Tesla Model S review
The all-electric Tesla Model S is about the size of a BMW 7 Series and offers sportscar performance
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 a range of 311 miles. Most electric cars struggle to hit 100.
The futuristic cabin doesn’t have a handbrake or a start button – you just get in and go. 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 between a 60kWh battery with a 208-mile range or the larger 80kWh battery with the full 311 miles. There’s also an 80kWh Performance, which drops the 0-60mph time from 5.4 to 4.2 seconds.
Most pure electric cars on sale in the UK right now 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 . So can an EV be a luxurious, desirable and good-to-drive executive car?
Our choice: Model S P85+
The Tesla isn’t extravagantly styled but it does look smart, with the large alloy wheels – up to 21 inches on top-spec models – and sweeping roofline giving it a subtly sporty design.
If you go for a Performance model then you get an optional carbon fibre rear spoiler but otherwise the differences between models are few and far between. There are plenty of nice, futuristic touches, though, like the door handles that pop out as you approach the car, or the charging port hidden neatly in the rear light.
The cabin feels really airy because there’s no transmission tunnel running down the centre of the car. It’s dominated by a large 17-inch touchscreen and another TFT screen in the instrument cluster. Quality is pretty good and the materials feel expensive, too. Inside, wood grain, chrome and silver detailing surrounds clear instruments that display the car’s speed, remaining range and how much energy is being regenerated by the car’s brakes. Overall quality is good, but it’s not quite up to BMW standards.
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.
You simply get in the Model S and drive away; there’s no handbrake to release and no start button to push. Sensors in the seat take care of all that for you so all you have to do is slot it in drive and move off.
In silence, the Model S pulls away and a quick prod of the throttle will reveal just how fast this car is. The flagship Performance model is so powerful that you have to be careful with the throttle – be too harsh and the traction control kicks in immediately.
We’ve only tried a car on optional air suspension but it felt extremely comfortable. The Model S easily sailed over potholes and soaked up speed bumps – perhaps cars on normal springs won’t fare quite as well.
Handling is reasonable but the steering feels too artificial and numb to ever let you feel in complete control. The car itself just isn’t as playful as a BMW 5 Series – that’s not a deal-breaker but just be aware that the Model S isn’t the most fun car this size.
There have been a few high-profile incidents of fire in the Model S but the company is saying they’re freak accidents.
In our experience with the car everything worked perfectly and felt like it was built to last. People generally have worries about this new technology but electric cars do actually have their benefits.
For a starter, the electric motor has far fewer moving parts than an engine so it’s less likely to go wrong. Secondly, much of the braking is done by the motor and not by the brakes so they’ll last far longer, too.
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.
As for the battery, that’s destined to lose a bit of charge after ten years of use but Tesla does provide buyers with an eight-year, unlimited miles warranty on it. As it stands there is no EuroNCAP result but the car performed extremely well in American crash tests.
The Model S looks low and sporty but it’s actually very roomy in the cabin because of the way this car is built.
The seats can be mounted nice and low and there’s no transmission tunnel to climb over in the back. You can have a set of rear-facing seats in the boot if you want but they’re really only just for children.
Without them there’s a really generous 774-litre boot and you can always fold the back seats down if you need to free up a bit more space.
Perhaps the Tesla’s biggest limitation is its range. At up to 311 miles it’s far beyond what any other production electric vehicle is capable of but the charging infrastructure is still in its infancy so be sure to do your research before investing.
A full charge from a standard plug socket will take 24 hours but Tesla can install a quick charger at your house to cut that nearer to 8 hours. Best choice of all, though, is Tesla’s Supercharger network – due in the UK at the end of 2014 – which will allow owners to get 200 miles of range in just 30 minutes. Best of all, it’s completely free.
For the time being the Tesla Model S qualifies for a government grant that knocks £5,000 off its list price – it’s still not exactly cheap, though. You do, however, get a pretty generous amount of kit included like LED lights, cruise control, a 17-inch touchscreen, synthetic leather, keyless-go and power windows all-round.
As an electric car you’ll have no road tax to pay on the Model S and nor will you have to pay for the London Congestion Charge. As a fleet buyer you’ll also find there’s no company car tax to pay and your firm is also able to write off 100% of the car’s value off against tax in the first year.
To maximise charging you’ll have to tick the ‘Dual Chargers’ option box and if you want to be able to use Superchargers with the basic 60kWh you’ll have to enable Supercharging – together these will cost more than £3,000. Worth bearing in mind when you’re ordering your Tesla.
It could all be worth it in the end, though, with rough estimates suggesting you’ll only spend around £300 a year on charging your car. If you wait for the Superchargers then you can do it all for free.