Tesla Model S P90D Ludicrous Quick Review
Critic’s Notebook takeaway: Tesla brings a machine gun to a pistol fight. But does it have enough bullets?
The Tesla Model S P90D Ludicrous is the perfect car. Except for the interior. And the electronic glitches everyone says are inevitable. And the GPS that’s always lying. OK, maybe it isn’t perfect, but it exists in a different and better universe than everything else.
To what, then, does one compare it? It’s a $120,000+ electric sedan with the acceleration of a new Porsche 911 Turbo S, the range of a mercilessly flogged 1977 Mercedes 450 SEL 6.9, and the interior of a 1990 Lexus LS400 that's been converted for taxi use. It's a surreal package of supercar performance and price-point engineering for a luxury price point. It's a work of genius that forcibly redefines how cars are classified.
Because there are really only two types of cars on the market: cars of today, and cars of tomorrow. The best cars of today turn excellence into a commodity; we worship at the badged altars of AMG, M, V, RS and Polestar, but those brands' base versions are themselves no slouches in performance or build quality, and even rival brands today are only really differentiated by design cues and various small, temporary advantages in tech or horsepower or features.
Then you have the cars of tomorrow, a class once represented by the 1955-75 Citroën DS21 and now by the Tesla Model S. Let's call it the "accessible future," and Elon Musk’s vision makes even the best cars of today look like bricks.
The P90D Ludicrous will match or beat its obvious competitors in all the objective performance tests. Bring out your AMG and M cars—the Tesla will out-accelerate them all. Top speed is electronically limited to 155 mph, but unless you’re 14 years old or Cannonballing, that doesn’t matter. Handling is incredible thanks to the low center of gravity inherent to EVs that use the massive battery as a floorpan. Comfort? There's an optional $2500 air suspension. (I admit that even with that option the car is still too stiff for my taste—but that's also true of everything that says AMG, M, V, RS or Polestar.) The Model S has tons of interior space, and because it’s electric, it’s dead quiet, and the stock stereo sounds far better than competitor's name-brand systems.
Tesla’s Autopilot is also the only Level 3 technology that will drive itself for more than a few minutes. That means you still need to be ready to take over, but in good conditions it’s a revelation. Until the latest Volvo and Mercedes systems arrive later this year, Tesla’s is the only truly effective system in the game.
However, there's a price to owning a car of tomorrow, and it’s more than monetary. It comes down to compromise.
Back in the era of the Citroën DS it was the reliability of the vaunted hydropneumatic suspension. In a Tesla, it’s a little more complicated, because the compromise depends on you.
Take the infotainment and controls. A gorgeous, 17-inch touchscreen dominates the dash, shaming competitors with its simplicity and dazzling clarity. It's amazing and technophiles will love everything about it; I still fear what will happen when it fails and renders 95 percent of the car's functionality inaccessible. I want redundancy. I want knobs. You know, like what you get in the cars of today.
There's also the ever-present issue of range. Plenty of modern cars can get 400 miles on a tank of gas, while Tesla rates the P90D at 270 miles. If you have a charger at home, or at work, or live near one of Tesla's free Superchargers, there's no problem. If not? Time to reboot your life, because instead of a weekly, ten-minute gas station visit, you'll likely need to make two to three runs to places you've probably never been before, and might be stuck for a while in a place you don't enjoy. Ever spent an hour behind a Dairy Queen, or an Arby's? I have, several times, and late at night. It was creepy.
Also, the GPS can be problematic. You'll never get the maximum range out of your Tesla if you trust the car's nav system, because in order to protect owners from running out of power Tesla has built in a range buffer. The system's motivation is clear but its logic is opaque: On a recent drive from New York to Detroit, it tried to divert me more than 100 miles south, into Maryland, adding over an hour to my trip. If you want to use non-Tesla chargers, you won’t find them through the factory nav system.
(The takeaway: If you want a P90D as much as I do, invest in a home charger and do some real study on all available charging locations near you. Tesla’s Supercharging Network is expanding, but for now you should download Plugshare, buy a Chademo adaptor, and free yourself of the charging monopoly Tesla wants you to buy into. Yes, Superchargers are free, but the real cost is Tesla's attempt to manipulate you into functioning exclusively within the company's proprietary ecosystem, as the nav system illustrates.)
What about the Tesla’s hilariously spartan interior? Talk about clean design: it doesn’t have door pockets. There are three possible explanations for this: 1.) price-point engineering; 2.) Musk, in order to keep Tesla models uniformly attractive post-sale, ordered the removal of places where interior trash could gather; or 3.) both of the above.
It drove me crazy. It also forced me to take out the trash every time I stopped.
Let’s talk again about that acceleration. Unless you're an astronaut or a Formula 1 driver, you’ve never felt this kind of power. Flooring a P90D unleashes 760 horsepower in a single, vomit-inducing thrust. It’s a great trick, but ultimately a pointless one. Yes, zero-to-60 mph in 2.8 seconds is cool; it also made me ill. If I wanted to drag race I’d change careers, and the Ludicrous option costs $10,000. Save your money. Sprinting to 60 mph in 3.1 seconds is plenty for getting to the next red light ahead of the guy one lane over.
The sweet spot of the lineup is actually the 90D, which, for $20,000 less, gets just over 300 miles of range. Get the 19-inch wheels instead of the 21s and squeeze a few more miles out of it. It does 0-60 mph in 4.2 seconds, which is still impressive.
Would I buy a Model S? No. I’d lease one. Despite the fact that Christian von Koenigsegg, a man who knows a thing or two about cars, has publicly declared his love for his Model S, the company is young and the cars haven’t been out long enough to know anything about long-term reliability.
But I already miss this car terribly. If only there was a charger in my NYC garage.