Elon Musk's Tesla: The most fun car to take on a road trip

Of all the many things that make Elon Musk's top-of-the-range electric Tesla vehicles stand out from the crowd it's the three driving modes which garner the most attention, followed closely by the music volume control.

The three modes are Chill, Sports and, wait for it, Ludicrous, while the volume control goes up to a Spinal Tap-style 11.

It's the little hidden Easter eggs like this that make the cars so much fun to be around. And in.

To be honest, when we first meet up with our five-strong fleet of Model X and Model S Teslas at the Crowne Plaza hotel, Coogee Beach, it's all a little underwhelming. I'm not a car person, you see. Indeed, I haven't owned a car for 10 or more years and wouldn't know a Toyota from a Camry if one of them knocked me down.

And unlike, say, a Maserati, a Ferrari or a Piccalilli, the Tesla doesn't really turn heads. In fact quite the opposite – the thing's totally silent and can creep up on you before you know it's there. It's a bit freaky the first time it happens, trust me; one moment all's quiet and suddenly there's a car nudging your ankles. It's like they've been beamed down.

It's the same when the car starts. Or should that be "starts", because it doesn't really, not in the old-fashioned sense of the word. As long as you have your key fob on your person all you need to do to "start" the car is tap the brake pedal and ... nothing. I have to look several times at the instrument panel to see if the thing's running.  

That things aren't as they seem becomes evident when we are asked to download a Tesla app to our phones. Once done, it's possible to, among other things, honk the horn of our appointed car, flash the lights, adjust the internal temperature control and check the car's electric charge – all from the room where we're having breakfast. 

Which brings us to the reason for our jaunt into the wilds of the Hunter Valley and the Central Coast – in an Australasian first Tesla has teamed up with the InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) to put what they call Destination Chargers into the car parks of all 13 of its Crowne Plaza hotels in Australia and New Zealand.

Each hotel now has at least two Destination Chargers, with most locations delivering between 40 kilometres and 80 kilometres of range per hour of charging. Which means, as the hotel's clever catchphrase has it, you can recharge while you recharge.

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Leanne Harwood, IHG's managing director, Australasia and Japan, said: "Tackling climate change is a global challenge and IHG puts the environment right at the heart of how we operate … installing Tesla Destination Chargers further supports our local commitment to sustainability and innovation, with an aim to reducing pollution and emission levels throughout Australasia."

With chargers now in place throughout NSW, Victoria, ACT, Western Australia and Queensland it certainly goes some way to assuage the main bugbear of potential electric car owners – the fear of running out of charge and ending up stranded next to a petrol pump.

We begin the trip in the Model X, a dark SUV which looks much like any other gas guzzler until the back doors turn out to open in the classic falcon-wing fashion like the DeLorean in the movie Back to the Future.

It also has a huge panoramic windscreen (the biggest in the world) which stretches up and over the first two seats and brings back memories of riding glass-topped observatory train carriages in America. It's all very thrilling and space age – and even more so once you get inside.

There's a 17-inch touchscreen which controls most of the car's functions, from finding Spotify playlists to navigation controls, customising seat configurations and even changing the height of the suspension. It's here where we decide if you want to Chill or get Ludicrous.

There's also voice control and, if you want it, an automatic pilot which, with the simple tap of a steering wheel stalk, allows the car to drive itself. Sort of. You have to keep your hands on the steering wheel, your eyes open and your wits about you as Tesla McTeslaface (as we call our pilot) has a tendency to get carried away on lesser-known roads and unexpected bends.

On the freeway and in congested conurbations, though, the many sensors around the car keep it very much on the straight and narrow between the white road lines and away from surrounding cars. You can set the distance you want to keep between yourself and the vehicles in front and while it will change lanes when you indicate it's not so clever in noticing that the traffic lights have changed. The day when you can sit back and read a book or work is, it seems to me, a long way off. But then again I just got excited by gull wing doors so what do I know?

The automatic pilot is an entertaining toy with which to experiment but at the end of the day it just takes away all the fun – because the Tesla is a pleasure to drive.

The first section of our journey from Coogee Beach to lunch at the Crowne Plaza Hawkesbury Valley takes us through the harbour tunnel and up through Windsor where the long roads and sweeping bends offer an opportunity to test out the Sports and Ludicrous driving modes.

The large battery base gives the cars a low centre of gravity and, as such, our Model X feels solid on the road without being stodgy. And, given that Elon Musk has shot a Tesla into space, it's no surprise that the acceleration is out of this world.

According to Tesla's specs, the Model X hits 0-60mph (97km/h) in just 3.2 seconds, getting to a top speed of 155mph (250km/h) while producing zero emissions. 

At one point, with no change in engine noise (because there isn't one), a gentle touch of the accelerator sees us go from 30km/h to 145km/h in just a few silent seconds (sorry, officers). Pinned back into the seats by the force of the acceleration I imagine this is what driving the Starship Enterprise would be like with the inertial dampeners offline.

So. Much. Fun.

At the hotel we park by the chargers, which sit on the wall like sleek backpacks with a common-or-garden black petrol pump-style lead coming out of them. This is simply pointed at the "petrol" cap, which pops open and allows you to plug in. A lime green light is the only evidence that the car is charging.

After lunch (during which I check my car's charge on my phone for no other reason than that I can) we head for the Hunter Valley, testing the capabilities of the cars on the tree-lined back roads and switchbacks between the Wollemi and Yengo national parks.

In the afternoon we take a helicopter ride over the Hunter Valley, wake at 5am the next morning for a magnificent hot-air balloon flight, have lunch at IHG's beautiful Kirkton Park property in Pokolbin and spend our second night at the Crowne Plaza in Terrigal, with dinner in the hotel's amazing Seasalt restaurant – but it's the driving bits in between that shine.

On the way back to Sydney and the Tesla showroom in St Leonard's I cede control to my fellow driver. It's a hard decision; after all, she's driving my car. Ludicrous, I know.

TRIP NOTES

MORE

traveller.com.au/Australia

www.crowneplaza.com

www.tesla.com/en_AU

STAY

There are 13 Crowne Plaza hotels across Australia and New Zealand. For details of prices and properties visit www.crowneplaza.com

THE CAR

An entry level Model S registered in NSW is priced from $129,445 (including on-roads) while the Model X is priced from $138,930 (including on-roads). Top of the range P100D models can cost upwards of $200,000.

Keith Austin was a guest of InterContinental Hotels Group.

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