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Tesla Model S review (2014 onwards)
Tesla Model S: summary
The Tesla Model S is an extremely convincing all-electric technofest alternative to the BMW 5 Series and its premium executive saloon ilk – pricey but worth every innovative penny.
What: Tesla Model S (2014 onwards)
Where: Hertfordshire, UK
Date: June 2014
Price: £49,900 - £68,700 (including £5,000 government grant)
Available: on sale now (four to five-month waiting list)
Key rivals:Audi A6, BMW 5 Series, Lexus GS, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid
We like: performance, efficiency, amazing interior, most convincing electric solution yet
We don’t like: ride quality and handling not quite up to best premium rivals
Tesla Model S: first impressions
Welcome to the Future: this is the Tesla Model S, the world’s first true, bespoke premium electric saloon car – the machine that might just make or break the electric vehicle revolution. Having already turned the US car market inside out, the Model S is officially available in the UK and Europe as of now.
This is no all-electric shopping cart, second car or any other kind of run-around. The Tesla Model S is highly convincing alternative to the likes of the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class, thoughtfully and thoroughly engineered from the ground up to run on electricity instead of burning fossil fuels.
In many respects, the Model S makes the status quo seem like walking – or rather, driving – with dinosaurs. Its performance potential is absolutely startling, while the interior underlines its visionary soothsaying with all-digital instrumentation and a staggeringly enormous central touchscreen.
Even if Tesla’s premium positioning wasn’t set out by a pricing structure that starts at just under £50,000, this detail alone is enough to make its intentions clear. The Model S is a car that could change minds instantly, and give electric vehicles the kind of irresistible desirability the breed surely needs.
Some compromises are still going to be required, but if you’ve any interest at all in the cutting edge of motoring, are keen to explore alternative fuels, or are simply looking for an outstanding escape from the ordinary, prepare yourself to want one.
Tesla Model S: performance
Having started life creating an all-electric version of the Lotus Elise called the Tesla Roadster, Tesla presently builds only the Model S. And this is no electrified rehash of an existing product, but a purpose-engineered electric vehicle constructed to the American firm’s exacting standards.
Whenever you’re not in a hurry the Model S becomes this amazing cocoon of serene harmony
This doesn’t make it perfect, by any means – and we’ll come back to why in a moment. But as a package to demonstrate the potential of electricity as a high-performance power source this is just about as good as it gets right now (excluding hyper-lux experiments such as the Mercedes SLS Electric Drive).
The Model S comes in three (and a half) variants: the 60, the 85 and the P85. The number refers to the battery capacity in kilowatt hours (kWh), which directly influences how far you can travel between charges; the P stands for Performance, and this model gets the most powerful drive system, making it faster. As in, 0-62mph in 4.2 seconds.
Our test car was actually a P85+, meaning the biggest battery, the most powerful drive and a recalibrated chassis (remarkably, this also improves the theoretical range by six to 12 miles). The + part costs an additional £5,500 on top of the P85’s already chunky £68,700 asking price.
Sounds like a lot. Is, in fact, a lot. But the thing about electric cars is that they deliver their performance instantly, and this Model S sports no less than 416hp and 442lb ft of torque – the latter available at literally any rpm. Punch that right-hand pedal and you’d better be awake because the Model S is going to make a grab for the horizon, and it is going to do it now.
You only need to do this once to be convinced that electric cars are here to stay. No other executive saloon, not even the most torque-monstrous turbodiesel, gives you a shove in the back quite like this – an experience that’s made all the more eerie by the lack of engine noise. Instead, all you get is a zooming electric frequency and, if the surface is at all damp, the sizzle of spinning rear tyres…
Tesla Model S: ride and handling
Since there is no engine sound, whenever you’re not in a hurry the Model S becomes this amazing cocoon of serene harmony. The downside to this is an increased sense of road noise, as there’s no counterbalancing internal combustion clatter; the cabin is perhaps a touch boomy in this regard, too.
But seriously, the torque – what a relaxing way to get around. Which is probably for the best, because one area where the veil of premium capability begins to flutter, if not entirely fall down, is the chassis tuning.
The stability control systems are extremely sophisticated, as they need to be with that much energy available to interrupt the idyllic interaction between the driven rear tyres and the road surface. So there’s little danger that you’re actually going to get yourself into trouble here. Yet we often found ourselves slightly unsure about exactly how the Tesla was going to react during more spirited driving.
The electrically assisted steering plays a part in this; feedback is limited and it’s very keen to self-centre, making it by far the most synthetic-feeling part of the car. And though a ride-height adjusting air suspension system is fitted as standard, on big 21-inch wheels the test car struggled to smooth out bumps and its reactions generally felt a bit brittle.
There’s a slightly unnerving yaw to the initial body roll, too – although with all the heavy drivetrain components mounted low in the chassis this isn’t likely to get out of hand. For cruising between business meetings or taking in a night on the town, the Model S is easily as good as it needs to be. But it lacks the depth of talent you might expect from the establish premium players.
Tesla Model S: interior
Not that your passengers will notice any of this. Instead they will be staring, utterly mesmerised at the huge 17-inch central touchscreen. Nothing says cutting edge quite like the real estate generosity of this display. It gives you access to various vehicle control functions and all the infotainment options you’d expect.
You aren’t going to be paying any tax on this car any time soon
What’s particularly brilliant about this is that it’s also extremely responsive and easy to navigate around – things simply do what you expect in a manner that’s easy to understand. Built-in wi-fi means you can surf the internet while stationary, and Google Maps’ integration as the sat-nav is basically sublime.
In addition to this showstopper, the driver also gets a fully digital instrument panel, which seems entirely appropriate in a car of this type. The overall design of the cabin is also very striking, even if you recognise the indicator stalks and other secondary controls from Mercedes (one of Tesla’s major investors).
The electric drivetrain has another advantage here: no transmission tunnel, so three adults will fit comfortably across the back seat. Curiously, the test car had an additional pair of rear-facing child seats in the boot, making it a seven-seater – albeit not a terribly comfortable-looking one.
The starting procedure is also worth a mention. Instead of any kind of conventional key you get a delightfully tactile Model S shaped pebble. Simply keep this in your pocket and as you approach the car the door handles will pop out; climb in, sit down in the driver’s seat, and it detects your presence and turns itself on. No pressing start, simply put the car into drive and go. The Future.
Tesla Model S: fuel economy, CO2, running costs
The Model S doesn’t drink conventional fuel, so it emits no CO2 – which is not the same as saying it isn’t responsible for generating any, as that depends on the source of the electricity that you use to charge it. But simply put, you aren’t going to be paying any tax on this car any time soon. It’s even Benefit-in-Kind company car tax-exempt until 2015, when this duty will be levied at just 5%.
There are other issues, though. With the big battery, Tesla claims a 312-mile range (based on current EU testing standards), also saying it will do approximately 300 miles at 55mph. This is pretty damn good for an electric car – but recharging it is still going to take time (68 miles range per hour with a dedicated unit), and be less convenient than refuelling a conventional vehicle.
Tesla has opened its first "Supercharger" high-speed charging station in London, with a further six planned in the capital and many more across the UK. Many owners, however, just plug the cars in overnight; you can precisely define the charging schedule to take advantage of low rate hours using the on-board controls.
Tesla Model S: price, equipment and spec
Prices for the Tesla Model S range from £49,900 to £68,700 – although this includes a £5,000 discount courtesy of the government’s current electric car incentive scheme.
The Tesla Model S is a sensational endorsement of the electric car’s potential
The more you spend, the more powerful the car, as already discussed, while all but the base 60 model get Supercharging as part of the package. Meaning you won’t have to pay to charge the car at these stations, once they are finally online (at the time of testing the closest one was in the Netherlands).
The battery warranty is eight years (125,000 miles for the 60, unlimited mileage for the others), and you do get the 17-inch touchscreen as standard. Beyond this there are certainly plenty of options to tempt you – covering everything from those additional seats to extra storage bins and carbonfibre spoilers.
For the money you are also getting a very safe car. EuroNCAP has yet to test the Model S, but it exceeds the highest US standards and now comes with an armour-plated titanium floor to protect against the rare debris-strike incidents that caused well-documented (but injury-free) fires in the US.
Tesla Model S: verdict
The Tesla Model S is sensational. It has the performance to blow preconceptions not just out of the water but right into orbit, and exactly the right kind of space-age yet unintimidating interior to match.
It's presently in a class of one, but such is the thoroughness of Tesla’s approach that even if there were mainstream alternatives, the Model S would stand out. Best of all, it gives us hope that the future of the car can be both environmentally virtuous and exciting.
On Bing: see pictures of the Tesla Model S
Find out how much a used Tesla costs on Auto Trader
Self-driving Tesla could hit roads within three years
Tesla Model S UK price announcement
Tesla Model S fire – are petrol or electric cars safer?
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