K E Y P O I N T S
The Tesla Model S is one of the few electric cars that can truly, fully drive itself. It also has one of the longest ranges for an electric car, with a full charge taking you an impressive 393 miles.
So HuffPost decided to drive it on an 800-mile round trip from London to Glasgow without a) actually doing any driving or b) running out of electricity and requiring a desperate tow all the way back.
The car negotiated traffic by itself, reacting to other cars and humans who got in its way. It was brilliant but also terrifying: it might be safe, but driving that close to lorries is scary.
You can go completely handsfree but the car will ask you to hold the wheel at short intervals.
If you use one of Tesla's superchargers, it takes just 20-30 minutes to achieve an 80% charge. Amazing, but you're reliant on the Tesla network for those speeds and there just aren't enough charging points, particularly in Wales and Scotland.
This car costs over £100k (R1.7-million) – which makes its lack of small storage space a bit embarrassing. No door storage, nothing in the back. If you have kids, prepare yourselves.
The associated app is glorious. Waking up and realising the temperature's below freezing but you can pre-heat the car from your phone is pretty special.
V E R D I C T
The first time I switch the car to Autopilot, there is an undeniable feeling of deep mistrust at the bottom of my gut as I brace for it to inevitably fail. Except it doesn't. Instead, we arrive at a gentle curve in the road and the car's steering wheel calmly and purposefully twists all by itself.
The next panic comes when another car, foolishly being driven by a human, pulls out in front. I prepare myself to take back the steering – but the Model S is already braking to allow it into the lane, having spotted the issue long before me. Weaving through traffic, it accelerates, brakes and steers as though by magic. Want to change lanes? Simply flip the indicator stalk and the car will find a gap to move into.
Accompanying me on my London to Glasgow drive are two friends: one an experimental psychologist and the other a man so averse to technology that he recently spent the summer on a farm in Sardinia where he would chase away wild boar with a stick.
For the psychologist and I, the drive proves a surreal and yet mesmerising experience. Sadly our friend in the back seat doesn't see things quite as positively. While we are enjoying one of the few examples where a hyped-up technology has actually exceeded expectations, he adopts the view that it simply isn't happening and starts knitting furiously.
If however you think a self-driving car leaves you free to watching movies and scroll through Instagram at the wheel, think again. Not only is that illegal but the car knows when you're not holding the wheel and after around 10 seconds will very sensibly tell you to do so. So this isn't about relinquishing responsibility.
But letting the Tesla do much of the leg work during a long drive is a huge relief. Rather than getting the deep mental fatigue that can set in over long distances, I feel far more alert, and ready to take action if the need arises.
This is a good time to talk about Autopilot's fundamental limitations. At the moment it is designed to function at its best on motorways. It can technically be activated on smaller main roads but most of the time it'll cancel itself for lack of the identifying features it needs to operate.
And there are grumbles: over the course of the journey it becomes clear that the Tesla is not a particularly practical car: while it has four cup holders presumably for the four seats, all four are inexplicably in the front of the car, for instance. There is also no storage in the doors or in the rear which means that if you have children, it's a floor or nothing approach. For £100k that feels, well, a bit off.
Stopping at Liverpool we plug in the Supercharger. This Tesla-exclusive network of power points allows you to charge your car far more quickly than at home, with a 30min stop giving you around 250-300 miles, depending on your initial charge. Your first 400kWh from these locations is free every year, with 300 miles of charge subsequently costing around £18.
And as we arrive in Glasgow that evening we hit our first hiccup: there are no Superchargers in Glasgow. Instead we plug it into a regular plug socket at our friend's house, only to find it provides a pathetic dribble of charge. Heading home, we spend almost an hour charging the Model S at the nearest services, thanks to our lower starting charge.
Tesla does provide you with a network of approved 'Destination Charging' locations which can be viewed here, however these are slower than Superchargers and will incur possible extra costs.
The return journey proves perhaps most revelatory because, after a good number of hours on the road, I now feel like a studious cog in the car's inner workings. With almost 500 miles under my belt, the realisation begins to sink in – I have actually driven during very few of them myself.
S P E C I F I C A T I O N S
- Car tested: Tesla Model S 100D
- Engine: Dual Motor with 100kWh battery
- Range: 393 miles NEDC
- Top Speed: 155mph
- 0-60mph: 4.1 sec
- Cost: £100,500
- Journey: London to Glasgow (415 miles)
- Features: This model came with Enhanced Autopilot which gives the car almost full self-driving capabilities on most major highways. The car will steer, accelerate/brake and change lanes by itself.
T A K E H O M E M E S S A G E
The Model S feels like the future of driving, you get a car that's hideously fast and fun to drive when you want to take control and then can manage those long trips completely by itself. Have faith in its abilities and you will be rewarded.
If there are any glaring problems here it's that our roads and infrastructure feel worryingly lacking. There are simply not enough fast-charging points in the UK. Travelling back to London was a long journey and all because there was nowhere for us to properly charge it at our destination. Fix this and the UK might just be ready for the future.