terribly uncomplicated and really really cool. Like, make you feel a little like Batman levels of cool.
Powering this newest Model S is a three phase, four pole AC induction motor with a row of lithium-ion batteries. Paired with a regenerative braking system to deliver a Tesla with the best range yet. 0-60 is accomplished in a neck snapping 2.9 seconds. All-wheel drive comes courtesy a smart dual motor system, one driving each wheel set. With such a competent all-wheel drive set-up and the battery packs set low to keep the center of gravity close to the road, the new Model S achieves remarkably neutral handling, wonderful balance, flat cornering and excellent grip from all four tires. Power steering is also tuned very well, giving the wheel a quite, natural feel with just the right amount of heft.
There’s no getting around it. Tesla has quickly grown from humble beginnings, testing what is possible, to become a full blown force of nature. Thanks to them, the list of down sides to owning an all electric vehicle is getting smaller and smaller. With this newest model, I’m having trouble finding many reasons not to make the switch, especially considering the newly announced and extremely cost conscious Tesla Model 3.
With the new Model S 90D you get enough Immediate power to make you nauseous, nimble driving characteristics, great looks, zero emissions, self-driving modes, a spacious cabin, impressive drive range and the ability to road trip from New York to San Diego and back again if you should so desire. At a fast charge station it was only a little over an hour to get full battery life back, enough time to grab a bite, stretch my legs and use the rest room. Even maintenance costs are way down with so few moving parts. With a Tesla you don’t have a mechanical transmission, engine, or even any fluids to speak of except windshield washer. There’s no gaskets that will leak, oil that will burn, cylinder heads that will warp, transmission gears that will strip, right on down the line.
Tesla entered the marketplace with a rule book of its own creation. It wasn’t looking to slowly transition the automotive world into a more Eco-friendly place, like everyone else. Rather it set out to suddenly and abruptly drag us, sometimes kicking and screaming, into the future. Showing us that ultimately, there’s little to loose but so so much to gain.

By: Brandon Randall

Price as tested: $109,200

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