The electric mobility wave is upon us. And boy, is it quiet.
When it was first unveiled in 2009, the Tesla Model S made the world stand still. Many of us were still questioning the capabilities the company, led by the media-friendly Elon Musk, and yet here stood still. Just a year after the company began production of its Lotus Elise-based Roadster, it was making outrageous claims of a 426km-capable luxury electric saloon, that would take on cars like the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and BMW 7-Series in complete silence.
When deliveries began in the US in 2012, in Europe in 2013, and in China in 2014, critics and observers were left agog with the sheer speed that Tesla was progressing. The speed of the company largely matched that of the cars they made, with the P100D capable of going from rest to 100km/h in just 2.4-seconds. But headlining figures aside, is this just an eco-statement, or is it a viable daily driver that can replace whatever large luxury car you might be considering? We take a look at Tesla’s flagship to find out.
“It's been said before, but it's true – the Model S looks like an Aston Martin Rapide S. It is beautiful, but the shape has been around since 2012 now and is beginning to age. Tesla is trying to hold back the years with some cosmetic surgery and the updated Model S wipes the previous gaping fish mouth off its face, with a tiny slither of a grille to replace it. The blank flat space left behind looks bare, but we grew to like it.” - CarsGuide
The Model S is a very attractive car, from every angle. The front three-quarters are sharp, with lots of very streamlined details like the swept-back full-LED headlights, the small grille (a refresh of the design saw the removal of the large oval-shaped pseudo-grille that the car launched with), and the very discreet side repeater. The front also sees a pair of lower grilles with chrome garnishes on either side that stretch all the way into the foglights, emphasising the width of the car. The profile sees that gorgeous rakish roofline, and the smart flush doorhandles (which extend when it senses it may be needed) make it look very sleek. The rear is perk and purposeful, with full-LED taillights and a lots of complex surfaces to make it look more interesting.
The Model S design means that even in entry-level 60 models, sitting on 19-inch wheels, it never looks like there’s too much bulk over the alloys. On that, the smaller wheels provide a much comfier ride, so it’d be wise to consider that if your commute has its fair share of pockmarked surfaces.
Engine & Drivetrain
“We give the Tesla Model S an 8 out of 10 for performance thanks to its superlative acceleration, good ride, and outstanding performance.” - The Car Connection
At the time of writing (a legal caveat that we have to include here due to the immediate and surprising nature that Tesla releases new variants), the Tesla Model S is offered with 60kWh, 75kWh, 90kWh, and 100kWh. The battery capacities dictate the name of the variants, with the suffix ‘D’ added for all-wheel drive variants, and the ‘P’ prefix added for the super-fast P100D that’s capable of shaming just about everything in terms of outright acceleration ability.
The base-model 60 pushes out 225kW, with 0-100km/h achievable in just 5.5-seconds. Of course, the P100D can halve that, but that’s not the point: The entry level model has enough poke, so the higher models should only be considered based on requirements (do you really need all-wheel drive?) and whether or not it’s range anxiety that’s making you look at the bigger battery packs.
“It feels expensive inside. Tesla’s obviously been stung by criticism of the Model S’s tinny trim and synthetic-feeling leathers not living up to the prices demanded, and has responded.” - TopGear
The interior has been described by certain dramatists to be a disappointment due to the sheer sex appeal of the exterior. However, that is the opinion of dramatists. To the rest of us, the interior is minimalist and modern, taking the same approach to the cabin as the designers did to the exterior. There’s a 17-inch central touchscreen that handles almost all of the cars’ main functions, including controlling the sunroof and the exterior lighting. It’s smooth to operate and great to look at, and is tablet-computer levels of intuitive.
Little things like material quality may disappoint slightly, but the biggest letdown by far is the lack of cabin storage solutions. Tesla’s claim to be a “tech-company that makes cars” kind of shows itself here, with almost no thought put into the kind of storage that people need to hide their odds and ends the way we do when we get in our cars. There’s a big glove box, but that’s about the extent of it. Odd.
Behind the Wheel
“With Tesla’s line-up being so small, the Model S attempts to fulfil the obligations of both a luxury saloon and a five-door performance car, and because there is so much weight and power to manage, the compromise is a tricky one.” - Autocar
The Tesla Model S is a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, it tries to be a plush luxury car with an unruffled ride, but on the other, it also tries to be an agile performance sedan with neck-snapping performance. As a result, it’s a little of both, but definitely neither. The all-wheel drive models have masses of grip, while the ‘Smart’ air suspension does a good job of ironing out all but the very worst bumps.
The steering feels disconnected and is completely uncommunicative, and when paired with the somewhat floaty suspension, it means that there’s very little driver involvement to be enjoyed here. However, if the driving experience isn’t to your liking, there is the option of simply letting the car do the work: Tesla’s Autopilot technology can very easily outdo you on motorway jaunts, and is even capable of changing lanes by itself (when you, human, flick the indicator stalk). Autopilot is a costly option though, but if you find driving a bit of a hassle at times, it’s an option worth having.
Safety & Technology
“Tesla's Autopilot steals the show, but the Model S has impressive—but incomplete—crash data.” - The Car Connection
The Autopilot safety software is the star of the show here, by far and away. The Autopilot can detect, mitigate, and avoid a collision however it may come, and is known to react faster than a human can. The Model S is fitted with an array of radars, cameras and sensors, that are not only able to detect a vehicle ahead, but objects ahead of the vehicles ahead. The advanced hardware and software work in harmony to make the Model S one of the most actively-safe vehicles on the market today.
As for the usual stuff, there’s six airbags, traction control, ABS, EBD, torque vectoring (in the all-wheel drive models), as well as lane keep assist, cruise control and what have you, bundled into the Autopilot feature suite.
It’s not easy to judge the Tesla Model S as just a car, even though it is. Because when it came out, it was a lot more than four wheeled transport; the Model S led an electric revolution, and got the whole world thinking about zippy chargeable mobility in a way that its EV predecessors hadn’t really managed to do. Yes, the Renault-Nissan Alliance may have sold more electric cars than they have, but no one has managed to put electric mobility firmly into public consciousness quite like Tesla has.
Our pick of the range is actually the entry-level Model S 60. The 60 actually offers more than decent performance and more than usable range, while leaving plenty of money behind for some of those really desirable options. Once specced up, you will likely have a tough time trying to justify a higher-capacity model, as the power and range provided by the 60 (with the 60D recommended only to those who need all-wheel drive) will likely satisfy the needs of most, without tugging at the purse strings.
CarsGuide - 90/100 - “Electric cars are very likely the planet's next automobile rulers, but being such vain creatures we'll only take to them if they're cool and good looking and that the Model S is, with its Aston Martin lines and supercar acceleration. Sure it doesn't have the growling soundtrack but unlike a supercar, it's practical too with four doors, great legroom and an enormous boot.”
TopGear - 80/100 - “There’s all the performance we could realistically need, sensible and accurate range, and an overall deeper sense of quality. The 60D won’t become your new darling of YouTube drag races, but it’s the best all-round Model S yet.”
CarAdvice - 90/100 - “We can’t fault the car for what it is. It doesn’t really do anything that it shouldn’t and it does a lot of things that you wouldn’t think it could do.”
The Car Connection - 85/100 - “The Tesla Model S is functionally the same car it's been since it was new in 2012. The performance of Tesla's Model S manages to beat expectations—and some natural laws too.”
Drive - 70/100 - “The Tesla Model S is the car of the future fast-tracked to today. There's the muscular looks, the eye-popping acceleration, the genuine 450km-plus battery-only range and the dynamic prowess that culminate in the Model S' 'new luxury' appeal. Unlike some electric cars, it's clear the Model S isn't merely a technological or science platform. It's here, it's now and it works as an everyday device (to a degree). If this is only the beginning, stand by for an electric revolution.”
AutoCar - 80/100 - “Overall, it’s clear that the Tesla Model S certainly delivers a highly credible steer, a large, hushed premium cabin and massive load space with a nicely futuristic touch. It is, without doubt, the best of its breed (of which there are few) and for a select niche, it will make financial as well as environmental sense. Practical, refined and, above all, desirable, the Model S is a triumph.”
AutoExpress - 100/100 - "The 60 may be the cheapest, slowest and most range-limited Model S on sale, but when you’re talking about Tesla, you can be in no doubt that this ‘budget’ Model S will still be light years ahead of every other EV on the market. Interestingly, the 60D actually uses the same 75kWh battery pack as the 75 and 75D variants, but pegs output at 60kWh. Entry point into Tesla ownership promises you 253 miles of range on a single charge and 0-60mph in 5.2 seconds. In terms of performance, we’re talking seriously quick hot hatch territory. Yet the Tesla feels even quicker than the numbers suggest.”
Motor Trend - 100/100 - “As the Great Wallenda of the modern technological tightrope, the spotlight has rightfully been on Musk as his audience gasps and cheers with his every step. In 12 short years, tiny Tesla has accomplished the near-impossible, and our 17 months in the car have been nothing less than an everyday reminder that it springs from the imagination of a guy whose tightrope leads all the way to Mars.”