Tesla Model S review
The all-electric Tesla Model S is about the size of a BMW 5 Series and offers sportscar performance
The Tesla Model S is a luxurious electric saloon that delivers supercar performance and a surprisingly practical interior. It has a range of more than 300 miles at a constant 50mph (in range-topping P85 specification), which isn't far off some petrol cars with large, thirsty engines such as the BMW M5. In fact, the M5 is similar in size and performance, with a 4.3-second 0-62mph compared to the Tesla’s 4.2-second 0-62mph claim. Less powerful versions are also available with a range of 230 miles and a 0-62mph time of 5.9 seconds. It will take 8.5 hours to charge fully, which is on a par with a Nissan Leaf, despite that car only having a 100 miles range after an eight-hour charge. The Model S also features plenty of tech – for example, there’s full Internet capability via a stunning 17-inch LCD touch screen.
Our choice: Model S P85+
The Tesla Model S is slightly longer than the BMW 5 Series, Mercedes E-Class and Audi A6, marginally wider, and sits lower to improve aerodynamics – its slippery shape helps it achieve its impressive range. There’s a traditional front grille, even though there’s no engine under the bonnet, while the four-door coupe-like look is emphasised by the sloping roofline. There’s a fabulous optional full-length glass sunroof, too, which although it’s tinted, still lets plenty of light into the cabin. The glasshouse tucks inwards towards the rear, with taillamps reminiscent of a Jaguar XF. There are a few design features that look unfinished, such as the fiddly taillight clusters, but on stylish 21-inch alloys it’s a sophisticated looking saloon.
The instant 600Nm of torque from the electric motor, high grip from the wide rear tyres and a single ratio gearbox means the Model S's has breathtaking acceleration, and there's no break in the power delivery to change gears. It's also perfectly balanced with a near 50:50 weight distribution, so it feels neutral and stable in corners and grips hard. But with a weight approaching 2.2 tonnes, it's not as agile as petrol-powered rivals and tends to understeer badly if you carry too much pace into a corner. Drive less aggressively though and the refinement is impeccable (thanks to a lack of engine noise) and the ride is smooth. As a fast and relatively sporty GT is offers an intruiging alternative to the Porsche Panamera.
The Tesla Model S comes with a two-year warranty that includes roadside assistance, while the lithium ion battery pack has an eight-year warranty. Lessons learnt from its first road car, the Tesla Roadster, mean that the Model S has all its components liquid cooled – that means the battery pack and power unit has its temperature regulated. On top of this, Tesla is responsible for building around 2,500 Toyota RAV4 EVs, as well as working with Mercedes (who own shares in Tesla) on an electric version of the B-Class. If Mercedes and Toyota are happy for Tesla technology to wear their logo, then reliability should be strong.
The Tesla Model S is an oddity among electric cars – it has a decent range. The top model will go for 300 miles on a single charge, while even the smallest battery pack in the entry-level model is capable of covering 230 miles if driven at a constant 50mph. A series of 'Supercharger' stations are expected to start appearing in the UK from mid-2014, which allow an 80-per cent charge in 30 minutes. Excellent space is another advantage of the Model S. Its electric motor is mounted in front of the rear axle, while the battery is sandwiched in the floor. The entire mechanicals fit between the axles, meaning that there’s a versatile boot in the front and the back – not unlike a more practical Porsche 911. There’s 745 litres in the back boot with the seats upright, which is more than even the Mercedes E-Class, which has 540 litres. The 60/40-folding seats allow a total of 1645 litres when they’re flat. There's also the option of two rear-facing child seats that pop up in the boot.
With no tailpipe emissions, the Tesla Model S costs very little to run and can be charged from a household socket. Servicing is cheap, too, as Tesla offers a four-year package to make costs more manageable for owners. While most makers’ fixed-price servicing includes the basics but not consumable items, the Model S servicing plan includes everything from the brake pads to wiper blades. The only item not covered is tyres, but it’s an impressive move and shows the confidence in the car. The only downside is the hefty purchase price - although it does quality for the £5,000 government electric car grant.