Tesla Model S 85 drive-5

Back in October, we had the chance to get up close with the first two Tesla vehicles to be brought in to Malaysia via official channels – the exclusive preview of the vehicles, both rear-wheel drive Model S 85 versions offered not just a comprehensive photo gallery but also a chance to get an initial feel of the car, albeit in limited scope, given that the cars hadn’t been registered at that point.

Last month, through a special arrangement, we were again invited to have another go with the car for a day, the road-going session offering a better insight into its character and workings in real-world conditions.

A recap on timelines and perspective, for those still unaware of the unique manner in which Tesla vehicles are set to be deployed in the country. The two S 85s are essentially the lead elements of a programme initiated by Malaysian Green Technology Corporation (GreenTech Malaysia), one that will see Teslas being made available here through a leasing scheme.

Tesla Model S 85 drive-2

The main bulk of the cars, when they eventually arrive, will be available on a contracted two-year leasing period, and will – as mentioned when the programme was first brought to light in May this year – only be offered to government-linked companies (GLC).

The intent of all this is to allow influential parties the means to better understand the merits of electric vehicles (EVs) by sampling the technology for themselves, and is meant to aid GreenTech Malaysia’s push to expand the EV scope in the country through its Electric Mobility Blueprint.

The leasing programme is sanctioned by Tesla Motors, which is not keen to have its cars sold in direct fashion in Malaysia – the automaker is agreeable to the running of the initiative on the understanding that the cars are to be used for increasing awareness of EVs and their tech amongst policy makers.

Tesla Model S 85 drive-33

Back in May, GreenTech Malaysia CEO Ahmad Hadri Haris said that under the agreement with Tesla Motors, GreenTech Malaysia cannot sell the cars for a period of two years, but GLCs interested in purchasing the cars will be able do so once the 24-month timeframe has expired, which is also when the leasing agreement period per vehicle comes to an end. Leasing costs bandied back then was said to be in the region of around RM6,000 per month.

Originally, GreenTech Malaysia said it planned to bring in 110 cars for the leasing programme, a mix of the S 85 and Model S 70D all-wheel drive variant, the larger proportion of cars being made up of the latter. The latest is that this number may not be capped at that, depending on demand, and some aspects of the programme itself may be revised, the primary one regarding the possibility of individual customisation of the cars.

Next, a rundown of the Malaysian S 85’s specs, as mentioned in our initial report. The base 362 hp variant is equipped with an 85 kWh battery, which offers up to 426 km of travel on a single charge. The S 85 will come with a single 10 kW charger, a mobile connector with a 240 volt outlet as well as a SAE J1772 public charging adaptor as standard.

A quick aside on the road tax for the car, which turns out is a staggering RM5 per year. No idea how this rate was achieved, or for that matter the manner of conversion by the JPJ to that (the electric powertrain is apparently the equivalent of a conventional mill with a 5,792 cc displacement).

The two cars are specified with Smart Air Suspension, Premium Interior and Lighting, Autopilot Convenience features and even a SubZero Weather Package, the latter an extension brought about by the specification of the optional executive seats, which revises the rear bench to a twin-occupant-only row, on the two cars. The two cars will be the only Malaysian-spec Teslas to feature these exec seats, as the automaker has dropped the option for the model.

Additionally, there’s Autopilot Convenience, the package coming with traffic-aware cruise control, lane keeping with automatic steering, self-parking and automatic high/low beam headlights. Safety kit, meanwhile, includes eight airbags (head, knee and pelvis airbags in the front, plus two side curtain airbags), parking sensors, blind spot warning, lane departure warning and automatic emergency braking.

Tesla Model S 85 drive-50

Back in October, the quick spin in the confines of the GreenTech Malaysia carpark hadn’t offered too much from a performance point of view, but there were many micro observations, many of which were reinforced on the road-going drive, which covered a total distance of 111.8 km from the GreenTech office in Bangi to PJ and back via a mix of routing.

Some relevant numbers – at the start of the drive, the car’s trip computer listed a 436 km estimated range based on the almost fully-charged battery, and by the time the charger went back on at the GreenTech office the available range reading was 273 km. Earlier, with 71 km done, this had read 334 km of available range.

In all, the accuracy in calculated available range in relation to actual mileage deviated by around 40%, but there were many long-ish stops made during the route, and the last hour consisted mainly of stationary placement and low-speed movement to take photos of the Midnight Silver example (the other car is a red multi-coat unit). It’d be interesting to see how wide that difference is in regular everyday use, but 400 km per charge sounds like an attainable figure.

For much of the drive, the S 85 was driven quite gently, the approach taken to viewing it as a daily driver, which was hard given the rather addictive accelerative qualities of the car. The Tesla is fast, and it doesn’t feel sluggish propelling off, even at conventional in-gear mid-level speeds. Still, much of the drive observed speed limits right across all state and national roads.

The approach for the day saw total energy consumed being 23.2 kWh, with an average energy consumption of 208 Wh for every km – this dropped the energy consumption numbers from the previous running averages, which I was told had a more liberal view of the accelerator pedal. Floor it consistently, and that battery isn’t going to give you anywhere near 400 km of travel, but poor mileage will likely be the case when new lessors get their cars, until sanity eventually prevails.

With regard to ride and its quietness, the compliance and level of comfort offered by the SAS system is noteworthy – it’s plush without being overtly soft, and body control is good. Likewise, the NVH levels, winsome, especially cruising on expressway runs.

Out on the road, the steering feels responsive enough, though perhaps not as communicative as that suggested initially during the first preview, lacking feel off-centre. Still, no complaints about the speed and the car’s reaction to directional input. Front seat comfort levels continue where it left off previously, with no trace of fatigue being noted over the four-plus hours of drive time.

In-cabin functionality – from the driver’s seat perspective – of switchgear and displays follow on that noted during the initial session. The main instrument display is a winner to the eyes, and the 17-inch central touchscreen continues to dazzle, though it felt a bit too bright when the car was taken into a basement carpark, lending to the question if it would be in daily use at night, even with night mode. Otherwise, operation is intuitive, though like before, a larger font for the adjustment parameters wouldn’t go amiss.

The two cars come without a central storage console, which isn’t really an issue – the open space binnacle between the seats allows you to put just about everything that you tote along, even handbags for the ladies.

As for fit and finish, the trim and material to areas of direct sight is – as noted previously – good, with strong contact point tactility, though some elements in other areas feel less polished. In the end, it’s a mixed bag presentation-wise; offerings from the major players have arguably better overall refinement.

The rear exec seats, meanwhile, continue to disappoint, more so under extended scrutiny. Ingress and egress aspects are decent enough, and there’s plenty of knee room (in this regard, it’s more than the measure of a F10 BMW 5er or a W212 Mercedes E-Class), but the lack of headroom when sitting upright (or properly, if you will) shunts perception towards the claustrophobic. Slumping down in the seat solves this to a degree, but introduces a severe lack of lumbar support, which brings about its own set of problems.

The Tesla’s raised floor height in relation to the seat level also presents occupants with another issue – seated as such, the knees are raised quite high, so there’s practically no thigh support. All this, not only if you’re tall – a number of people of varying height was asked to get into the rear seat and all faced the same problem, save shorter folk (read ‘five-footer’ tops).

Given that many prospective lessors will be sitting at the back in this one (and be much taller than five feet, presumably), the level of contention here is high. Thankfully, the exec seats won’t feature in the cars that will be coming in, so hopefully the normal seat bench should fare much better in use. At the very least, it’ll offer one more person to be shuttled in the rear in relative comfort.

The flawed scope of the executive rear seating and some iffy elements of cabin material presentation are about the only two niggles in an otherwise well-thought out interpretation of electric mobility, at least upon first view.

Indeed, the Tesla Model S 85 has many positives going for it – the tech under that skin undoubtedly leads the way, but its turn of speed and the highly workable operating range also makes for the allure. In urban use, 400 km should be an achievable distance per charge, good enough for at least three days of use for an average driver in the city, and a run up to Penang without having to recharge looks downright doable – the 240 volt mobile charger (and a friendly three-pin wall socket) takes care of the return leg.

GreenTech is hoping that the programme involving it will not just create a better awareness of EVs but also help pave the way for the return of tax exemptions for electric cars somewhere in the not-too-distant future – indicatively, an S 85 will go for more than RM600k with tax, and well under RM400k with exemptions, moot as the discussion on pricing is where the general public is concerned.