Tesla still doesn't get enough credit for how incredible the Model S is

Tesla’s famous Ludicrous Mode — 0 to 100kmh acceleration in 2.8 seconds, for a properly configured vehicle — just got an upgrade. Tesla announced this week that its new 100-kilowatt-hour battery pack will enable the P90D sedan to make the 0 to 100kmh run in 2.8 seconds.

Ludicrous Mode improved on Insane Mode, which was created for the high-performance P85D all-wheel-drive, twin-motor version of the car last October. The new Model S P100D now improves on Ludicrous Mode. Call it Ludicrous Plus.

Insane Mode itself was truly insane. Here was a four-door luxury car that could do 0 to 100 in a staggering 3.1 seconds. That was supercar velocity.

But Ludicrous Mode cranked the Model S up to 11. Through some complicated electrical engineering, the highly symbolic 3-second barrier was shattered. Straight-line performance was now up there with what we expect from 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.

Ferrari laferrari red small sizeFerrariThe Ferrari LaFerrari.

Now we have a Ludicrous Mode Tesla that’s
faster than a Ferrari LaFerrari or Porsche 918.

Even more astonishing is how Tesla was able to achieve this level of velocity. 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 Ludicrous Mode Model S’s to continue, effectively, accelerating in Insane Mode past the previous Insane Mode limits.

Likewise, the 100 kWh pack enhances that acceleration and empowers an additional push.

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”).

McLaren F1 GTRMcLaren AutomotiveInspiration for the Model S.

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 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 2016, you could perceive it to be almost a new vehicle in 2017, once the software self-tweaks.

As Tesla improves its current autonomous-driving features over the next few years, the Model S will also be able to drive itself. Other vehicles can drive themselves. But obviously, it will be a while before the Google Car can outrun a Ferrari LaFerrari.

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. Last year, I asked CEO Elon Musk if Tesla had been forced to make any suspension or chassis adjustments to the Model S to tolerate Ludicrous Mode. 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 to basically create a whole new car to take advantage of a 0 to 60 mph 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 an ocean-going shipping container full of money to buy it. (To be honest, I actually think Tesla might want to now consider making a true hypercar.)

The Model S, on 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 under $200,000.

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 don’t think the Model S has 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 wouldn’t choose a Model S as a track car. But then again, most of my track-car choices wouldn’t be able to haul around my family of five.

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.

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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