By on August 3, 2016

Tesla Model S 85D, Image: © 2016 David Marek/The Truth About Cars

The Tesla Model S is neither new nor surprising anymore. When the electric sedan entered the market in 2012, it shattered perceptions of electric cars and proved electric motoring viable.

Since then, Tesla has established itself as the go-to brand for geeks and early adopters. We’ve driven the Tesla Model S before, so there’s no need to talk about its most obvious features. But recent events make this a great time to talk about its second-most-important feature: Autopilot.

Is Tesla’s autonomous system any good? Can it be dangerous? How far is it from being truly autonomous? And, besides that, how did the Model S improve over the last few years?

Disclosure: The car, insurance, and a full battery of electrons were provided by Czech company Business Lease, which imports Teslas into the Czech Republic. It was a European version of the car, which may or may not be different from those found in the United States and elsewhere.

I must admit, of all cars I’ve driven this year, I was most excited about getting behind the wheel of the Model S. I drove one of the early P85 models when they came out, but only briefly and without an opportunity to exploit its real-world usability or range. This time, I had three days with the car. With lots of people wanting to catch a ride in the Model S (the Tesla is still quite a rare sight in Czechia), it was a perfect opportunity to see how the electric car works day-to-day, and in rather challenging conditions.

Why were the conditions challenging? Three things.

First, I had to pick up the car in Prague, drive it to my hometown, then back to Prague the next day to allow a local celebrity traveller, Dan Přibáň, to review it. After that, I had to drive to Brno, the country’s second largest city, to our version of Cars and Coffee. In all, I planned to cover almost 600 miles over three days.

That alone wouldn’t be necessarily difficult if I lived in a house and not an apartment building. But lacking friends with an electrical outlet powerful enough (or close enough to a parking space) to charge a Tesla, I was without any option for overnight charging.

Which brings me to the last problem: the first Supercharger in our country was finished some time after this review, so I had to rely on slower CHAdeMO and Mennekes Type 2 public chargers designed mostly for smaller batteries, like those found in the Nissan Leaf.

Tesla Model S 85D, Image: © 2016 David Marek/The Truth About Cars

Driving and Range

When I arrived to pick the car up, I was disappointed that it was only a 85D, and not the high-performance P85D I’d originally hoped for. After being amazed by the acceleration of the normal P85, I really wanted to try the faster Q-car. But even so, this car is quick — much quicker than the 4.2-second sprint to 60 miles per hour would suggest. It was enough to make most passengers giggle after one or two full throttle runs, and I now fully believe the P85D’s Ludicrous Mode can reverse a passenger’s digestion.

Even more important than showing off with acceleration is the Model S’s ability to be eerily quick in traffic. The way the Model S accelerates into gaps in traffic, from intersections, and out of highway merge lanes is not only fascinating, but makes for a much more relaxed driving experience. You’re not stressed about having to catch up with other cars. Instead, you just adjust your speed as needed. This flexibility is so addictive that, after a while, you start thinking of gasoline motors as something on par with the steam engine.

Tesla Model S 85D Instrument Panel, Image: © 2016 David Marek/The Truth About Cars

I couldn’t test range last time as I simply didn’t have enough time with the Model S to drain the battery. This time, I had plenty of opportunity to get acquainted with public charging and range anxiety — and I could finally find out how far the Tesla could make it on a charge, whether on an economy run or a spirited sprint. This was also one of the first things people asked: “I know it is supposed to go 270 miles on a charge, but how far does it really go?” With European fuel economy tests being totally disconnected from reality (which I wrote about some time ago), this is of great concern to Europeans.

At first, I kept on the safe side of the battery’s charge capacity. I did a few runs around Prague to demonstrate the Tesla’s capabilities to friends and colleagues. In doing so, I drained the battery significantly and didn’t have enough time to fully recharge, so I went home (an 80 mile drive) slowly and carefully. The same was true for the run back to Prague the next day, and home again after that. I recharged the batteries whenever I had an opportunity, but I was still chronically low on battery due to a lack of Superchargers in the country. CHAdeMO chargers take an hour and a half to fully charge the 85D, but they are quite rare. Instead, I often relied on the slow Mennekes chargers, which require several hours. This meant that during the three test days, I only had a full battery twice.

Tesla Model S 85D, Image: © 2016 David Marek/The Truth About Cars

Even so, I learned that I could dart around the country with little difficulty, and discovered the stated range of 270 miles to be surprisingly realistic as long as you drive with a tempered foot. But I already knew that, though not first hand.

But what happens when you drive with no regard to economy whatsoever? When I had a 80 or 90 mile run to do, with battery almost full and a quick charger in my destination, I decided to rush it, doing 20-30 miles per hour over the limit. I was quicker with the Golf R Wagon a few weeks before, but the Tesla run was still about as quick as anyone could want to drive on a public road for an extended period of time. Still, the Tesla’s power consumption was equal to the range of some 200 miles, making it quite practical even for “spirited” drivers.

Tesla Model S 85D Front Seats, Image: © 2016 David Marek/The Truth About Cars

Can It Drive Itself?

This drive was the only one I completed fully in manual mode. Of the rest, I drove about 95 percent of the time with AutoSteer on. Well, maybe “rode” is the right term instead of “drove.” The Autopilot feature was what I was most looking forward to try, and it didn’t disappoint. Sort of.

The moment you first activate AutoSteer and slowly, cautiously move your hands off the steering wheel is one part fascinating, one part terrifying. The first stage is cautious disbelief. You see the car steering itself and monitor what the car “sees” on the dashboard display, but you don’t really trust it. For a few dozen miles, you ride with your hands just off the steering wheel, ready to intervene if anything happens.

As you watch the car cope with traffic and obstacles, you slowly gain more and more confidence in the computer, and eventually relax with your hands on your lap. No matter how much you read about autonomous cars, it’s all on par with astrophysics or Star Trek until you experience one. Riding in a Tesla with Autopilot is the first time you’ll truly believe that autonomous driving may, one day, be possible.

Vojta "driving" the Tesla Model S 85D, , Image: © 2016 David Marek/The Truth About Cars

But no matter what Elon Musk says, Autopilot is still beta software in the truest sense. Now and then, the system will remind you to keep your hands on the steering wheel, forcing you to touch the wheel for a while for it to sense your input. And while the AutoSteer works well on highways and large city arteries, it doesn’t seem very confident on smaller roads, or in coping with the unexpected.

Of the 500 or 600 miles with the Tesla, I probably did 350 of them on Autopilot. Most of my highway runs were spent just watching the car drive itself, chatting with the passengers and listening to music. I could even take my eyes from the road for a while and watch the landscape around me. I saw things I had never noticed in the years I drove those roads. And, what was most interesting, I still felt like I was in control of the car. Even without touching it, the steering wheel in front of me and the knowledge that I could grab it at any time gave me the feeling of “driving” the car without actually doing so. In those three days, the Model S sold me on the idea of self-driving cars. Letting it drive you is more akin to being the captain of a ship and watching your underlings perform your orders than riding shotgun.

Instrument panel with Vojta "driving" the Tesla Model S 85D, Image: © 2016 David Marek/The Truth About Cars

But — and it’s a very large BUT — Autopilot is nowhere near ready yet. I felt safe letting it drive itself on a four-lane highway, with a long straight in front of me, steady traffic and no road construction. Even at night, I knew it would stay in its lane and cope with surrounding traffic. But anytime anything unexpected happened, I grabbed the wheel and took control — and for a good reason. A few times, I tried to let Tesla do its thing to see how close to accident it will get before intervening. The results weren’t very convincing.

While driving on a perfect highway was no problem, the Model S would follow the wrong set of road lines or overlook some cones in roadwork areas. It also couldn’t be trusted around cyclists (it would have run over at least one, were I not watching over it), and some traffic obstacles were pretty difficult for it to understand.

Tesla Model S 85D Trunk, Image: © 2016 David Marek/The Truth About Cars

In short, letting it drive while you are cognizant of what’s going on around you is perfectly safe, and much less tiring than actually driving. I can imagine driving a whole day non-stop (however impossible that may be with EV) without getting tired. But sleeping or watching movie while leaving all driving responsibilities to the car? Never. Not even on a nice highway.

While driving the Tesla sold me on the idea of self-driving car, it certainly didn’t persuade me that the fully autonomous one is anywhere near. A car that can safely navigate a highway is possible in a few years. But autonomous driving in cities, towns and villages? On roads without clear markings? In bad weather? With all my admiration for Mr. Musk, there’s a pretty long way to go.

Between the electric drivetrain and the Autopilot, this Model S represents the future. A time will come when manual gasoline cars will look like steam ships. It may be in 10 years. It may be 20. It may be five, if the technology moves much faster than expected. But it still is the future, not the present.

The Model S, though, is a great car now. There may be times when its range can be limiting, and its Autopilot still feels very “beta,” but for most of the time, it’s the best car on sale right now that does what it does.

[Images: © 2016 David Marek/The Truth About Cars]

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

Recommended

46 Comments on “Tesla Model S 85D European Review: The Future or the Killer?...”


  • avatar
    Syke

    Very nice, informative and level headed review. I never could understand all the negativism regarding a self-driving feature, as I always saw it as a switch-on when you hit the Interstate (or other limited access) highway, and ignore it on the local roads. Seems like Autopilot has that down pretty well already.

    Lord knows I would have loved to have had it all those years I was doing the Ashland, VA to Bangor, ME round trip to visit the late wife’s parents.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      I never could understand all the negativism regarding a self-driving feature…

      The majority of the species is too stupid to be trusted with anything named “autopilot”. They will expect it to handle take off and landing with everything in between.

      You Syke on the other hand, with many miles riding a motorcycle know that staying alert is how you stay alive.

      • 0 avatar
        Drzhivago138

        “The majority of the species is too stupid to be trusted with anything named “autopilot”.”

        But not you, of course, right? You’re smarter than average. :/

        • 0 avatar
          PrincipalDan

          I’m not excluding myself. I can be just as jaded as the next guy.

          • 0 avatar
            SP

            Self-driving cars? I’m not saying we wouldn’t get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops. Uh, depending on the breaks.

          • 0 avatar
            PrincipalDan

            (This one might even be more appropriate.)

            Mr. President, we are rapidly approaching a moment of truth both for ourselves as human beings and for the life of our nation. Now, truth is not always a pleasant thing. But it is necessary now to make a choice, to choose between two admittedly regrettable, but nevertheless distinguishable, post(autonomous vehicle) environments: one where you got twenty million people killed, and the other where you got a hundred and fifty million people killed.

          • 0 avatar
            SP

            Haha, that is right on topic.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    “I could even take my eyes from the road for a while and watch the landscape around me. I saw things I had never noticed in the years I drove those roads. And, what was most interesting, I still felt like I was in control of the car.”

    That is a bug, not a feature. Overconfidence causes crashes.

    • 0 avatar
      Kenmore

      Sounds like Autopilot is completely trustworthy on the open road so long as you don’t encounter cyclists, roadwork or a sideways semi.

      • 0 avatar
        VoGo

        Right. Which is why PCH has been endorsing it from the start. At least, I think he endorses autopilot whole-heartedly; I haven’t read each and every post in detail…

        • 0 avatar
          Pch101

          I am going to take my cues from some of the TTAC commentariat, and say that Autopilot is greatawesomefantasticmagicalstupendous because Tesla did it.

    • 0 avatar
      285exp

      No, overconfidence does not cause crashes, that would put blame on the driver, or passenger in the case of a Tesla on autopilot. They have no duty to look out the window to see if a truck has crossed in front of them, that’s all on the truck driver.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        This whole Vehicle Code thing and the concept of failure to yield has you confused.

        Your local community college may offer affordable driver education classes. I would suggest that you take it at least three times, so that you might learn something from it.

  • avatar

    I’d point out that’s it just the kind of system that’s gonna get somebody killed but that’s already happened.

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      The question of course is it better or worse than the average meat sack? It’s not a high bar.

      Just the other day I was stuck in traffic because someone in an old Volvo plowed into the back of an F150, in the middle of the day, on a dry road. It happens thousands of times a day with meat sacks.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        “The question of course is it better or worse than the average meat sack? It’s not a high bar.”

        So if a doctor commits malpractice, it’s not a big deal because he’s still a better doctor than the guy who bags your groceries.

        As I have noted before, if I save three people from dying but shoot your mother, you are not going to presume that the three good deeds give me a pass to put a bullet in your family member.

        No, that is not the test. This should be similar to the Hippocratic Oath — you do not cause harm. If your product is defective, then you don’t sell it.

        • 0 avatar
          jmo

          The correct comparison would be between a human doctor and IBM’s Watson. If the median human doctor commits malpractice 0.24% of the time and Watson commits malpractice 0.024% of the time it’s better to go with Watson.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            When your product is defective, then you can’t sell it.

            This doctrine applies even to the outofthisworldbeyondreproachthankgodforelonmusk Tesla.

        • 0 avatar

          “No, that is not the test. This should be similar to the Hippocratic Oath — you do not cause harm. If your product is defective, then you don’t sell it.”

          If this was the test being used, no new features would ever be put in place. Products and features are put in place, generally, because they help to alleviate a problem or do something better than whatever currently exists. They generally don’t resolve all of the problems perfectly, every time. Autopilot very likely dramatically reduces the number of accidents by a significant margin compared to humans, so in that way it succeeds (we need data here, but that has been the assumption). Besides, doctors take the Oath and still do harm.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            Congratulations. Not everyone can claim to be completely ignorant of the concept of product liability, but you can!

          • 0 avatar
            Zykotec

            Today I learned that the Tesla model S is a doctor, and is held to a much much higher standard than any actual doctor…

          • 0 avatar
            VoGo

            I thought the doctor was driving a truck, but the Hippocratic oath turned hypocritical when he took an illegal left turn and did harm.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            The truck driver’s failures do not justify Autopilot’s failure to recognize that the truck was not an overhead sign.

            At the same time, the trucker cannot use Autopilot to justify his failure to yield or his illegal turn.

            The truck caused the crash, but the product also failed. However, that does not necessarily mean that the product could have saved Joshua Brown’s life, just as a properly functioning General Motors ignition may not have prevented a drunk driver from wrapping his or her Chevy Cobalt around a tree.

            Tesla doesn’t owe anything to the truck driver, but it may owe something to the Tesla owner. And Tesla owes all of us an explanation via NHTSA.

          • 0 avatar
            TrailerTrash

            Nice job here Pch…

            think I’m gonna write all my post from now on by asking first what Pch would think about it.

          • 0 avatar
            SP

            New forms of swipe gestures on an iPhone don’t have the unfortunate side effect of killing you when they don’t work.

            Cars, trains, ships, planes, spaceships, electrical devices, and hospital equipment are held to a higher standard. For real good reasons.

        • 0 avatar
          healthy skeptic

          @pch101

          I don’t think your hypothetical scenario is entirely accurate here. If I save three people, and then later on deliberately murder someone else, you’re right, I don’t deserve a pass. But if I save three people, and the method I use causes another person to die, that’s a bit different.

          BTW, I’m pretty dubious of semi-autonomous driving myself, but not because I think it’s defective. I think it’s more because autonomous driver need to be all or nothing. If it’s only partial, person will push the boundaries too far.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            Autopilot should know the difference between an overhead sign and a semi-trailer.

            There’s at least one case when it didn’t.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    First thing I noticed was how poor the pile of leather at the top of where the steering column adjusts looks.

  • avatar
    Zykotec

    Finally got to drive one of thee a few weeks ago,but only for about an hour, in a loaner that the local Tesla shop has put certain limitations on (max speed 80mph, and if the guy at the shop had shut off traction control they could fire him at will).
    I must say I have about the same impressions as Vojta, regarding both the performance and the autopilot. Though I admit I don’t quite have the confidence or patience to let it handle small Norwegian roads alone (on small roads it limits itself to 50mph even if the limit is 55)
    The performance is just not comparable to any gasoline powered car I’ve ever tried. I have driven a couple of faster cars, but the smooth continously insane acceleration makes you come up with any excuse to stop and try it again as often as possible. And you’re not getting in anyones way doing it, as you break the speed limit in less than 3 seconds every time. My stomach and neck got pretty tired after a short time though…
    Like Vojta says, it makes accelleration a non issue. You just adjust your speed, no matter what speed you had and what speed you needed. And it gets you there with seemingly no effort, every time, but for me, that makes it quite boring and unengaging very fast. It’s about twice as fast as my brothers Integra, but the Integra is about 13,5 times as fun to drive (maybe not for a whole day i one stretch, I haven’t tried that with any of them)
    I’m not very much of a luxury car fan, so the biggest let downs for me are probably some of the things that make other people buy it. I hate the stalks on the steering column, mostly for the fact that they aren’t placed ‘correctly’ for someone used to Fords and Hondas, but also because they are so very well hidden behind the steering wheel. Also, while adjusting the steering wheel elctrically for the first time was kinda fun, it was only fun for about half a minute, then it starts getting boring very very fast. I could possibly learn to live with electrical seats though.
    Also, although the touchscreen is very intuitive, and easy to use, it’s just waaay to big, and ruins the interior, which otherwise seems very well designed and made ,and it’s very easy to get distracted by it. The sheer size also makes some ‘buttons’ kinda hard to reach even with the seats adjusted to not break my neck every time I tested the acceleration , (seatback almost vertical so that my head actually reaches the headrest, where the h**l did adjustable headrests go?).
    Did I mention my neck still hurt a bit three days later :)

  • avatar
    FormerFF

    “after one or two full throttle runs”

    Throttle? What throttle?

    • 0 avatar
      healthy skeptic

      The throttle that regulates the flow of electricity.

      He didn’t say something like “I hit the gas”, which I’ve actually read in descriptions of driving Teslas.

      • 0 avatar
        FormerFF

        From Wikipedia: “A throttle is the mechanism by which fluid flow is managed by constriction or obstruction.”

        “Accelerator” would be a good term to use. It applies to any powertrain.

        • 0 avatar
          Blackcloud_9

          My, my aren’t we the picky ones.
          …And a box full of nits for all three of you to pick at.
          Why do people still use the imaginary crank motion when they want to signal someone to lower their window when that automotive feature is almost nonexistent. Are you going to tar-and-feather them as well?
          Oh wait…that was a very old adage. I should be pilloried…Oh wait…

  • avatar
    Kendahl

    It sounds like Autopilot is good for rural interstates in Montana, Wyoming, etc., but not much else. Hardly surprising.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    That’s too bad about the Supercharger.

    As soon as you mentioned it, I thought “didn’t they just install one between Prague and Brno?”, but then you said your review took place before that installation.

    Sipping from a Level 2 Chademo charger would add unnecessary range anxiety.

    You tested my favorite color combination, and it’s refreshing to see a review of a Tesla that doesn’t feature ludicrous mode.

    Although I’ve said I never want Autopilot, I wonder if I’d get used to it as you did.

    Also, I see you’ve adopted the new “Czechia” term, but I thought locals hated it. What gives?

    • 0 avatar
      Kenmore

      “the new “Czechia” term”

      I showed this to my ethnic Czech wife and she wants to know why we can’t just call it Bohemia like her grandparents did.

      • 0 avatar
        Vojta Dobeš

        It’s like Great Britain and England.

        Czech Republic (or Czechia) consists of Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia. Calling it “Bohemia” would sound about as cool to Moravians and Silesians as calling UK “England” must sound to Scots and Welsh.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      I didn’t hear the term used in Prague eight weeks ago but I didn’t talk to everyone.

    • 0 avatar
      HotPotato

      Just a point of clarification: Chademo is not level 2, it’s DC quick charge — quick enough even for a Tesla in most use cases.

      Level 1: 1.6 kW – your household AC wall outlet
      Level 2: generally 6.6 kW – standard AC charging station
      DC Quick Charge: Chademo or SAE Combo plug, generally 40-60kW
      Tesla Supercharger: 120 kW

  • avatar
    derekson

    I’m surprised there’s no thread on Tesla’s Q2 $286M loss and Musk admitting that the production rate has been an utter disaster.

    • 0 avatar
      RobertRyan

      Yes, Tesla the company is losing money hand over fist. Production numbers are still microscopic in the US

      • 0 avatar
        VoGo

        Um, the reason there is no article on Musk admitting that the production rate has been an utter disaster is that it never happened. Musk said that production was successfully ramped up in Q2 and is not at 2K/week.

        There also wasn’t an article about the Tesla that drove its owner to the hospital when he had an aneurysm, saving his life.


Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • ToolGuy: Unless someone has been carefully and systematically painting on a salt solution in little circular patterns...
  • Art Vandelay: also like 25 percent of the EV fee is for charging infrastructure which also is funded via, you guessed...
  • Corey Lewis: I have typically used Lexol. Is Leatherique better?
  • Art Vandelay: Both of my Senators back then were “Nays” on the original credit (Sessions, Shelby). My...
  • Corey Lewis: My tip is to avoid the first year GS 300. That was the only year for that engine before they switched to...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Staff

  • Contributors

  • Timothy Cain, Canada
  • Matthew Guy, Canada
  • Ronnie Schreiber, United States
  • Bozi Tatarevic, United States
  • Chris Tonn, United States
  • Corey Lewis, United States
  • Mark Baruth, United States
  • Moderators

  • Adam Tonge, United States
  • Corey Lewis, United States