The Driverless Car – Tesla Model S P90D AutopilotDecember 17, 2015
Beating Spirit celebrated the opening of Tesla’s Manchester South Service Centre by being taken for a spin by the Autopilot in a Tesla Model S P90D.
In ten years of Beating Spirit reviews, it’s always been our testers who have taken cars for a drive. But this time the Tesla took us for a drive.
All you need to do to implement Autopilot is set the cruise control and the autosteer and auto lane change, and the Model S drives, brakes, accelerates and steers all by itself. It will stay in its lane, or if you indicate, it will change lanes.
In the UK at the moment you have to be in control of the steering wheel, but the ultimate plan is that you can have a coffee and browse the web on the Tesla’s huge iPad-like touchscreen while the car drives you to your next appointment.
So of course we weren’t allowed to take our hands off the wheel during our test of Autopilot… but if we had done this, the self-driving car – with the steering wheel constantly moving by itself to keep in its lane – would have been a very strange experience…
Most motoring journalists (but strangely not all!) do the job because they like cars and they like driving. So most of us are likely to have a predisposed reluctance towards self-driving cars. But let’s face it – if you like driving, there’s nothing more frustrating than driving on UK motorways today. An appallingly high number of drivers are in the wrong lane, usually sitting in lane 2 when there’s no traffic in lane 1, and many drivers even sit in lane 3 when there’s no traffic in lane 2 or lane 1. This makes motorway driving incredibly frustrating, as well as more dangerous, congested and slower than it should be. Despite lane hogging now being a supposed traffic offence, it seems to be getting worse.
A self-driving Model S, when you can work or relax in the car, would go some way to alleviating this highly annoying trend. The plan is that self-driving cars will also be safer by eliminating human error – something that seems to be very common based on the amount of crashes on UK motorways – along with the resultant delays and inconvenience for tens of thousands of people. Perhaps the people who sit in the middle lane – probably the same people who seem to crash so frequently on straight motorways – think they are in self-driving cars now and so switch off their brain.
So self-driving cars definitely have a place on the roads of today and on the roads of the future – so what self-driving car would you choose to be in? Well, a Tesla Model S must be one of the most perfect cars to drive itself. It’s amazingly quiet, refined and comfortable. As well as obviously having zero-tailpipe emissions, and a driving range of more than 300 miles. But perhaps one of the most significant features, and another example of yet more smart forward-thinking from Tesla, is that the company can update the software of any Model S around the world remotely via wifi, to constantly develop features such as the self-driving capability.
In October 2015 Tesla started equipping Model S cars with hardware to allow for the incremental introduction of self-driving technology: a forward radar, a forward-looking camera, 12 long-range ultrasonic sensors positioned to sense 16 feet around the car in every direction at all speeds, and a high-precision digitally-controlled electric assist braking system. Tesla’s Version 7.0 software release allows these capabilities to work together to produce very convincing progress towards the fully self-driving car.
It should be noted that Autopilot is still at the ‘beta’ stage of development, and Tesla learns from Model S drivers using Autopilot and improves the system.
When you come off a motorway, you need to take over the driving yourself again. Is this now a tedious task? No. With ‘Ludicrous mode’ offering 751hp, instant and virtually continuous 100% torque delivery, and a 0-60mph time of 2.8 seconds in the 90kWh, twin motor, 4WD Model S P90D, we can guarantee that you will be really happy to drive the car yourself on A and B-roads.
Back at Tesla’s new Manchester South Store, the big news is that there’s a Service Centre here. Not that Teslas need much servicing, but when that time comes, if you live near Manchester and buy a Tesla (which incidentally costs £90,700 for the P90D, with Autopilot being an extra £2200 if specified when ordering a new car, or £2600 to download it to an existing car), it’s nice to know that there’s somewhere local to take it for service.
So what’s next for Tesla? The all-electric Model X SUV is coming to the UK in 2016, and after that there will be a Tesla rival to the BMW 3 Series. Both of these forthcoming models will have real-world electric driving ranges of more than 200 miles, and both will only serve to further increase Tesla’s sales.
Tesla is also expanding its supercharger network on key routes around the UK (and Europe). This means super-fast charging, which is also completely free of charge.
To all those people who said that electric cars would never take off, plug-in car sales have increased by 716% in the UK over the last two years. As more people drive electric cars, they become converts, and they convert others. And as younger people enter the car buying market, they will be less wedded to petrol power, and more predisposed to buying an electric car.
So Tesla has come from nowhere, it has spring-boarded over car manufacturers that have been around for 100 years with its electric car technology, and with tens of thousands of Teslas potentially being used almost autonomously, now it looks like it is leading the charge towards self-driving cars.
If you need more convincing about the brand, read our review of the Tesla Model S P85D.