£70,105 - £127,605 Price range
Few cars truly change the automotive landscape these days, but the Tesla Model S is one that could. While it’s not the truly affordable, accessible electric car many are crying out for, the level of performance and efficiency it offers at the price of a large executive saloon is truly astounding.
Reviews are unanimously positive – the only reservations being the common electric vehicle bugbears, namely the car’s range and recharging infrastructure. Even considering this, and the car’s two-tonne-plus weight dampening the driving experience in the bends a little bit, critics have found it hard to find fault with any of the Model S’s other attributes.
The car’s battery pack is arranged in a large, flat slab under the car, so interior room is surprisingly generous. It’s not the space you’ll notice first though – instead, the huge 17-inch central touch-screen display dominates the cabin, which controls more or less all of the Model S’s functions.
The large screen may seem daunting at first, but reviewers noted that the result of having nearly everything controlled by a central interface is that there are far fewer fiddly buttons around the cabin.
Most testers find the seats very comfortable, although side support could be better in corners, and visibility out of the rear isn’t great thanks to the car’s length, sloping roofline and large pillars.
Because there’s no engine up front, you get a second luggage area, bringing the total to 1,795 litres. You do get the option of two jump seats in the boot, but they’re really only suitable for small children.
The most obvious point of interest with the Model S that you don’t get in and “start it up” as you would even a regular electric vehicle – it’s ready to go when you get in.
Moving away is as simple as putting your foot on the brake, moving the transmission stalk to Drive, and driving away. There’s not even a starter button or hand brake.
The good news is, the car does have other talents aside from quiet electric performance – it’s also a surprisingly competent handler given its supertanker mass. This feeling becomes even more pronounced with the “D” models that have four-wheel drive.
A few reviewers say it lacks true driving involvement, with the steering being a little disconnected and numb in some instances, but as a means of wafting from place to place it’s very good indeed. Whether on a B-road or a motorway, the low-down battery packs provide a low centre of gravity, meaning it always feels stable.
The Model S is an electric vehicle and, as you may have worked out, has no engine at all. Instead, an electric motor powers the rear wheels, and the car is available with a variety of power outputs. The different outputs are numbered by the kWh rating of the battery packs – beginning at 60 and topping out with the P100D, where the “P” stands for Performance and the “D” meaning dual motor, or four-wheel drive.
All are immensely fast but the top model is described as – pun-alert – electric. Engage Ludicrous Plus mode, and the P100D covers the 0-60mph spring in a scarcely believable 2.5 seconds. The mid-range performance is just as incredible – with no gearbox to speak of and instant torque, little else on the road can match its overtaking punch.
The power delivery is beautifully smooth, too, allowing you to drive it as quickly or in as relaxed a manner as you like. If you were to choose to drive it smoothly at a steady 55mph, you may get up to 340 miles from the “range” of the battery pack, but with more realistic motorway use, it’s likely to be closer to 300.
You also get a little less performance than those further up the range, but 302 horses and a 5.9-second 0-60 time isn't too bad. And of course you still get silent running, emissions-free driving and various tax and congestion charge exemption benefits.
It's not quite as powerful though, at 362 horsepower. This gives you a still-brisk 5.4-second 0-60 sprint, and Tesla's 'Supercharging' fast-charge network is free for access, when it appears. There are no reviews of this model just yet, but we should be able to bring you some soon.
With 416 horsepower it's the quickest Model S, and among the quickest cars in its class with a 4.2-second 0-60 sprint. It's also as smooth and refined as cars get, offers instant responses and as brisk at motorway speeds as it is from a standing start.
An official 312-mile range may not suit all, but Tesla will be making long distances easier soon with a network of 'Supercharger' quick-charge stations. They're already all over the U.S. and many European countries.
The fact that there is no engine up front has allowed Tesla to focus more on providing crumple zones to deflect impacts away from passengers on board. Euro NCAP awarded the Model S the maximum five-stars for safety, noting that the car’s stiff body remained stable during a crash. The board was also impressed by the protection to the driver’s legs – an area that many similar cars can’t cover so well.
Tesla has given it six airbags as standard, along with the usual electronic stability control systems to keep the car under control in unpredictable circumstances. Most notable among the Tesla’s vast array of safety functions is the Autopilot system. Using an array of cameras and radar tech, the Model S is able to scan its surroundings in 360 degrees – and up to 250m ahead – allowing it to follow lanes in motorway traffic while keeping a safe distance from the car ahead. The driver is required to pay attention to the road and occasionally keep their hands on the wheel, but once you’re over the initial weirdness, it’s a relaxing way to cover long distances.
It’s fair to say that the Model S stands in a market all of its own – there is no directly comparable electric rival in that offers the same combination of refinement, performance and technology.
A basic Tesla Model S in the UK will cost you £54,955, before the government’s £4,500 plug-in car grant is taken into account. For that you get the 60 kWh car that has 320hp and a claimed range of 240 miles – a full overnight recharge would then cost around £10.
Prices rise to £79,255 before the grant for the top-end Performance Plus car, and at that level you can get you a great many cars, some with similar performance, and others with greater overall range, like a Mercedes CLS or a Lexus LS saloon with hybrid technology.
But no equivalent model features the Model S’s mixture of perks – zero road tax, congestion charge exemption, negligible running costs, and once Tesla’s fast-charging ‘Supercharger’ network is up and running, free charging on motorway trips. In fact, depreciation is the only unknown factor.
As ever, the usual electric car caveats apply here – you need a place to charge it and be patient enough to wait the fifteen hours or so it would take from a domestic plug.
This could rule out those of you who park on the street or in a communal space with no charging points, and those doing mega-miles may not be happily accommodated by the 240-mile range you get from a standard Model S.
On merit alone though, the Model S is a spectacular achievement, borne out by its high review scores. Its mix of performance and perks is unrivalled and the fact it costs less to run than your average car of the same size and performance makes it even more appealing.
For those uncertain about the size and look of the Model S, Tesla has two other models in the works. The first is the Model X, a crossover using the Model S platform and drivetrain.
The other, not likely to appear for some time yet, is a smaller, less expensive saloon to rival the BMW 3-Series. If Tesla’s second model ever is this good, think how good its third or fourth attempt will be…