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My Night With Elon's D, a Tell-All

Re/code takes a spin in Tesla's new P85D. Did not wet pants.

James Temple, Re/code

Tesla’s Elon Musk admitted Thursday night he had set himself up for trouble last week by tweeting out his plan “to unveil the D,” stirring up an online debate over what Elon’s D really was.

Shortly after stepping onstage at a huge event for press, customers and assorted VIPs, Musk announced gamely: “You’ll notice my pants have velcro seams.”

But as the world now knows, “the D” actually referred to the souped-up, all-wheel drive, partially self-driving version of Tesla’s popular Model S. Musk boasted the top-end P85D option is “like having your own personal roller coaster.”

It seemed like the usual hyperbole from the ever-quotable Musk, straddling the boundary between his genuine enthusiasm for the product and role as marketer-in-chief.

But an hour later, I ducked into the back seat of the four-door black sedan and stared down a strip of the Hawthorne Municipal Airport lined with pulsing green lights, a scene carefully calibrated for maximum dramatic effect.

The $120,000 vehicle can accelerate from 0 to 60 in 3.2 seconds — and so, of course, it did.

My back sank into the seat and somewhere around second two I felt that stomach tingling generally reserved for inappropriately small aircraft and, yeah, roller coasters. I can’t say for certain whether the vodka drink I downed in victory after filing my story eased or exaggerated this effect.

I can say it was ever-so-slightly terrifying, a sensation not helped along by the sudden realization that our driver’s hands were no longer on the wheel. We were around the first 180-bend and “autopilot” was now in effect.

As the car passed a 30 mph speed limit sign, it adjusted to that speed on its own. As the white lines along the tarmac veered to the left, the P85D followed along — still firmly in “look ma, no hands” mode.

Model S models are now shipping with the necessary hardware for these safety features, a mix of long-range radar, ultrasonic sonar, a camera with image recognition and GPS. In fact, Musk revealed that they had been for the last several weeks. So, surprise, recent buyers!

He added they’re not calling the features autonomous yet because of remaining technical and regulatory limits.

“It’s not at the point where you can safely fall asleep and arrive at your destination,” he said.

But stay tuned for more, Musk said.

Another 180 turn and the ride came to a stop. As I hopped out and walked away, that quote generally attributed to the science-fiction writer William Gibson came to mind.

“The future is already here. It’s just not evenly distributed yet.”

We certainly don’t all need cars that can hit 60 in 3.2 seconds. But the self-driving safety features displayed on that track seem destined to become the new normal someday, assuming they ever become affordable for the rest of us.

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