Tesla Model S review

Our Rating: 
2013 model
By Auto Express Test TeamComments

The all-electric Tesla Model S is about the size of a BMW 7 Series and offers sportscar performance

Impressive range, relaxing drive, great acceleration
Limited charge infrastructure, no cheap models, handling could be sharper

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After establishing itself with the Lotus Elise-based Roadster, Tesla has high hopes for the Model S.

And rightly so; you simply won’t have come across a car like the Tesla Model S before. This all-electric saloon is as quick as a Porsche, as luxurious as a Mercedes and as eco-friendly as a Nissan Leaf

It’s roughly the same size as a BMW 7 Series and comes packed full of technology that you’ve probably never seen before in a production car. Take the all-electric powertrain for a start, which – depending on model – has an estimated range of up to 310 miles. Most electric cars claim a range nearer 100 miles.

The futuristic cabin doesn’t have a handbrake or a start button – you just get in, the car detects the key and that you're sat in the driver's seat, and turns itself on. There’s a huge 17-inch touchscreen in the centre console rather than traditional buttons, and you can even get a pair of seats in the boot to make this a seven-seater.

Buyers can choose the four-wheel drive Model S 70D, with a 70kWh battery and two electric motors, giving a claimed range of 275-mile range, or there's the rear-drive Model S 85, which has a larger 85kWh battery which gives 310 miles of range. Tesla also offers the 85D which features two electric motors – one at the front, one at the rear – which has a 0-60mph sprint time of 4.4 seconds, a 155mph top speed and a range of 310 miles. Topping the range is the P85D, which has a claimed 0-60mph time of 3.2 seconds!

Most pure electric cars on sale in the UK are supermini-sized or smaller, but the new Tesla Model S targets larger models, sitting somewhere between the BMW 5 Series or Mercedes E-Class and the Audi A8, BMW 7 Series and Mercedes S-Class.

Our choice: Model S 85D

Engines, performance and drive


It couldn’t be any more simple to drive a Model S: there’s no handbrake or starter button, as sensors detect when you're sat in the car and turn it on. All you have to do is slot the column-mounted, Mercedes-sourced gear selector into drive and move off in silence. The lack of interaction needed to start the car can be a little unnerving at first, but it quickly becomes second-nature.

Give the throttle a gentle touch, and the Model S responds instantly. While rear-drive models will get the traction control light flickering if you put all of the power to the back wheels, the four-wheel drive 'D' models have plenty of traction. Even the entry-level 70D can accelerate from 0-60mph in 5.2 seconds, while the high-performance P85D is as fast as a super car, with a 0-60mph time of 3.1 seconds. And when you're taking it easy, all models can cruise comfortably at motorway speeds.

Yet while enjoying the addictively rapid acceleration will make you smile, eager driving eats into your range. With a full charge, Tesla claims the top-spec P85D will cover 300 miles. Meanwhile, the car’s energy flow data always keeps you fully informed, limiting range anxiety a little.

Aside from blind spots caused by the big A-pillars, the driving position is good, but the wide Tesla is tricky to place on narrow roads. The steering lacks feel in all three of its settings, although the Sport mode adds weight.

In corners, the heavy Tesla feels numb and responds lazily to inputs. But with the 7,000-cell battery incorporated into the floorpan, the mass is low down and the Model S feels stable.

With lots of regenerative braking, you learn to slow down by simply lifting the throttle, but brake-pedal feel is almost as good as on a Porsche Panamera. Plus, with Smart Air Suspension, the Model S rides well and even allows you to vary the ride height. A 'Low' setting is designed to offer the car even better high-speed aerodynamics to maximise the car's range, but it's best left alone around urban speed bumps.

Optional 21-inch wheels don't harm the ride on anything but the roughest of British roads, but their 20mm wider tyres to contribute a large degree of tyre roar which disturbs the Model S's otherwise serene cabin. 

Owners of the performance-minded P85D can enjoy switching the car's acceleration settings from 'Sport' to 'Insane' via the 17-inch tounchscreen in the dash.

MPG, CO2 and running costs


The Government green car grant will knock a further £5,000 off the cost of the Tesla Model S. And as it’s an electric car, you’ll have no road tax to pay, and it’s exempt from the London Congestion Charge, too.

Company car tax is at the rock-bottom 5 per cent rating that's now levied against electric cars, so tax costs are on a par with a compact hatchback.

To maximise charging, we'd recommend installing a dedicated wallbox, as charging a fully flat Model S from a standard UK mains plug will take more than a day to do. Even better is Tesla’s Supercharger network, which will reacharge a flat battery to half full in less than half an hour. There aren't many Supercharger points in the UK at the moment, although the service is expanding, but if you live near one, they're free to use and exclusive to Tesla owners.

Even without this facility, rough estimates suggest you’ll only spend around £300 a year on charging, and fixed-price servicing makes it easy to budget for maintenance. But residual values are a bit of an unknown at the moment.

Interior, design and technology


Few cars we’ve driven attract as much attention as the Model S. But it’s the Tesla’s novelty factor and silent running that turn heads rather than its extravagant looks.

Having said that, with a low-slung luxury saloon shape that has a hint of Jaguar XF about it, the Model S isn’t a bad-looking car. Its wide haunches and sweeping roofline combine with optional 21-inch wheels to give it a sporty stance on the road. However, it’s inside that the Tesla’s futuristic wow factor really hits home.

Walk towards the car with the keyless fob in your pocket, and the door handles pop out towards you. Swing open the wide driver’s door and the first thing you’ll notice is the huge 17-inch touchscreen on the dash, and another TFT screen in the instrument cluster. The main screen is intuitive to use like a tablet, with pressing, swiping and zooming functions, although the size of the screen means the climate controls remain located at the bottom of the screen for easy access.

Once on the move, all the crucial operations can be duplicated via the multifunction wheel, while speed, range and energy flow are displayed in the smart central TFT screen.

The rest of the cabin is kept simple, with flowing lines and a minimalist design that’s upmarket but not flashy. Generally, quality is pretty good, but some plastics low down in the cabin are a little cheap and the Model S is certainly not as plush as a Porsche Panamera.

There’s some familiar Mercedes switches, too, especially the window switches and column-mounted gear selector, but this doesn’t detract from the futuristic appeal. Kit is generous, and options include a full-length sunroof, LED cabin lighting and high-fidelity stereo, although Tesla cheekily charges £200 for a boot load cover.

Practicality, comfort and boot space


With no engine, and the batteries and the electric motor mounted low in the chassis, the Tesla is really practical.

In the back, there’s plenty of legroom, you get three ISOFIX mountings and there’s also no transmission tunnel to be climbed over.

You can even have a £2,100 set of rear-facing jump seats in the boot for kids under 10. Without them, there’s 894 litres of luggage space. The back seats fold flat, too, taking load space up to 1,645 litres. There's extra storage in the nose, too, although four-wheel drive D models have a bit less room, thanks to the front-mounted electric motor.

But in spite of a going far beyond what any other production EV is capable of, the biggest limitations to the Tesla are its range and the lack of charging infrastructure. Tesla is working to combat this, with the proliferaton of Supercharger fast-charging centres which are free of charge for Model S owners to use. Tesla has installed its Superchargers at shopping centres and serivce stations across the UK, with the largest concentration in the south-east, although in theory you should be able to drive from London to Edinburgh just using its Supercharger network.

Reliability and Safety


There were a couple of instances of fires in the Model S early in its production, and the company recalled 29,000 charging adaptors as a result. But aside from this initial glitch, the Model S has reportedly been trouble-free.

We found that the Tesla Model S works perfectly fine, and feels like it has been built to last. And while it’s a new company, Tesla is responsible for building a run of 2,600 Toyota RAV4 EVs, as well as working with Mercedes on an electric B-Class – so it has a lot of experience.

The battery cells come from Panasonic and, while they’ll lose some charge after 10 years of use, Tesla provides buyers with an eight-year, unlimited-mileage warranty on the battery, while the rest of the car is covered for four years and 50,000 miles. It's transferrable between owners too, even if you never service the car. And the Model S has performed very well in US crash tests.

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It's a stunning car at a stunning price. For a company that makes batteries for Toyota, Tesla has come a long way with this Model S. I see a passing resemblance with Maserati. A nice car that points to the future of motoring. The range impresses and makes the car the first credible electric car. Now someone should step forward and add a small engine that charges the battery and makes this car perfect. Expensive it is though.

Why do people believe adding in an engine with all the servicing, the engine consumables, noise, dirt, extra cost and taxation. Then having to go queue in the stinking weather to fill her up at the "gas station" just to get your card cloned instead of garaging it and simply plugging in for a couple nights a week .. Not forgetting the added weight to make a 200~400 mile car go further and lose internal volume is supposed to make it a good thing?

you just have to wait for it to be arrived in the UK in late of this year

If they could give this car the performance of a BMW 520D in stead of an M5, than the range would be far longer (I Guess?) or you could do with a smaller batteriepack? Than this car would be more affordable and it still would be a nice car to drive. Unless this makes no sense? (By the way: I own a 520D)

Having personally driven the roadster sport, I can confirm EV's are not the future. They are NOW! Elon Musk's engineering teams have created the Model S, confounded the critics and produced the safest most energy efficient, thrilling rwd automotive revelation since 2007. BUILD IT & THEY WILL COME. P.S. please tell top gear the NYTimes has already tried and failed, progress cannot be prevented. Order today no delay's the future has arrived dont live in the past. Incredible achievements, at some point critics have to accept the arguement is over, history has been written by Tesla once again at the cutting edge of the automotive industry. Keep leading the way Elon, an inspirational paradigm shift of applied innovation.

Wait a minute on the charging time.
That 8 hours is
A/ empty to full
B/ at approx 40 amps rate of charge.

The European models have 3 PHASE charging
that US models do not.
This allows for 3 PHASE 32 amp @ 380volts
charging. An in theory 96amp charge in reality you should get at least an 80amp charge that gives approx 70 miles (or more) of charge per hour.
So that is less than four hours to fully charge.
While the highway based
run at 120kw giving 200 miles charge in 30 minutes...and that is for FREE !!

The reality is that most charging is done at home
and most home charging is top up not empty to full.

"drive lacks involvement"
In what ? The 19th century noises of an ICE ?
There is no greater involvement than when driving a TESLA turn off that stupid sound system...open your driver window and even at 50mph you can experience the sound of and have involvement with nature. While driving a car that does not destroy nature. That is the kind of priceless involvement that has far more value than childish car sounds.

In four years, five years for the UK the TESLA Gen III will sell for around 35K but it is important that anyone who can afford to buy the MODEL S does so. Those of you who can and do are helping to build a better future for the rest of us. Plus of course the MODEL S will always have premium advantages over the more mass market car.

Excuse me,if you add in needed things like the supercharger compatibility, leather and higher capacity batteries, the price rises to 90k immediately. I know all of you are going to dislike this comment just because I am not doing free advertising for Tesla unlike you.

No, doesn't really work like that with electric motors - a high power motor is about as efficient as a lower power one, just a little heavier (but not much as an overall % of the cars weight - so would only make a slight difference to max range). Tesla did originally offer a small battery pack on the model S, but so few were ordering it that they dropped it, and just offer med and large packs now. The single most costly item in this car (and most electric cars) is currently the battery pack.

The Model S is Tesla-founder Elon Musk's means-to-an-end, with the upcoming Model E being the mass-market car which he started the whole venture to build...

Where does everyone think the electricity is coming from to charge these cars? They sound good but really you are just moving the pollution to a different area of the country,until we are generating enough solar or wind power I think it's just a nonsense.

Where? Answer: overnight charging is offpeak predominently nuclear baseload and wind turbines. Importantly, petrol is only 20% efficient relative to in excess of 80% for pure EV mileage. Remember to factor in the Giga watts of "evil electricity" which is consumed by petroleum refineries in the UK each year. The amount of electricity used to refine, transport, and then operate the machinery used to pump flamable carcinogenicity into your antequated 20th century automobile is immense! The heavily taxpayer subsidised crude oil used in everything from plastic to fertiliser, would be more than enough to fuel hundreds of millions of electric only miles. Electric cars are fuel agnostic, unlike evey other vehicle, choice you are limited to bio fuel mixes or LPG/CNG neither of which are as efficient as the worst case scenario. Charging indirectly from 100% coal is more efficient per mile driven due to 80% of the energy translated into motion. Petroleum is 20% at the limit, you cannot beat electric mobility, it is the most sustainable choice for you and your children's children.

Predominantly that is :)

Ah if I could afford... I would speed without worry about to declare bankrupt! And for those that will complain about the range, 311 miles is much more than I'm getting on my petrol Ford Mondeo!

Reliability section....

You knock points off for "3" car fires in over 30,000 vehicles due to high speed accidents, during which none of the occupants were hurt?

Considering the hundreds of thousands of car fires that happen in every developed country, "every year", in which people die you might as well give all other cars 1 star in reliability.

After 1 test drive I bought an S as this car fits my use patten...No hang on I lied it goes like a bullet off the line that's what clinched it! And that's the point Mr Musk has got it right the S for some of us is just the best car out there that that starts the ball rolling sometimes it takes a bit of a Maveric to risk all and just do it. I change my car every 10 years the S will owe me nothing at the end so depreciation is not a concern and if the battery does deplete a bit well there will be more charging stations by then. I hate the bonkers complexity of a modern ICE and visits to the stealer's and Im willing to take a risk on a technology which lets face it has been around 100 or more years.

if you see the the car whit 360bhp and the one whit 410bhp have the same range...
and the engine already is the size of a watermelon so...

and you din't said a important fact, the fire in all tesla never entered the cockpit and in one of them after the firefighters put the fire outside of the owner just pressed the key to open the doors and the central looking worked just fine...

Last updated: 27 Feb, 2015