Richard Berry road tests and reviews the Tesla Model S P90D with specs, energy consumption and verdict.

So, you have an electric car company and a vision for the future where people travel everywhere in vehicles that don't burp noxious fumes. Do you create cute little egg-like buggies that quietly roll around looking lame or do you build sexy machines so brutally quick that they'll leave Porsches and Ferraris scrambling to keep up? Tesla's CEO Elon Musk chose option two when he launched his first car, the Model S in 2012, and won fans on an Apple cult-like scale.

Since then Tesla has gone on to announce the Model 3 hatch, the Model X SUV and most recently the Model Y crossover. Yes together they are S3XY. We've gone back to the Model S, which has been updated with new software, hardware and looks. It's the P90D – the current king of the Tesla range and the fastest accelerating four-door sedan on the planet.

The P stands for Performance the D is for dual motor and 90 refers to the 90kWh battery. The P90D sits above the 90D, the 75D and 60D in the Model S line-up.

So what's it like to live with? What if it breaks down? And how many ribs did we break testing the 0-100 time of 3 seconds?

Design

It's been said before, but it's true – the Model S looks like an Aston Martin Rapide S. It is beautiful, but the shape has been around since 2012 now and is beginning to age. Tesla is trying to hold back the years with some cosmetic surgery and the updated Model S wipes the previous gaping fish mouth off its face, with a tiny slither of a grille to replace it. The blank flat space left behind looks bare, but we grew to like it.

The Model S's cabin feels half minimalist artwork and half science lab.

The updated car has also had the halogen headlights replaced with LEDS.

How big is your garage? At 4979mm long and 2187mm from wing mirror to wing mirror the Model S isn't small. The Rapide S is 40mm longer but 47mm narrower. Their wheelbases are close too – there's 2960mm between the Model S's front and back axles, 29mm less than the Rapide.

The Model S's cabin feels half minimalist artwork and half science lab with nearly every control moved to the giant screen on the dashboard which also displays graphs of energy usage.

Our test car had optional carbon fibre dash trim and sports seats. Sculptured armrests in the doors, even the door handles themselves seem almost alien in how different they look, feel and function compared to those in other cars.

The cabin quality feels outstanding and even in the total silence of electric powered motion, nothing rattled or squeaked - apart from the steering rack which could be heard groaning in car parks as we steered out of tight spaces. 

Practicality

Open that fastback hatch and you'll find a 774 litre boot - nothing can match that size in this class, plus because there's no engine under the bonnet there's 120 litres of storage in the front, too. In comparison the Holden Commodore Sportwagon which is revered for its load space has an 895 litre cargo area – only a litre more than the Tesla's total capacity.

Inside the cabin is roomy, at 191cm tall I can sit behind my driving position without my knees touching the seat back – just, there's a gap the width of business card, but it's still a gap.

The car's batteries are stored under the floor and while that raises the floor higher than a regular car's it's noticeable but not uncomfortable.

Child seat anchor points are easy to get to – we put our bub in the back easily.

What you won't find in the back are cup holders – there's no fold down centre armrest where they normally live and there's no bottle holders in any of the doors. There are two cupholders in the front and, the large centre console storage area has two adjustable bottle holders.

Then there's the mysterious hidey hole in the centre console storage area which kept eating our things, including one wallet, the clicker to a driveway gate and the key to the car itself.

Speaking of the key, it's about the size of my thumb, shaped like a Model S and comes in a little keyring pouch, and that means taking it out and putting it in constantly which was annoying, plus I'd lose the key after one night at the pub, not that I'd be driving home anyway.

Price and features

A Tesla Model S P90D costs $171,700. That's nothing compared to the Rapide S which lists at $378,500 or the $299,000 BMW i8 or the Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid for $285,300.

Standard features include the 17.3-inch screen, sat nav, reversing camera, plus front and rear parking sensors which actually show the exact distance in cm to whatever you're getting close to.

The options list is staggering. Our test car had (deep breath, now): the $2300 red multi-coat paint; the 21-inch Grey Turbine wheels for $6800; the $2300 sun roof, $1500 carbon fibre boot lip; $3800 Black Next Generation seats; the $1500 carbon fibre interior trim; $3800 air suspension; $3800 Autopilot self-driving system; $3800 Ultra High fidelity sound system; $1500 Sub-Zero weather package; and the $4500 Premium Upgrades package.

All 967Nm of torque arrives in one hit when you stand on the accelerator.

But wait there's more, well one more – Ludicrous Mode. A setting which cuts 0.3 seconds off the P90D 0-100 time to bring it down to 3.0 seconds. This costs… $15,000. Yes, three zeros.

All up, our car had options totalling $53,800 bringing the price to $225,500 then add the $45,038 in luxury car tax and that will be $270,538 please - still less than the Porsche, Aston or Bimmer.   

Engine and transmission

The P90D has a 375kW motor driving the rear wheels and 193kW motor driving the front ones, for a combined 397kW. Torque is a sledge hammering 967Nm. If those numbers seem like just numbers, take the Aston Martin Rapide S's 5.9-litre V12 as a yardstick – that enormous and sophisticated engine makes 410kW and 620Nm and can throw the Aston from 0-100km/h in 4.4 seconds.

That incredible acceleration has to be felt to be believed.

The P90D does it in 3.0 seconds and all without a transmission – the motors turn, so do the wheels, as they spin faster, so do the wheels. It means all of that 967Nm of torque arrives in one hit when you stand on the accelerator.

Fuel consumption

The biggest issue facing electric cars and their owners is the vehicle's range. Sure there's always the possibility that your combustion engine car will run out of fuel but chances are you won't be far from a petrol station, while charging stations are still rare in Australia.

Tesla is changing that by installing the fast-filling Superchargers down the Australian Eastern seaboard, and at the time of writing there eight stations spaced about 200km from Port Macquarie to Melbourne.

The range from the P90D's battery is about 732km while travelling at 70km/h. Travel faster and the projected range drops. Add the optional 21-inch wheels and it falls as well – to about 674km.

In 491km of travelling our P90D went through 147.1kWh of electricity – an average of 299Wh/km. It's like reading an electricity bill, but the great thing is Tesla's Supercharger stations are free to use and can put 270km into the battery in just 20 minutes. A full charge from empty takes about 70 minutes.

Tesla can also fit a wall unit charger in your house or business for about $1000 which will fill the battery in about three hours.

I never grew tired of pulling up beside unsuspecting high-performance cars at traffic lights knowing they didn't stand a chance.

As a last resort you can always plug it into a regular 240V power point with the charging cable that comes free with the car and we did this at our office and home. A 12 hour charge will put about 120km on it – which if you're just travelling to work and back should be plenty, especially as regenerative braking also tops up the battery. A full charge from empty will take about 40 hours.

A potential flaw in the current plan is that most of Australia's electricity is produced through coal fire power stations, so while your Tesla has zero emissions the factory making the power is spewing out tonnes of it.

The solution for now is to buy your electricity through green energy providers or put solar panels on the roof of your home for your own renewable source.

AGL has announced an unlimited kilometre charging for $1 a day for electric vehicles, so that's $365 for a year of filling up at home. 

Driving

That incredible acceleration has to be felt to be believed, it is brutal and I never grew tired of pulling up beside unsuspecting high-performance cars at traffic lights knowing they didn't stand a chance – and it's not fair, they're running combustion engines which are powered by tiny fires connect to gears, which will never match the Tesla's instant torque.

Driving a hi-po petrol beast hard especially with a manual gearbox is a physical experience as you rip through the gears, timing your changes with the engines revs. In the P90D you just brace yourself and press the accelerator. A word of advice – tell passengers you're going to do the warp speed acceleration thing beforehand. 

Handling too is excellent for a car that's more than two tonnes, the location of the heavy batteries and motors helps greatly – being positioned under the floor they lower the vehicle's centre of mass and this means you don't get that top-heavy leaning feeling in the corners.

Autopilot is by far the best partially autonomous system out there.

The air suspension is brilliant – first in that it gives you a ride that floats over dips and bumps without being bouncy and second in that you can adjust the car's height from low-slung to high so that you don't scrape the nose getting through drive way entrances. The car will remember the setting and using GPS will adjust the height again next time you're there.

The Ludicrous Mode option is indeed ludicrous at $15,000. But also people spend that type of cash tuning their petrol-powered weapons. Having said that, the non-Ludicrous Mode 3.3 seconds to 100km/h will still appear ludicrous to most people.

Besides, there are better and cheaper options like Autopilot, which is by far the best partially autonomous system out there. On a motorway it will steer, brake and even change lanes itself. Engaging Autopilot is easy, just wait until the cruise control and steering wheel icons appear next to speedo screen and then pull the pull the cruise control stalk towards yourself twice. The car then takes control, but Tesla advises that the system is still in the 'Beta phase' of testing and needs to be supervised by the driver.

It's true, there were times when corners were too tight or some sections of the road too confusing and the Autopilot threw up its 'hands' and asked for help and you have to be there to jump in fast.

Safety

All Model S variants built after 22/9/14 carry the maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating. The Autopilot option brings the self-driving functions and all the associated safety equipment such as AEB, cameras which can recognise cyclists, pedestrians and sensors which 'feel' everything around it, to help it safely change lanes, brake to avoid a collision and park itself.

All P90Ds come with blind spot and lane departure warning and six airbags.

There's a very impressive three ISOFIX mounts across the rear seat and three top tether anchor points for child seats.

Ownership

Tesla covers the P90D's drivetrain and batteries with an eight-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, while the car itself is under a four-year/80,000km warranty.

Yes there are no spark plugs and oil but the P90D still need servicing – you didn't think you could get out of that did you? A service is recommended annually or every 20,000km. There's three prepaid service plans: a three years capped at $1525; Four years capped at $2375; and eight years capped at $4500.

If you do break down, it's not like you can just take the P90D to the mechanic on the corner. You'll need to call Tesla and have it taken to one of its service centres.