Can the Tesla Model S actually go around a corner?
Tesla's flagship vehicle, the Model S P100D, costs a lot of money. It's $227,000. Although the car pictured here has a few choice options, so its grand total is $261,200.
But there's the thing: when you buy the P100D, you're actually getting every single Model S in the range.
The P100D is the most powerful and sophisticated Model S on sale: the P is for Performance (including Ludicrous acceleration mode and air suspension), it has a 100kWh battery and Dual electric motors to make it 4WD.
Because so much of the car is run by computer, in theory it would be easy enough to reduce power or shut down one motor to make the P100D the equivalent of, say, the entry-level rear-drive Model S 60. Or a 75 or 90. Or activate the front motor again to make D-variants of any of the above. Even put the P back in when you want.
In fact, that's not just a theory. Tesla allows you to do just that with the P100D via the massive 17-inch touch screen in the centre console. Tap the tiny Tesla icon at the top of the display and you can choose between eight different states of electric powertrain tune, covering the entire Model S family. That's pretty cool.
This is not just a Tesla fun-fact. It's very relevant to our mission here, which is to discover whether a Model S can go around a corner.
Yes, a corner. Tesla devotees (that's a mild word for a feverish condition) don't generally mention corners. The P100D is the superhero of the range because it's the world's fastest-accelerating production car: 0-100kmh in 2.7 seconds. That certainly is a headline figure and it's an incredible thing to experience. Respect.
You could also argue corners aren't important because the Model S is primarily a luxury car and its USP is that staggering acceleration. Fair call.
But we have a lot of corners in New Zealand, many of them on bumpy roads. The Model S certainly has the range to reach them (over 600km for the P100D). It is often held up as a halo performance (it's in the name, even) car and it does cost BMW M5 money.
So let's go find some twisty stuff.
Actually, let's cut to the chase. The P100D is as astonishingly fast around tight corners as it is on the straights. Neck-snapping acceleration is a given and you can use it very effectively to catapult the car past the apex of a corner. There's enormous traction from the dual-motor setup and enormous grip from the sticky 21-inch Michelin Pilot Super Sport rubber.
But it also feels a bit, well, rubbish when you drive it hard. There's no sense of flow: you can feel the power being thrust between front and rear axles in rather fraught fashion and the whole car gets very hot and bothered if you make a serious attempt to rocket along a winding road.
Literally hot and bothered, in fact. After 10 minutes of hard driving, the formerly silent cabin of our P100D was dominated by the whirr and vibration of a substantial cooling system, struggling to keep the electric hardware from some sort of heat-induced panic attack.
Fast? Oh yes. Fun? Not exactly. The chassis really struggles to convert the P100D's immense output into a fluid cornering experience. Nor does the steering really engage the driver in any of its three modes - although that's not unusual in these days of electric assistance. No pun intended.
However, that's not the end of the story. Feeling like we'd overstretched the P100D's abilities, we started to play around with the different model settings.
Guess what? Less violent performance translates to a more sporting attitude from the Model S. The base rear-drive 60 is still a quick car (0-100kmh in 5.8 seconds), but it also seems to have a level of performance that really suits the Model S chassis on a winding Kiwi backroad - remembering that you still have the advantage of that premium P100D-spec footwear.
A P100D in 60-mode flows across a serpentine Kiwi road in a way that a P100D in P100D mode never does. The 75 and 90 work too, and while 4WD is handy in adverse conditions (or traffic-light drag races), a Model S driven briskly on backroads still works better without that sometimes-awkward push-pull effect.
The Model S remains a deeply impressive machine in terms of its electric hardware, futuristic driving environment and completely outrageous straight-line speed. It's a unique car in the Kiwi market and it does put a smile on your face in so many ways. Just not necessarily when you head for the hills.
So we're recommending the Model S 60 for keen drivers, then? Absolutely not. The P100D is still the one, because it can be any Model S you want it to be.