On Friday, Tesla announced a suite of upgrades to the Model S sedan. The headline improvement was the introduction of “Ludicrous Mode,” which betters the “Insane Mode” the company created for the high-performance P85D all-wheel-drive, twin-motor version of the car last October.
Insane Mode was truly insane. Here was a four-door luxury car that could do 0-to-60 in a staggering 3.1 seconds. That’s supercar velocity.
But Ludicrous Mode cranks the Model S up to 11. Yes, it truly does. Through some complicated electrical engineering and the addition of a 90kWh battery option, the Model S P85D can, according to Tesla do 0-60 in 2.8 seconds, breaking the highly symbolic 3-second barrier and serving up straight-line performance reserved for roughly half a dozen so-called hypercars, such as the Ferrari LaFerrari and the McLaren P1 — exotic beasts that cost more than a million bucks.
The P85D — actually, it should probably be called the P90D, with the 90kWh upgrade — costs a bit more than $US100,000.
Now that’s ludicrous!
Even more astonishing is how Tesla was able to achieve this level of velocity. As CEO Elon Musk related on a conference call Friday, and in a company statement, Tesla wasn’t exactly trying to create the kind of acceleration for the Model S that would rival what Musk gets from the the products of his other company, SpaceX, and its rockets.
Rather, Tesla was trying to make the powertrain (that’s the battery pack plus the electronics and motors that drive the wheels) last a million miles (itself an impressive goal). This process entailed improving a fuse that would typically melt when sucking too much power. A “smarter” fuse solved this problem — and serendipitously now enables the P85D in Ludicrous Mode to continue, effectively, accelerating in Insane Mode past the previous Insane Mode limits.
It’s double Insane Mode!
The good old Model S
Musk is in many ways at his best when he combines his love of technology and engineering with his geeky adoration of pop culture and his passion for the future. Ludicrous Mode is pure Musk, who at one time owned an exotic McLaren supercar and who appears to have an affection for 1980s cult sci-fi spoofs (Ludicrous Mode is a reference to the 1987 “Star Wars” satire “Spaceballs”).
To listen to him explain the new technology in quite pure terms, using the language of engineers, shows his dedication to a company that has actually become one of the great engineering stories of all time, and that commands the respect of the auto industry. When asked about the Model S last year, Ford CEO Mark Fields said: “We have driven the Model S, torn it down, put it back together, and driven it again.”
High praise, indeed.
The Model S, however, is on the verge of being supplanted by Tesla’s next vehicle, the Model X SUV, scheduled to arrive in a few months, according the Musk (the Model X will also have Ludicrous Mode, although because it’s heavier than the Model S, it will have to settle for being merely the fastest SUV on planet Earth, if it lives up to performance expectations).
The Model S has been around now for a while. It’s gathered numerous accolades. Motor Trend named it Car of the Year in 2013. Consumer Reports has tagged the Model S its top pick for two straight years, even though the car is primarily an upgraded version of the same model. The Model S, you see, is continually improving itself through software updates. If you buy the car in 2015, you could perceive it to be almost a new vehicle in 2016, once the software self-tweaks.
Over the next few years, the Model S will also for all practical purposed be able to drive itself, as Tesla improves its current autonomous-driving features. Other vehicles can drive themselves. But obviously, it will be a while before the Google Car can outrun a Ferrari 458.
We’re so used to the Model S — with its sleek, conservatively futuristic styling, its smoothly magnificent performance, and its massive central infotainment screen — that we now take it for granted. I’ve driven both the single- and dual-motor versions of the car (I drove them on the same day, in fact) and I can tell you that it didn’t take me very long to settle into the Model S’s quiet brilliance.
What a car
But let’s get real. On Friday’s conference call, I asked Musk if Tesla if had been forced to make any suspension or chassis adjustments to the Model S to tolerate the 2.8-second 0-60 performance. He said nope, they just plunked the new battery pack and electronics into the old S and set the sucker loose. Vroom!
Any other automaker would have basically create a whole new car to take advantage of a 0-60 time that broke the 3-second mark. At the very least, they would have blinged up the design in some aggressive way. A faster machine would have to announce, visually, it faster-ness. You would also need a ocean-going shipping container full of money to buy it.
The Model S, in the other hand, didn’t even get a bigger rear spoiler. The car’s basic engineering is so good that it could take its new hypercar-grade acceleration in impeccable stride. That’s some masterful engineering. That’s impressive. And you can get the whole juicy package for less than $US20,000, once you’ve set aside the $US105,000 to purchase the P85D.
Critics will say that straight-line speed is all well and good, but the true test of a performance car is its ability to go around corners. I’m no pro, but I didn’t think the P85D had any issues whatsoever with handling. The all-wheel-drive system makes the thing feel glued to the road. It’s almost too planted in the curves. The slightly more rear-end-wiggly Model S is more fun.
I don’t image that the Ludicrous Mode version would be that much different from the Insane-Mode-only Model S. And in any case, you could save Ludicrous for the drag strip and use Insane for the track. Existing P85D owners can also upgrade to Ludicrous Mode for $US5,000, for the next six months.
Model S forever
We haven’t heard anything about Tesla dropping the Model S from its lineup. The car should be with us for quite a while, assuming Tesla achieves its objectives and becomes a bigger car maker.
But over the next few years, Tesla is likely to refresh or redesign the car. This is simply an inevitable consequence of being in the auto industry: customers get bored with the same-old, same-old.
What we should do for now is take a moment, consider the current Model S in all its glory, and reflect on what a ludicrously marvellous piece of work it is. Tesla and Musk set out to build the Great American Car: beautiful, fast, game-changing. Really, the Greater American Car. And with the Model S, they did it.
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