Tesla Model S gets AWD, Autopilot, and awesome acceleration

A slew of available improvements make the top-scoring Model S even more desirable

Last updated: October 10, 2014 11:30 AM

For the first time, Tesla Motors has announced major hardware updates to its ground-breaking, top-scoring Model S electric car.

First, the company responded to a longstanding criticism made by Consumer Reports, among others, that the $90,000 luxury car lacked active driver safety aids commonly found in cars costing tens of thousands less.

But it took the concept one step further with what Tesla calls Autopilot. In addition to forward cameras and radars that finally give the Model S active emergency braking and lane keeping assist, the Model S uses 360-degree infrared sensors to match the speed of the car to those around it. But the best trick is that Autopilot can park the Model S in your garage after you leave it in the driveway, and it can even bring the car to you from a parking spot, if you've entered the location you need it into the car's calendar. That only works on private property where it's legal, however. To make this work, Teslas with Autopilot use a new electro-mechanical braking system in place of traditional cars' vaccuum boosted hydraulic brakes.

Autopilot can manage lane changes.

On the highway, AutoPilot can change lanes one at a time when the driver activates the turn signal, and it can read road signs using the cameras and match the car's speed to the speed limit, for example.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk says it's not full autonomous driving, "where you can go to sleep behind the wheel and arrive safely at your destination." The system doesn't have the redundancy necessary for fully autonomous driving. All Model S cars being built are equipped with Autopilot.

The Tesla Model S P85D will also have dual motors, giving the car all-wheel drive. Based on the high-performance P85 Model S, the P85D will have 691 combined horsepower, and Musk claims it can accelerate to 60 mph in 3.2 seconds. A new electric motor, likely from the Model X, will drive the front wheels. Yet Musk says the car will actually be more energy efficient than the rear-drive Model S.  

All-wheel-drive should satisfy more snowbelt dwellers who have a Tesla on their holiday wish lists.

Current owners, and future buyers, also benefit from the latest over-the-air update that adds functionality, including traffic-based navigation, location-based air suspension adjustments, and calendar synching.  

—Eric Evarts

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