2014 Tesla Model S P85D: First Drive Of All-Electric AWD Performance Sedan

As a long-time Tesla Model S owner—almost two years now—I was naturally eager to get behind the wheel of the new dual-motor P85D.

I’d had a couple of brief stints in 416-hp P85 loaners while my standard S85 was in for service. Those had been exhilarating enough, almost scary.

What would it be like to drive a Model S with 691 hp and all-wheel drive? And what about all that new autopilot stuff?

The first P85D arrived on the East Coast about 10 days ago, making its public debut at the opening of the new Tesla gallery/service center/Supercharger in Paramus, New Jersey.

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I was able to arrange a test drive last week at the Mount Kisco, New York, store/service center.

The car, in basic black,  was fitted with 21-inch wheels, high-performance Michelin tires, and virtually every bell and whistle except the panoramic roof. List price was about $130,000.

2014 Tesla Model S P85D, road test, Dec 2014 [photo: David Noland]

2014 Tesla Model S P85D, road test, Dec 2014 [photo: David Noland]

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Okay, let’s get the big question answered right up front: How’s the acceleration?

The raw number is well known by now: 0 to 60 mph in 3.2 seconds, the same as the McLaren F1, the legendary million-dollar supercar that Elon Musk drove (and crashed) in his younger days.

It's the quickest 0-to-60-mph time of any sedan in the world.

But the number tells only part of the story. How does it feel?

With stratospheric expectations, and the “Insane” drive mode selected, I punched the accelerator for the first time at about 30 mph on an entrance ramp to the Taconic State Parkway.

2014 Tesla Model S P85D, road test, Dec 2014 [photo: David Noland]

2014 Tesla Model S P85D, road test, Dec 2014 [photo: David Noland]

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The car leaped ahead with a preternaturally smooth and powerful surge, clearly quicker than my standard S85. In 2 or 3 seconds, we were in the 70-mph traffic flow.

Yet somehow,  I was a tad disappointed.

It didn’t feel all that much different than my S85. (Oh, how spoiled I’ve become.) Quicker, yes, but not an entirely new level of quickness.

It didn’t have the feel of getting hit from behind by a train, as a Motor Trend tester had reported. I didn’t feel dizzy, nor did I feel the skin flatten on my cheeks from the G-forces.

And I didn't give that involuntary roller-coaster scream of delight, the usual reaction of first-time Tesla drivers when they floor it.

Perhaps the 3.2-second number and the Motor Trend hyperbole had simply raised my expectations to an unattainable level.

After a few miles of darting effortlessly in and out of traffic, we exited for the return run on the Taconic.

This time the on-ramp was long and straight, and the traffic was light. With no cars behind me, I slowed to a complete stop, and punched the accelerator again.

Like a rocket

Wham!  This time I got it. Cheeks flattened, stomach squeezed, blood rushed to the back of my head. For the first time in a car, I felt G-forces reminiscent of my days as a pilot.

And of course I couldn’t help screaming in delight.

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It turns out that the P85D has much stronger acceleration from 0 to 30 mph than from 30 to 60 mph.

According to Motor Trend figures, the P85D takes 0.83 seconds to hit 24 mph and 1.2 seconds to reach 33 mph. They clocked the full 0-to-60 run at 3.1 seconds, a tenth quicker than Tesla’s number.

That first surge to 24 mph works out to an acceleration of 1.32 G.

That’s faster than one of Elon Musk’s SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets, which would theoretically pull 1.15 G if launched horizontally.

The run from 33 to 60 mph works out to “only” 0.65 G—barely half the acceleration you get from 0 to 28 mph.

MORE: Motor Trend Reviews Tesla P85D, Drools & Froths Uncontrollably

Clearly, Tesla engineers have tweaked the torque curves and gearing of the two motors to maximize stoplight performance, not highway passing performance.

Which makes sense; the acceleration of even a standard S85 is already plenty good enough for any conceivable real-world passing situation.

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