Tesla Model S P100D: the Fidget Spinner

Unless you have your head in the sand, it’s hard to ignore the seemingly overnight success of the fidget spinner. Virtually everywhere you look, kids (and adults too) have a little device whizzing around on their fingertips, and these ‘toys’ that come in various materials and a vast array of colours have become the must-have item of the moment.

Wikipedia cites Catherine Hettinger with being the inventor. Apparently her motivations were looking for a distraction for kids throwing stones at Israeli police and a way to play with her daughter despite her own autoimmune disability. Hettinger filed a patent for a spinning toy in 1993 (see, not overnight) but she herself concedes that there is little resemblance to the latest and most popular version and her original patent.

Regardless of who and when this alleged little stress reliever came into being, its simple design of ball bearings and spinning ‘blades’ has certainly garnered international attention. Just like this spinning device (but obviously far less basic), you’d be hard pushed to find anyone that didn’t know about a Tesla. Again, despite the electric vehicle’s seemingly overnight success (and having Elon Musk as its founder), the Tesla was developed by Silicon Valley brains Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning back in 2003. Again, regardless of its roots, the Telsa has garnered international attention and in many ways ‘cult status’.

Being a relic from the early age of steam – well that’s how I feel sometimes – I have been known to be a little resistant to change. I enjoyed growing up with small, efficient engines that made more noise than power, gears that crunched when changed and a stark lack of need for things like traction control, so please bear with me when I say that when it comes to the Tesla, I’m not a gooey-eyed fan of this ‘vehicle of the future’ (well not entirely anyway).

All new vehicle sales graphs would have you believe that in the not-too-distant future we will all be driving around in electricity-powered SUVs. And when you throw in the increasingly lacklustre desire to drive coupled with the vehement demand for road safety (and saving the planet) – it’s easy to understand why Tesla is a poster child for EVs. So, in an attempt to embrace the future, I picked up the ‘key’ to the Model S P100D.

To me, the sedan’s exterior sits somewhere between a regular looking (but upmarket) conventional vehicle and a futuristic car of sci-fi movies (that face). The interior is somewhat the same. It has conventional instrumentation dials in all the right places, leather seats, alcantara headlining and dash, and even has a steering wheel, BUT… then it has a mammoth (17-inch) touchscreen that is sooo connected it’s unreal and a giant leap towards driver unnecessity.

Tesla is more than happy to talk you through the car’s vast list of features and benefits and I have to tell you, that’s done with a beaming smile – and there is a lot to be proud of. I did cut the poor chap short a bit, though, as I wanted to see how intuative it all was. Very, I found.

The infotainment has its own sim card, so it’s constantly connected. Like your computer or smartphone (which it is) the Tesla upgrades and refreshes at will and when the tech team has its latest gem of brilliance that needs to be added. The screen is easy to navigate around (and with giant Google maps) it’s easy to navigate from. All controls are touch menus and the descriptions are in layman’s terms and often funny – especially when it comes to air filtration and going fast. The former has a somewhat 99.something filter (that is good for nuclear fallout apparently) and the latter has prompts like ‘no, I want my Mommy’ dissuading you from Ludicrous+ utilisation – as if.

Let’s cover this party trick off now. With a long, clear straight in front of you (I recommend this), via the driving menu you move from Sports to Ludicrous, then hold that setting for five seconds to get into the plus. The final prompt has you accept responsibility for your actions (followed by a Star Wars-warp speed visual). It seems a bit dramatic, but it’s actually warranted. A stamp on the accelerator and you can wave goodbye to your mind and stomach as you leave it in your rearview mirror (if you could look there). The feeling is rollercoaster surreal and even uncomfortable; it’s a sensation that sits between laughter-inducing and breakfast-revisiting – oh, and addictive. Zero to 100km/h speeds of sub-3 seconds have been quoted and I can well believe it… and it’s got a traction control that I can’t!

Now that we’ve got that out of the way… There is very little need to take the ‘key’ out of your pocket, in fact none. Walk to the Model S and the door handles come out to meet you – vice versa when you leave – none of that locking/unlocking worry. To start, you just put your foot on the brake and select the gear via the steering column stalk. Driving around the streets at a normal pace is all fine and dandy, there is a visual of the car in the instrument panel that lets you know when things are near or around, almost irrelevant when you are in control, or even when in Adaptive Cruise, but in Autonomous mode, this brings Tesla’s other similarity with the spinning toy to the fore: it fidgets.

Adaptive Cruise Control has (to all intents and purposes) been mastered. On the open road, or now even in heavy commuter traffic, you can engage this system and (relatively) relax. Not so when it comes to Tesla’s Autonomous mode. Pulling back on the the steering stalk twice makes the blue steering icon appear on the instrument panel – the car has control of the drive – or has it? I tried the system out a couple of times and on the motorway it works in a very similar vein to Adaptive cruise (but is constantly making noticeable adjustments ie, fidgeting). In Autonomous, these ‘moves’ are amplified and it’s unnerving. It’s worse still on the A/B roads. I found the Tesla struggling to cope with the information it received – corners, fences, road markings and other cars (it braked at odd times and crossed the white lines – it’s not fluid at all) and the potential for disaster was huge. I guess with all new boundary-pushing technology, there are teething troubles, but it still needs a lot of work to have it drive you to Wellington while you relax in the back seats. The motorway lane-change feature worked well.

My overall impression of the Tesla was that it’s very impressive – and it’s actually wooing me. There is so much going on in terms of ticking all the future automotive boxes, it’s not funny. With a 500-kilometre driving range (provided you behave – and have a proper home charge facility), connectivity, space, luxury, straightline speed, ride comfort… I could go on. But, and it’s a big but, I for one won’t be handing my driving licence over to it any time soon (or changing from my 80s music selection either for that matter). Now, where’s my fidget spinner?