Exclusive: Tesla Model S P90D: A High-Speed 5- or 7-Seat Electric Rocket Ship

Strong points
  • Sleek, low-slung body
  • Thrilling performance
  • Impeccable road manners
  • Flawless all-wheel-drive
  • Comfort and spaciousness
Weak points
  • Rear vision limited by headrests
  • Interior finish not particularly luxurious
  • Distracting control screen
  • Smaller front trunk
  • Time delay for maximum power
Full report

Whatever the news – good or bad – Tesla is always topical, always in the spotlight in media large and small. Located in Palo Alto, in California’s mythical Silicon Valley, this company makes a point of enhancing its image and attracting publicity by regularly revealing new projects and innovations, many of them spectacular.

No one is better at this game than Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who plays social media like a violin. Not content with announcing such trifles as the building of a $5 billion “gigafactory” to make batteries in Nevada, or the Powerwall, a giant home battery charged by solar panels, Musk is always touting the performance of his four-wheeled novelties.

In his eyes, Tesla cars are much more than “green” vehicle royalty, and it’s through their exploits and their performance that the electric vehicle is no longer perceived as a fancy toy for granola types in Birkenstocks and Tilley hats.

Constantly improving performance

From the beginning, the Model S has challenged traditional sports cars with its pure acceleration. The P85D version goes one better, with its two more powerful electric motors and the outstanding traction of its new all-wheel drive. I was able to clock 3.7 seconds for the 0-100 kph sprint in a P85D, and a 12.4-second quarter mile, while preparing the 2016 Auto Guide.

These performance figures would do credit to the best sports cars, and when achieved by a large sedan weighing more than 2,200 kilos they were already riveting. There was more to come, however: the engineers at Tesla Motors and the boss himself had not reached the end of their performance quest with the Model S.

On July 17, 2015, Tesla Motors announced optional upgrades that substantially increased the range, power and performance of the Model S P85D. Enough to merit the title P90D, with a big badge on its hindquarters proclaiming the increase in battery power from 85 to 90 kWh.

Electric wizardry

Yet that is not all. In order to derive full benefit from the new battery and the more powerful motors, you first have to check the $3,700 option that is supposed to increase the range by 6%. You will then have to fork out a modest $12,300 for the “Ludicrous Speed Upgrade”. 

The expression is a nod to the Mel Brooks movie Spaceballs, a send-up of the cult series Star Wars. In the P90D, the word “Ludicrous” replaces “Insane” on the button in the right-hand corner of the screen that summons up maximum acceleration. 

The motors in the P90D version are also more powerful, with 259 and 503 horsepower and 244 and 469 lb-ft of torque, respectively, for the front and rear motors. The total is therefore 762 horsepower and 713 lb-ft of torque for the P90D, compared with 691 horsepower and 6876 lb-ft of torque for the P85D. 

To complicate things just a little more, Tesla now says that the maximum combined usable power at the driveshaft is in fact 463 horsepower, because there is a limit to the maximum power that can be delivered by the huge lithium-ion battery that lurks under the floor of the P90D. 

With the optional Ludicrous Mode, maximum power goes to 532 horsepower, thanks to Inconel alloy connectors that deliver the maximum output of 1,300 to 1,500 amps from the battery. Elon Musk will be sourcing this aerospace-grade super-alloy from SpaceX, another of his companies, which uses it in the engines of the Falcon rockets it manufactures for NASA. Ludicrous Mode also includes a special high-capacity fuse that lets you use more of the electric power available without the risk of damaging the battery.

How do you know whether Ludicrous Mode has been installed? The badge on the rear is simply underlined with a silver stripe. Look for “P90D”

Adjust your head restraint before you begin

You have to experience the unheard-of accelerative power of the P90D personally in order to realize how intense the feeling is. Repeat the exercise, and you will be looking for a neck brace. The P85D gives you a firm push back into your seat as you pull away, but in the P90D, the impression is more like being launched by an aircraft carrier’s catapult, so sudden and violent is the shove you feel for the first few milliseconds.

You have to be patient before each start, however, because the propulsion system has to prepare the battery for the rush of power. That’s right, before each start. Assuming you have to have the best available acceleration, of course.

All you do is touch “Maximum Battery Power” on the 17-inch control screen, and wait. I waited a good five minutes, motionless, with just a faint whistle in my years, before the first quarter-mile sprint. I waited a good two minutes before each subsequent test. Not really convenient at the next red light, or on the dragstrip.

The wait is nevertheless worth the trouble. When you deactivate Creep Mode, again using the screen, the car remains motionless without having to work the brake pedal. When I suddenly floor the accelerator, the P90D lunges forward as it presses my skull into the headrest.

For the first few seconds, I was quite literally breathless. I had never felt anything like it, even when testing a Bugatti Veyron with more than 1,000 horsepower at the ICAR track a few years ago. Halfway to the line, however, the acceleration of the Tesla levels off, whereas a Porsche 911 Turbo or a Nissan GT-R would continue to build thrust.

So this is what an AWD electric car is like. The acceleration and the torque are indeed ludicrous at launch, without a trace of wheelspin, even though the Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires were somewhat worn, according to Renaud Pierre Bérubé, Tesla’s Montreal manager. Once the P90D’s 2,239 kilos are in motion, the wind resistance increases just as quickly, until the end of the quarter mile. We can hardly wait to check our time.

Incomparable and unmatchable performance

That day in early October, it was 10 degrees in the sunshine, with a gentle breeze. The average of the best run in each direction – to cancel out the effect of the wind – was 3.4 seconds for 0-100 kph, and 11.8 seconds for the quarter mile, with a top speed of 184.3 kph.

I turned a 0-100 in 3.2 seconds and a quarter mile in 11.6 seconds when I checked the one-foot rollout mode of my VBox device so that it would leave out the first foot (or 30 cm) travelled. This simulates the way dragstrip timers work. Tesla uses the same calculation in promising a 3.0 second mark. 

We really were not far off, particularly as the P90D electric would have gone faster had it been warmer, unlike a traditionally-powered vehicle. Its overtaking sprints are also lightning-fast, at 60-100 kph in 1.9 seconds and 80-120 kph in 2.4.

All this dazzling performance comes from a large seven-seat sedan weighing two and a half tonnes. This particular P90D was equipped with third-row seating, an option chosen by only 5% of Tesla buyers.

You would need at least a Porsche 911 Turbo to beat it (just), with 520 horsepower, all wheel drive, launch mode and 644 fewer kilos. Remember that the P90D’s maximum usable power is 532 horsepower.

Remember also that the German supercar makes a large dent in a barrel of oil to record those times, whereas the P90D doesn’t use a drop. I’m exaggerating, but only a little. 

Better yet, the electrons I “refilled” the battery with at the Tesla Montreal Supercharger are perfectly “green” in our hydro-dominated land. No charge for the charge, so to speak, if you’re a Tesla customer.

Just to complete the statistical picture: the cargo volume of the 911 Turbo is 115 litres, and the Tesla Model S offers 1,645 litres. Definitely more convenient for those family trips!

Marc Lachapelle’s test drives

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