Tesla (finally) launches in Australia
Anthony Fordham
at 09:57 AM Dec 10 2014
Contributor Lindsay Handmer's 2m frame (plus beard) fits easily.
A Fordham
Cars // 

Last night, Tesla Motors opened its showroom in Artarmon, Sydney and delivered the first nine Model S cars to Australian buyers. Yes, after what feels like a decade (but was actually a little under two years) the world's favourite high-performance, fully-electric sedan is here. And at a price surprisingly close to parity with the US.

Australian Popular Science managed to get a quick test drive on the morning before the official launch, as a part of a refreshingly low-key media event. There were no sporting celebrities, no fireworks, no booth babes, just Tesla's Australian sales team on hand to take us through the car.

On a short spin around Sydney's north, we were at last able to experience America's newest car marque on Aussie roads.

Because of the absence of a drive shaft and thus a totally flat floor, the right-hand-drive conversion avoids any of that slight awkwardness you often get with US or European cars. And the reliance on the central, 17-inch touchscreen instead of buttons helps too.

The car isn't as luxuriously appointed as similarly-priced vehicles from BMW or Mercedes, but the performance of the range-topping P85D - 515 kW, 0-100 in 3.4 seconds - from a car this roomy is something you usually only get by spending three or four times as much.

Pricing is a surprise. ACT residents, thanks to the territory waiving stamp duty for EVs, get the base Model S the cheapest, at $97,245. Prices vary in other states, but in NSW the P85D will run you $158,875 all-in.

Yes, it's a luxury car alright, but in the US its base price is US$105,670 ($127,430) versus $133,500 here. There's clearly very little Australia Tax being applied.

Tesla says the first crop of Aussie customers are a mix of tech-heads, but also rev-heads who can't get past the amazing performance. On our drive we were stuck in a bunch of narrow 50 km/h streets, but it was easy to feel the potential. Anything more than a nudge of right-pedal was enough to sample that sci-fi electric whine and solid shove from the electric motor between the rear wheels.

The lack of physical buttons on the dash will no doubt trouble some older drivers, but the ultra-old-school column-mounted shifter will remind them of their 1974 Ford Fairlane. And the external styling doesn't stand out TOO much on the road - people who know, will know, and you can expect a few thumbs-ups from the footpath as you whisper by.

Tesla has only two supercharger stations in Australia at launch. One at the dealer in Artarmon, and one at the Star Casino down on the harbour. As a sweetener, Tesla owners get free parking at the casino - perhaps because they are, in some ways, still taking a bit of a gamble on buying a new American marque.

Next year, Tesla will connect Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne with superchargers so drivers can make the trip without range anxiety (the units are typically positioned every 200 km on a route - a safe gap for even the most spirited drivers). The specialised charger can top up the Model S's battery by 50% in around 20 minutes. Tesla pushes this as a "stop revive survive" feature.

In 2016, Brisbane will join the network, creating a Tesla-friendly link between the major Eastern cities. Where it goes from there depends on how Australians embrace EVs.

The main thing with the Model S though, even more than the performance, is the range. On our drive, the car reported over 350 km of remaining range. That's a bit tight compare to a big petrol sedan, but for city driving - and Tesla says the vast majority of customers are city dwellers - it means charging only a couple of times a week, if that.

We'll bring you more detailed impressions of the car once we've had a longer drive. 

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