Browse over 9,000 car reviews

Sorry, there are no cars that match your search

Behind the wheel of the autonomous Tesla Model S

Look mum, no hands! The Tesla Model S can now drive itself on the freeway, changing lanes and monitoring its own speed.

Virtual reality, 3D printing, and of course the internet are all remarkable testaments to our crazy new reality but nothing quite screams The Jetsons like sitting hands-free at the wheel of Tesla's Model S, which has just been up­graded across the world with glorious autopilot mode.

It's a feature designed for freeway automation but will before too long — Tesla reckons about two years — get you from point A to point B without you needing to touch the steering wheel.

This wasn't my first rodeo with Tesla's $100,000-plus Model S.

My last test drive a few months ago ended somewhat ignobly, requiring the help of a tow-truck to get back on the road. This time around, the car was taking charge of the wheel and though it'd been only a couple of months I was now sitting in a very different car.

Incredibly, it's a change that comes courtesy of an over-the-air software update, rather than any hardware modifications. Tesla says every Model S it has sold in Australia bar a few ex-demo units has the hardware needed to take full advantage of autopilot, including a ton of sensors all around the car and a few cameras too.

Your car hurtles down the freeway, following the corners with precision and slowing down and speeding up as required

Sitting behind the wheel as a passenger is a weird experience, although the vehicle isn't entirely autonomous. Turning autopilot on follows a similar path to enabling cruise control: you get to your desired speed and pull the cruise control switch forward. Then, provided there's a steering wheel icon on the dashboard to show that the car is pulling in enough data, you pull the switch forward again, enabling autopilot.

You're then free, arguably legally, to do whatever you want with your hands (though Tesla recommends "keep your hands on the wheel") and feet, while your car hurtles down the freeway, following the corners with precision and slowing down and speeding up as required.

The initial uneasy feeling of distrust of the machine is quickly allayed as you realise that the car is a better driver than you are.

It maintains a safer distance, keeps its line a lot more smoothly, and doesn't get distracted. My passengers couldn't help but giggle in disbelief at the whole thing. Apart from the unprecedented freedom to do anything with my hands, you do also get weird looks from passing drivers, which is fun in itself. The car even completes lane changes on its own, hitting the indicator will tell the car you want to change lanes and it will do so as soon as there's a safe gap.

As long as there's a human in control of a car, there will be deaths on the road

Australian law states you need to be in complete control of the car at all times, though it doesn't stipulate what "complete control" is, so technically you could take your hands off the wheel and still be in control. But things will get interesting from here, probably both in court rooms and on the road.

Following the drive, I couldn't help but think that one day, the act of driving will have to be made illegal, or severely curbed, in order to achieve a zero road toll. As long as there's a human in control of a car, there will be deaths on the road — we are fallible.

Humans are probably not going to give up the right to drive in a hurry, but the Tesla S gives you the best glimpse of the future of cars. As software takes centre stage, it's quite likely that day-to-day travel on the road will become a fully automated process, in which passengers moving from point A to point B will have no input.

Over time, we may need designated parks or tracks for those who want to take the wheel and drive. For now, the challenge is to work out how semi-autonomous vehicles safely share the road with their old-world cousins.

Policymakers will need to start having some critical conversations around what we want driving to be and it's more than likely to be a highly charged conversation.

The autopilot feature is new but the Tesla Model S's pre-existing features are just as impressive. Having Insane Mode switched on still feels like riding a rollercoaster. Pumping the Model S audio system up to 11 still rocks and the car itself is sheer fun from start to finish. I have never reviewed the same product within the space of a couple of months and have it transform into something brand new. It's crazy and it's the future.