Tesla Model S UK review

6 Jun, 2014 4:45pm Oliver Kew

The Tesla Model S boasts amazing technology and pace, but does the UK have the infrastructure for it?


The superb performance, refinement, practicality and on-board technology of the Tesla Model S are all very impressive. However, our first drive of the electric saloon in the UK confirms the ride isn’t quite as well honed. Plus, the UK lags behind the US and Europe when it comes to vital battery-charging infrastructure, which ultimately hurts the car's everyday usability.

Two years after the Tesla Model S went on sale in the US, Californian start-up Tesla has finally started making a right-hand-drive version of its Model S all-electric saloon for the UK market. 

Pop into the only Tesla showroom in the UK in London, or log onto its impressively glossy website, and you can order one of these battery-powered limousines from £49,900 (including the UK government’s £5000 EV grant). The flagship P85 ‘Performance’ variant we’re driving here includes more power than the lesser 60kWh and standard 85kWh variants and comes with a starting price of £68,700. Our fully loaded test car retails at £98,580.

That eye-watering figure is justified by performance to toast a BMW M5 or Porsche Panamera Turbo. The rear-mounted electric motor develops 410bhp and 630Nm of torque, hurling the hefty Tesla S to 62mph in just 4.2 seconds and to a limited top speed of 130mph - all while emitting no direct CO2 emissions, dodging road tax and the congestion charge, and costing a fraction of what it would to run a petrol saloon with this kind of performance. It’s a compelling drivetrain package that badly embarrasses the premium saloon establishment and any other electric car that’s come before it.

Tesla Model S interior and touchscreen

The 85kWh battery unit is mounted under the car’s floor to give the two-tonne saloon a lower centre of gravity than any of its rivals. The chassis set-up is unchanged from the US-spec Model S and as a result the Model S still feels a fair bit softer than a Panamera. It’s a car to be enjoyed when driving smoothly, riding a wave of instant torque and lifting off for regenerative braking.

Attacking bends betrays the weight and generous America-friendly dimensions, which – combined with thick A-pillars – make the Model S feel somewhat intimidating, despite its relaxing powertrain. Riding on 21-inch wheels our test car also felt a bit jittery over rough roads, despite the optional adaptive air suspension’s variable models. You’ll notice a bit of roll in the bends, too.

Inside the Tesla Model S, the 17-inch main touchscreen and digital instrument display combine to provide one of the most intuitive cabins we’ve ever used, but elsewhere it’s not the highest quality. Some trim materials, which include the slippery, unsupportive one-piece leather seats feel a little ‘recycled’.

In the two years since the Tesla Model S first hit the scene on the US, electric car ownership hasn’t blossomed in the UK, despite healthy financial incentives. The biggest obstacle for the Tesla Model S to be a success in the UK is our relative lack of charging infrastructure.

However, Tesla claims it is working on several UK-based ‘Supercharger’ battery-replenishing stations that can half-charge a Model S in only 30 minutes, creating up to 150 miles of range. The service is exclusive to Tesla owners and is free of charge. However, it’s only compatible with the standard 85kWh and the P85 model we’re testing - it’ll cost extra to get it fitted.

Key specs

  • Price: £68,700
  • Engine: Three-phase electric motor
  • Power: 410bhp
  • Transmission: Single-speed auto, rear-wheel drive
  • 0-62mph: 4.2 seconds
  • Top speed: 130mph
  • Range: 312 miles
  • CO2: 0g/km
  • On sale: Now