Tesla Model S
“There’s no denying the Model S is a mightily impressive achievement – and from a company whose only previous credit was a Lotus Elise-based roadster. A usable amount of range, decent handling and plenty of tech-y appeal, the Model S has made the mainstream manufacturers sit up and take notice.”
What is that?
Tesla’s first fully electric consumer car was launched – believe you – in 2012. In the EV years, it’s been a long time. Advances in battery technology and the like in electric cars have come a very long way since then, but somehow, the Model S still does the job. It’s always new – to drive and live.
This four-door, five-seat sedan is the car that made California-based Elon Musk a force to be reckoned with, a company whose products deserve to be alongside BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi.
The Model S might have a somewhat traditional silhouette – but what’s hiding underneath is a far cry from that. Well, that was in 2012. Two electric motors powered by a 75 or 100 kWh battery drive all four wheels via a single speed transmission.
The transmission lives in a kind of skateboard, with the body screwed to the top. This keeps the center of gravity nice and low (the batteries are old and heavy and the Model S has a much larger battery than most other conventional EVs), making handling easier and meaning there’s a lot more storage space in the cabin.
Performance … galore. A quick YouTube search reveals thousands of videos of this stuff beating Lamborghini, Ferrari, McLaren, Porsche, etc. out of the limelight. The fastest Model S, the P100D, claims 0-62 mph in under 2.5 seconds, and even the slowest and cheapest 75D does the same in 4.2 seconds.
It’s extremely fast by any specification – and that’s bad news for the range, which Tesla places it at 304 miles for the 75D, 393 miles for the 100D, and 381 miles for the P100D flagship. But it’s in the old NEDC cycle, and thus a bit unrealistic.
In fact, the 75D should have traveled more than 200 miles on a single charge. And if you find yourself running out, having Tesla gives you access to a network of high-speed chargers called “superchargers” that can charge in minutes rather than hours. There are more than 10,000 stations around the world.
Prices range from £ 80,000 for the base 75D to £ 130,000 for the P100D bullet. Monthly payments can seem expensive, too. Remember, you don’t pay fuel, road taxes, or congestion charges …
Driving an electric car is always a quiet experience. The propulsion system’s lack of noise – aside from a little whining from the electric motors, there’s absolutely no noise – amplifies the wind and the roar of tires. Fortunately, on the Model S, these two items have been removed very well.
The seats are comfortable and supportive, and the ride is fairly smooth on the standard height-adjustable air suspension, making the Model S suitable for long distances. It’s also good in town – little training and will use damping when releasing gas (which regenerates batteries) for most braking. Just look at the size – it’s an American car after all, so it feels very spacious on narrow city streets.
Country roads are a bit narrow, too. But look for a spacious one and it turns out that the Model S is a decent steering. Because they have kept the weight low, it remains fairly stable. There is no sense of steering, but it is accurate and fast enough that the S feels nimble, especially given the size of the object.
Autopilot is Tesla’s suite of semi-autonomous driving assistance technologies. It’s an expensive option, but it’s probably worth it if you spend a lot of time on the highways. Like systems from Merc, Audi, etc., when activated, it manages braking / acceleration and provides steering assistance. Another YouTube search will show you several videos of this reckless use …
On the inside
Layout, finish and space
It’s impossible to talk about the Tesla interior without addressing the elephant in the room – that large 17-inch touchscreen that dominates the dashboard and replaces nearly all of the physical buttons.
It handles everything from air conditioning and audio, to hands-free navigation and phone, to things like headlights and sunroof. Fortunately, despite the screen size, the interface and UI are so refined and easy to navigate that they are no more annoying on the go than competing systems. Some features can also be controlled using buttons on the steering wheel or via voice commands.
Tesla’s build-quality issues are well known – but the 75D we tested recently felt solid, closer to nearly £ 80k than the Teslas we’ve driven in the past. Soft leather, acceptable plastic, wood trim on the dashboard, and the main Alcantara liner – these things aren’t without flaws, but for the most part they feel like high-end items these days. Just like cars that cost a lot of money. However, the more you spend, the more difficult it becomes. At £ 130,000 for the P100D, the Model S feels out of place. You can get a new Bentley for it, after all …
The driving position is good and the seats themselves are very comfortable. The head restraints are not removable, so they block your view from the rearview mirror (which isn’t that great at first).
The space, however, is a lot more. The trunk is large enough that you can define two rear-facing baby seats (for £ 3,800), convert the S into seven, and there’s a handy compartment under the floor for storing charging cables. “frunk” (for “front box”), as Tesla calls it, is not huge, but the fact that it is a slight overhang compared to gasoline or diesel competitors. There are no door boxes, but a small shelf underneath the touchscreen and a few deeper boxes / cup holders to make up for that.
Running costs and reliability
Even 75Ds are well-stocked, so there aren’t many options to choose from. Rear-facing child seats are more expensive at £ 3,800 and are only good for children. If you need to splice teens or even adults in there, or think you need it a lot, you’ll need to upgrade to the Model X.
Tesla’s driver assistance technology, dubbed “enhanced autopilot”, costs £ 4,800. But since all Ss models come with the necessary hardware (in the form of a lot of cameras / sensors), if you change your mind, you can activate it after receiving. ‘Full Autonomous Driving’ is another £ 2,900 – it adds more ready-made cameras / sensors when Tesla activates it, most likely via a live update.
Yeah. Rather than having to go to an agency or service center to update your car, Tesla broadcasts updates of its cars around the network as if it were a huge wheeled smartphone. These updates add new features, improve existing features, and fix bugs. The theory is as old as your Model S, and it will still have the very latest features, provided you let it update (you don’t need to be in or near the car). She is smart and we love her very much.
Not that Tesla has traditional dealers, bear in mind. You buy directly from the company, not through the retailer, and from “stores” as you are usually found in large malls, not in industrial areas outside of cities. Or you can buy online, as it is clear.
Charging is always an issue in electric cars. The Model S can pull around five miles per hour of charging from a home three-prong outlet. This increases to about 20 mph of charging from a 7 kW wall box, so if you are buying an electric vehicle we highly recommend having it installed in your home. It costs less than £ 300, after all.
The big advantage of Tesla is that you can access the Supercharger network – it is incredibly fast and very convenient, as it has been installed in most freeway service stations in the UK. You can also use Destination Chargers – Tesla brand chargers in hotels, gyms, etc.
Final thoughts and pick of the range
Arguably the biggest step forward for electric cars since the Prius, Tesla shows the cylinders may have had its day
There’s no denying that the Model S is a very impressive feat – and from a company whose only previous credit was a Lotus Elise-based roadster. With its usable range, decent handling, and a lot of technical appeal, the Model S has made major manufacturers stand up and take notice.