Tesla Model S review
The Tesla Model S is a remarkable electric car, blending high performance with luxury, a high-tech cabin and zero emissions. It’s quite a bit more expensive than your average upmarket saloon, though
What's not so good
Find out more about the Tesla Model S
The Tesla Model S is an all-electric executive saloon that combines amazing performance with zero tailpipe emissions, a luxurious, high-tech cabin and tremendous refinement.
Compared with the likes of the petrol- and diesel-powered Mercedes E-Class, BMW 5 Series and Audi A6, the futuristic Tesla Model S is like a Fender Stratocaster with a massive amplifier in the company of acoustic guitars. Sure the electric Model S might not produce any discernible engine sound, but its supercar-like performance is more like a searing rock solo than the German cars’ humble rhythm section.
You wouldn’t guess that this Tesla electric car has the pace to put sportscars to shame just by looking at it, though. Next to the aggressive grilles you get on a BMW or Audi, the Model S’ front end looks a bit blank, while its subtle, slinky body is perhaps a bit forgettable.
Things take a turn for the unusual when you step inside, though. This is mostly down to the huge 17-inch touch-screen display that dominates the cabin, and controls pretty much all of the Model S’s functions. On earlier models this was mounted in portrait, but for the 2021 model (which will land in the UK in 2022), this is now landscape orientated. That odd Y-shaped steering ‘yoke’ is a new addition too, though you will be able to choose a regular wheel if you want.
There’s plenty of space for you, and a few passengers, to get comfy, and the Tesla’s boot is large and easy to load thanks to its handy hatchback-style boot lid.
Driving the Tesla Model S is just simple. It’s ready to go when you get in and moving away is as simple as putting your foot on the brake, moving the transmission stalk to Drive, and driving away. There isn’t even a starter button or hand brake.
Despite being an EV, you don’t get a great deal of choice when it comes to picking your Tesla Model S’ motor and battery options – every Model S comes with a 100kWh battery pack and a pair of electric motors. You can, however, pick from a Long Range model – that Tesla claims can manage 379 miles between charges – and a Performance version that loses out on a few miles of range but is significantly faster.
Engage Ludicrous Plus mode in these P100D models (yes, that’s really what it’s called), and this practical electric car will get from 0-60mph in a scarcely believable 2.4 seconds. The mid-range performance is just as incredible and little else on the road can match its overtaking punch. The power delivery is beautifully smooth, too, so you can drive it as quickly or in as relaxed a manner as you like.
People use the word game-changer too readily these days, but with the Model S, it’s fair enough. It will make even the most die-hard petrolheads sit up and take notice
Equally rapid is how quickly you can charge the electric Tesla Model S using one of Tesla’s ‘Supercharger’ public charging points – which you’ll find on our electric car charging point map. These 75kW and 120kW units will charge the Model S’ batteries from 0-80% in 65 and 42 minutes respectively. If you use a wall-mounted home charger, however, you can expect a full charge to take around 14 hours while using a conventional three-pin household plug will take almost a day and a half.
For the 2021 model year, Tesla has shaken the Model S line-up up a bit. Those established cars will be replaced at the entry level by a Model S Long Range, followed by the sportier Plaid and Plaid+ variants. Tesla claims the Long Range model will travel up to 412 miles on a charge, while the Plaid and Plaid+ versions will manage 390 miles and more than 520 miles respectively.
That ultra long range Model S Plaid+ will be seriously quick too: Tesla claims a 200mph top speed, and a 0-60mph time of less than 2 seconds. As mentioned earlier, however, these cars won’t arrive in the UK until next year. We’ll let you know what they’re like as soon as we drive them.
Despite the weight of all its batteries, the Tesla Model S EV handles surprisingly well. Sure, the steering doesn’t inspire the same confidence you get in a BMW 5 Series on a twisty road, but the electric Model S is a superb way of wafting from place to place. Whether on a B-road or a motorway, the low-set battery packs provide a low centre of gravity, meaning the car always feels stable.
The other benefit of an electric car is that charging it costs significantly less than filling up a petrol or diesel car. Charge your Tesla Model S at home and it’ll set you back in the region of £20 – less than a third of what it’ll cost to brim the tank in a comparable BMW, Mercedes or Audi. On top of that, it’s exempt from the London congestion charge and incurs BIK tax at the lowest possible rate.
That said, you certainly get what you pay for, especially in terms of safety. Euro NCAP awarded the Model S the maximum five stars for safety, and among the array of safety functions is the Autopilot system. Using cameras and radar tech, the Model S can follow lanes in motorway traffic while keeping a safe distance from the car ahead, braking, accelerating and steering for you – providing you keep your hands on the wheel, that is.
So, it isn’t just the Tesla Model S’ electric credentials that make it a tempting upmarket saloon; its raft of driver assistance and infotainment systems really set it apart from the likes of the BMW, Mercedes and Audi norm.
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Watch Mat race a Tesla Model S across the UK with the RS e-tron GT
The Tesla Model S doesn’t have the roomiest cabin around and you don’t get a great many storage spaces, but its boot is large and it’s a doddle to load
The Tesla Model S is roomy enough to carry five adults for short journeys, but alternatives offer slightly more back-seat space at the expense of a slinky roofline.
You’ll have plenty of space to stretch out in the front of the Tesla Model S – even if you’re very tall. There’s ample head and legroom for lofty drivers to get comfy and there’s plenty of electric adjustment in the seat and steering wheel for small driver’s to rise up and get a good view out, too.
You wouldn’t exactly call the Tesla Model S’ back seats pokey, but anyone over six feet will find their head brushing against the roof. The floor is raised above the level of the Audi A6, Mercedes E-Class and BMW 5 Series, so your knees are raised and the back seats don’t offer a great deal of under-thigh support.
It isn’t all bad news, however. The Tesla Model S has a completely flat rear floor which, combined with the soft central bench seat, means there’s a good amount of space for an adult to sit in the middle. Things get a bit more cramped with three adults in the back, however, because those in the outer seat will have to tilt their heads inwards to avoid touching the roof.
You won’t have any trouble carrying much younger passengers, though. It’s pretty straightforward to lift a large child seat through the Tesla Model S’ back doors and you can secure it in place using the standard Isofix anchor points without having to move the front seat forward.
Unfortunately, you don’t get many handy cubby spaces to help you keep the Tesla Model S’ cabin looking neat and tidy. There aren’t any door bins, for example, and the glovebox isn’t anything to write home about, either. You do get some storage in the centre console and under the front armrest and, unlike in the Model X, you can get a folding rear armrest with some built-in cupholders.
Unlike most large saloon cars, the Tesla Model S comes with a large hatchback-style boot lid that makes it dead easy to lift in large luggage. There’s a slight load lip by the boot lid but you can carry a couple of large suitcases without any hassle. A set of golf clubs or a baby buggy will also fit.
You can fold down the back seats using handles by the outer headrests if you need to carry even more luggage and the resulting loadbay is mostly flat beside a slight step behind the back seats.
There’s also a large amount of storage beneath a folding flap in the boot floor, and you get a few tether points to help you tie-down any loose luggage. Being an electric car, the Tesla Model S doesn’t have a bulky petrol or diesel engine under its bonnet. Instead, you get an extra storage area that’s large enough to carry a small suitcase and a few soft bags.
Other large saloons might be more comfortable than the Tesla Model S but none is quieter, packed with quite as much tech or can accelerate as fast
The Tesla Model S might look like a sensible saloon car, but it’ll accelerate at a pace that’ll wipe the smirk of most supercars.
Every Tesla Model S comes with a 100kWh battery pack and two electric motors, making it four-wheel drive. You can, however, choose between a Long Range model and a faster Performance version.
The former will accelerate from 0-60mph in less than 3.7 seconds and travel a claimed 379 miles between charges, while the more expensive Performance version slashes that sprint time to less than 2.4 seconds at the cost of around 10 miles of range.
There’s nothing to choose between these two cars when it comes to charging their batteries, however. Both take around 40 minutes to charge from 0-80% using a Tesla Supercharger and around 14 hours to fully charge from empty using a wall-mounted home charger.
You can charge the Tesla Model S using a standard three-pin household plug socket, but a full charge takes a whopping 33 hours. Depending on your electricity tariff, brimming your Tesla’s batteries will set you back approximately £17 – less than a third of what a tank of petrol or diesel could cost.
The Tesla Model S doesn’t have any gears so it’s dead easy to drive at slow speeds or in heavy traffic. It is quite large – even for an upmarket saloon – and the large pillars beside the front and rear windscreens produce some sizeable blindspots in town so it’s a little difficult to thread through town. You don’t get a surround-view camera system either, which can make parallel parking a little tricky.
Mostly thanks to its large battery pack, the Tesla Model S is quite heavy for a car this size. As a result, its suspension can’t iron out bumps around town as well as that in a Mercedes E-Class, Audi A6 or BMW 5 Series. The near-silent electric motor means you’ll notice other noises that might fly under your radar in a petrol- or diesel-powered car, too – such as the roar from the Tesla’s tyres at motorway speeds.
That said, the Model S is still very easy to drive for long periods. You don’t hear a great deal of wind noise and it comes with a vast array of clever driver-assistance systems designed to keep you safe and help you travel long distances without feeling fatigued. For example, there’s a system that’ll accelerate, brake and steer for you on motorways – just the thing to take the sting out of rush hour traffic on your way home from work.
Once the traffic clears and you can hit the accelerator, you’ll find the Tesla Model S is all too happy to serve up some warp-speed acceleration at any opportunity. Unlike a petrol- or diesel-powered car, the Tesla Model S delivers instant acceleration at any speed and can blast past slow-moving traffic effortlessly.
It can deal with corners pretty well, too. Because the batteries are mounted beneath the floor, the Model S doesn’t tend to lean or wallow in tight bends. The steering doesn’t inspire masses of confidence on an unknown road, but at least the four-wheel-drive system means the Model S has masses of grip on offer – even in slippery conditions.
The Tesla Model S might have one of the most futuristic interiors of any large saloon on sale, but it doesn’t feel as plush as some less sci-fi alternatives