The Tesla Model S P90D triggers an involuntary response in humans—mostly American, almost all high earners. It is in part auditory. I’m not sure of the proper onomatopoetic spelling for it, but there is a vocalization expelled from the body—especially during rapid acceleration—that sounds something like the intersection of a terrorized gasp and an ejaculative gurgle. It also approximates the noise a loon might make, if the bird were hollowed out, and you sucked in air through its butt.
NASA training simulator operators must be familiar with this sound, as must carneys working the speed record setting Kingda Ka roller coaster at New Jersey’s Great Adventure. I became familiar with it during a week-long tour of the California coast in a brand new, top of the line, $130,000 Tesla Model S P90D. I took this trip with my boyfriend, along the way picking up and dropping off a smattering of friends ranging in demeanor from the dauntless to the heavily daunted.
If everyone’s orgasm face is different, and a manifest revelation of their pneuma, everyone’s P90D noise is the same. EEEEEHHHAAAOOOAA.
This nearly limbic response is based in part in the fact that this slick, tech-rich, 5000-pound luxury sedan hustles to sixty m.p.h. faster than any other four door in the world. In fact, our friends at Motor Trend clocked it crossing this speed threshold in 2.6 seconds, making it as quick or quicker than exotic super-sport coupes that cost ten or twenty times its price, like the McLaren P1 and Bugatti Veyron.
But the emitted noise isn’t just the result of the alacrity of this acceleration. It’s based in is its character.
Because the P90D’s prodigious 762 hp is made solely via a pair of electric motors planted fore and aft of its giant floor-mounted battery pack, the rush is so instantaneous, intense, and silent as to become almost philosophical. You feel as though you are falling into a void, plunging simultaneously into a bright black hole of being and nothingness. Is existence enhanced or attenuated by this experience, and, if so, how quickly?
I never studied physics, and I barely understand how electricity works. But in my 600 miles behind the wheel of the P90D—on San Francisco’s vertiginous hills, in the Monterey peninsula’s red-wooded twisties, across LA’s teemingly vapid freeways, and through the Coachella Valley’s craggy oasean thruways—I had a chance to find out. My research fails to answer even the most basic technical questions, but suggests that Elon Musk has made a deal with the dark lords of dark matter.
I am not so naïve as to ask if we as a species, as ecosystemic engineers, have reached the physico-temporal limits of terrestrial acceleration. But perhaps I as a person have? My passengers and I noted a soaring sensation located variously in our brains, chests, bowels, and lady parts. If we can’t get to a mile-a-minute speeds any faster, perhaps this super-S or cars like it have off-label laparoscopic or pharmaceutical uses? (Shhh. Don’t tell Martin Shkreli.)
This particular Model S was also equipped with Tesla’s new Autopilot, a laser, radar, and camera-based system that allows the car’s software to assist with stopping, starting, steering, and lane changing. “Keep your hands on the steering wheel at all times,” it warns. This is expert advice. Though the system Geppettoes the car quite well under certain circumstances—in stop-and-go city traffic, or in daylight on clear Interstates—it is dangerously confounded by relatively straightforward obstacles like a freeway exit, or sun-bleached lane markings. Learn from my experience and do not attempt to implement Autopilot on Highway 1 in Big Sur.
I was traversing the Golden State as an upscale electric itinerant, staying in Tesla charger-equipped AirBnB properties—of which there are now hundreds nationwide, thanks to another of Elon’s monomaniacal infrastructural initiatives. So I rarely had to worry about stopping for juice; I’d just power up, free of charge (to me) overnight while I luxuriated in some of the most amazing homes in which I’ve ever drank to excess.
But on the long slog from Monterey to LA, I had the opportunity to experiment with the Tesla Supercharger system, which is quite dense between the Tesla-heavy poles of Silicon Valley and Hollywood. The Model S is a line-topping luxury car, so I was expecting Tesla levels of opulence at these sites, or at least something approximating the conveniences offered by a Buffalo, NY airline lounge—WiFi, a Nespresso, and the occasional cheese cube. Perhaps, a toilet.
Instead, I found chargers hidden behind dumpsters behind Targets, or beyond the credit union drive-thru at a dusty strip mall, populated not by chic venture capitalists or studio executives but by enervated senior sunbirds pecking at their iPads. There were no snacks or facilities.
There were also no abidance to the projected power-up times. At one stop, the car claimed it needed only forty minutes to charge, the perfect amount of time to grab lunch at Que Pasa, a Mexican place across the street. When I returned forty minutes later, the needle had moved, but the car claimed it still needed another forty minutes.
I very much appreciated free and unfettered access to Elon’s electricity. I understand that there are limits to the rate at which juice can be blasted into a pack. And in these dystopic Trumpian times I hanker for the occasional dose of actualized optimism. But that extra three-quarter hour meant we hit metro LA just in time for rush hour, and missed seeing the sunset from our spectacular hilltop AirBnB, not exactly what you’d desire in an actual vacation.
Of course, this delay was handy for catching up on emails (me) and napping (my boyfriend, the cat). And once we’d unplugged and returned to the on-ramp, a tromp on the go pedal brought forth an incipient and pleasurable EEEEHHHAAAOOOAA (and a bit of fish taco) banking a mutual fund-worth of forgiveness notes for this big electric cat. For now, Tesla owns the electric future, and ranks high on the list of super-sedans powered by any source. Onward, into the void!