Tesla Model S review – supercar-like acceleration for an electric luxury saloon
The Model S exudes the benefits an electric car has over fossil-fuelled alternatives; Supercharger network makes it more usable than ever
We’ve been led to believe that the internal combustion engine is old-hat and that electric cars will be the future. Not that long ago, that would have been a dire and scary proposition, but electric cars have gone through a renaissance and now some are even becoming desirable. This change of reputation is, in part, thanks to Tesla and its venerable Model S; a premium, fast, and usable electric saloon car.
It’s been sold in various guises over the years with model names such as the P75 and P100D but in its latest incarnation there are effectively three models to choose from; Long Range Plus, Performance and most recently, Plaid. ‘Ludicrous Mode’ gives the £94,980 Performance an organ-rearranging 2.3sec 0-60mph time, with the upcoming Plaid said to bring this number under 2sec...
The Model S combines such incredible performance with an effortless driving experience making it an astoundingly effective machine for covering ground. With a maximum real world range from 300 to 400 miles (depending on which spec you choose) and an expanding network of supercharger points that allow the Model S to top up its battery in a remarkably short space of time, it's also one of the most usable electric cars on the market.
When it comes to pure thrills nothing else about the Model S can match its ability to accelerate. That’s mostly because it’s such a remarkable party piece, but equally the Model S isn’t a car that comes alive in a corner or allows a driver to really get under its skin.
Tesla Model S in detail
- Performance and 0-60 time - All models of the Tesla Model S can safely be described as brisk. Opt for the fastest Performance model and initial accelerative performance matches that of many hypercars.
- Engine and gearbox - The Model S’s electric motors drive an axle each, ensuring both grunt and traction are superb.
- Ride and handling - Despite a hefty kerbweight, the car’s centre of gravity is low helping the chassis stay composed.
- MPG and running costs - Its range is good enough for the vast majority of journeys and with no fuel costs the Model S can be a cheap car to run.
- Design - Some will say the Model S looks a little conservative, but we like that Tesla has avoided trying too hard.
Prices, specs and rivals
Since release the price range has risen and fallen like a jittery stock market, with the cheapest Model S now the Long Range Plus with a price of £79,980. Previously there was a lower priced model with a rear mounted electric motor driving the rear wheels, but now all Model S versions have four wheel-drive with an electric motor mounted on each axle.
Despite its entry-level status in the range, the Long Range Plus has the most range of the models currently available, an impressive 405 miles on the WLTP cycle – the upcoming Plaid is said to boast over 520 miles of range, however that model is yet to be revealed in full. Top of the tree for now, though, is the £94,980 Performance version which sacrifices 9 miles of range for additional forward momentum and a claimed 0-60mph time of 2.3sec. For comparison, the range-topping Porsche Taycan Turbo S is said to hit 60mph three tenths later.
The array of standard kit will satisfy most and so the options list is thankfully short. Smart air suspension (once an option) is now standard, as is autopilot which ‘Enables your car to steer, accelerate and brake automatically for other vehicles and pedestrians within its lane.’ If you want full self-driving capability it still remains a pricey addition, at £6800. Other options are limited to exterior colour (up to £2500 for multi-coat red), carbon 21-inch wheels (a snip at £4400), interior colour – black leather is standard, white or cream cost £1450 – and that’s about it. Rear facing seats are no longer available, so if you want a seven-seat Model S you’ll have to look to the second hand market. Seven seats or not, though, the all-electric saloon is a highly practical car.
The Model S’s most obvious rival is the Porsche Taycan, a similarly-powerful all-electric saloon. Straight-line performance comes close to the Tesla Model S, however range is a considerable step down, with the most efficient variant said to cover just under 300 miles on a charge – dynamic ability, however, is where the Porsche really excels...
Despite the Tesla’s hypercar-like performance, its high price makes it far from rival-free across its price spread. The competition may be fuelled more conventionally but have the benefit of more focused, sporting-inclined engineering on their side. None offer full electrified powertrains, though.
Porsche’s super-limo, the Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid can travel for 31 miles on battery power alone and has fuel consumption and CO2 emissions of 81.1mpg and just 66g/km. The likelihood of the HUD reading such figures is slim with the V8 combining with the electric motors to staggering effect – 690bhp and 642lb ft of torque.
The above Porsche is the only competition that can provide a similar blend of performance and frugality, otherwise BMW’s F90 M5 and the Mercedes-AMG E63 certainly compete on the power front packing around 600bhp each. Free of concern for the polar ice caps the two German barges offer superior handling and agility, especially on track with the AMG emitting a typically raucous soundtrack. Interior is another area where the Tesla is subpar to its German rivals.
If you’re drawn to the all-electric lifestyle but don’t quite have the cash to drop on a Model S, the Model 3 could well be the model for you, acting as a cheaper, more compact alternative.