Like the majority of people living in London, the impracticalities, not to mention cost, of owning a car far outweigh the benefits of being able to go on a road trip or comfortably complete a big food shop every now and again.
Not that it stops me wanting to. Tesla is among the world’s most exciting and innovative companies, straddling the dual industries of technology and motoring with a vision to create sleek, good-looking zero-emission electric vehicles. Founder Elon Musk, also founder of PayPal and space mission enterprise SpaceX, is often painted as some sort of eccentric genius, but the success of Tesla’s automotive empire in just 14 short years (it was only founded in 2003) speaks volumes.
Two Tesla models are available in the UK currently, the Model X and the Model S, with the forthcoming Model 3 expected to make it across to our shores later in the year. The Model S is an attractive four-door saloon capable of accelerating from 0 to 60mph in 2.5 seconds, powered by electricity. Depending on your model’s battery capacity, you can drive up to between 323 miles and 409 miles on a single charge, depending on the road conditions and the activated settings.
It also features what car experts have declared the most advanced form of driving assistance autopilot on the market, classified as a Level 2 system, or partial automation. Basically, this is the closest you can currently get to feeling as though you’re in a driverless car, without actually being in a driverless car.
Tesla’s Autopilot is designed to be used on long stretches of road like dual carriageways and motorways, and in models built between September 2014 and October 2016 uses a combination of a front-facing camera, radar and 12 ultrasonic sensors to check for blind spots and track the vehicles moving around me. This, I was assured, was what would keep me safe as I drove from West Drayton towards Slough on the busy M4.
When I activated it, the car automatically sped up to match the speed limit and positioned itself slap-bang in the middle of the chosen lane, when initially felt pretty nerve-wracking. I had to keep my hands on the wheel at all times, and it was surreal to feel the wheel twitching under my palms in its own independent movements. Indicating and firmly pressing the wheel in the direction in which I wanted to change lanes resulted in the car smoothly gliding over, pending on whether the road markings were strongly defined enough for it to sense where to go.
Eventually, I relaxed to trust the car’s judgment. Like everyone else, my initial reaction when speeding towards a slowing car was to head to slam on the brake, and that very human fear takes a lot of self-control to overwrite. Once I did, I realised I felt more alert. I focused less on menial tasks like maintaining speed and following the line of the lane, and more on the general state of the road. As an out-of-practice driver, I felt calmer and more reassured with this extra level of security, rather than powerless. Tesla claims that drivers supported by Autopilot are safer than those driving without, and I believe them.
It also helps that the interior is so comfortable. The dashboard sports a gigantic 17-inch display for sat-nav and music controls, and running on electricity means there’s virtually no noise. Tesla regularly updates its cars’ systems via wireless fixes, which it can download over your home Wi-Fi, while the vehicles also sport their own LTE data connection for navigating maps and web browsing. Another massive plus is its ability to Autopark, spelling an end to the hell which is parallel parking.
How the Tesla Model S autoparks: pic.twitter.com/mjZpRDnVCv— Rhiannon Williams (@RhiannonJudithW) April 4, 2017
Obviously, this kind of luxury does not come cheaply. The Model S starts from £68,500 and rises to £73,500, while the Model 3 will cost a more affordable £35,000 when it starts shipping in the winter. Last October, Musk announced that all forthcoming Tesla models would be equipped with full-self-driving hardware, which would require no human intervention whatsoever.
The company will roll out the appropriate self-driving software features as and when regulation allows it – unfortunately, here in the UK, we’re still unlikely to see fully self-driving vehicles zipping around our streets for another four years or so. The Model S banished my fears and made me fall back in love with driving. For me, those fully self-driving cars can’t come quickly enough.
Who is Elon Musk?
Elon Musk, 45, is the South African-born mastermind behind SpaceX and electric car company Tesla Motors. Mr Musk also founded software company Zip2 and financial service X.com, which later merged with PayPal. He is currently waiting on approval from his shareholders to acquire solar power system provider SolarCity. With an estimated net worth of $11.5bn (£9.4bn), he is the 83rd wealthiest person on the planet, and has now set his sights on other galactic territories: namely Mars. The father of six envisions humans living on Mars from 2024, saying he wants to lower the risk of human extinction “by making life multiplanetary”.