Tesla Model S review
The all-electric Tesla Model S is an impressively competent luxury EV, but new rivals mean it’s got a fight on its hands
The Tesla Model S is one of the most rewarding all-electric experiences around – especially if you pay company car tax. And perhaps surprisingly, while it’s loaded with digital technology and has a futuristic feel, the Model S is roomy and practical too.
Autopilot ‘self-driving’ features are among the Tesla talking points, but the Model S has proved itself as far more than a geeky toy for early adopters. It offers a luxurious, serene and relaxing experience for drivers and passengers, with a roomy cabin and wide-opening tailgate helping to make it easy to live with. It’s not a hugely involving drive in the traditional sense though, and the Tesla also can’t quite match luxury rivals for perceived build quality.
Continual updates over the years mean range is impressive across all models, and Model S drivers also benefit from access to the Tesla-exclusive Supercharger network. Latest versions can accept 250kW charging, good for 200 miles of range in 15 minutes, but they’re not expected in the UK until 2022.
About the Tesla Model S
A combination of searing performance, slippery looks, and a cool, high-tech minimalist cabin dominated by a big central touchscreen has proved highly attractive to buyers around the world for the best part of a decade, making the Tesla Model S the undisputed leader in Electric Vehicle (EV) luxury.
Car group tests
- New Tesla Model S Long Range 2019 review
- Tesla Model S 75D 2018 review
- Tesla Model S 100D 2017 review
Used car tests
At least it did, until the mainstream auto industry started to catch up, and now buyers have the choice of tantalising EV rivals that include great driving sports saloons like the Porsche Taycan and Audi e-tron GT, as well as more practical choices such as the Audi e-tron, Jaguar I-Pace and Mercedes EQC SUVs.
The new Mercedes EQS luxury saloon, due this summer, may pose even more of a challenge to the Model S, with its full dash-wide infotainment screen, superb battery range and autonomous driving tech suggesting the once novel Tesla may be rapidly running out of ways to demonstrate its leadership credentials.
That said, the Tesla Model S is the car that helped to make EV ownership desirable, and for the moment at least it still leads the pack when it comes to superb range and its roomy cabin. In terms of size, the Model S falls into the executive sector, but while the five-door hatchback body is fairly conventional, it has lots more space than many rivals thanks to the compact packaging of the electric drive system. There's also extra luggage space under the bonnet where an engine would normally reside.
Constant updates to the Model S mean the current range is quite different compared to when the car was launched. There was a facelift in 2016 that saw the nose lose its fake grille, which brought the S into line with the Model X SUV, and another update for 2021 which has brought more significant changes - although UK cars won’t arrive before 2022.
Tesla used to give different versions of the Model S a number to identify them. In the past this has included 60, 60D, 70, 70D, 75, 75D, 85, 85D, P85+, P85D, 90, 90D, P90, 100D and P100D versions. The numbers signified the kWh (kilowatt-hour) rating of the lithium ion battery pack, with a larger number signifying more power and greater range. The D identifier meant dual-motor, so was applied to the four-wheel drive variants.
The line-up has been simplified with the 2021 update, and there are now just three variants available to order via the Tesla website. The Tesla Model S Long Range kicks off the line-up with a claimed 412-mile range and uses the established dual-motor drivetrain. It’s no slouch with a 3.1 second 0-60mph time and 155mph top speed, but the Plaid and Plaid+ models above it use a new triple-motor drivetrain with a claimed 1,006bhp output for a 1.99 second 0-60mph time and 200mph top speed. The maximum range is equally formidable, with up to 520 miles available from the Plaid+.
You can spot the 2021 Model S Long Range by updates to the front bumper, but the Plaid gets extra aero tweaks with a lower front splitter, revised rear diffuser and a neat ducktail spoiler on the boot lid. The more obvious changes are inside where there’s a new and even more minimalist design featuring a rectangular steering ‘wheel’ that looks like something from an aeroplane. The old portrait-orientated touchscreen has been replaced by a 17-inch landscape unit, and the digital instrument pack sits on a pod atop the dash. There’s an extra screen for rear passengers too, who also benefit from extra space thanks to a redesigned rear bench.
Probably the most controversial feature on the Model S is Tesla's Autopilot. It's at the cutting edge of autonomous driving technology, but the name is a little misleading, because the driver cannot hand over complete control of the car to the electronics. However, it does allow for an element of 'hands-free' driving, on the motorway especially, although the driver does need to maintain concentration on the road ahead in case the electronics do miss something. Latest Autopilot versions include the ‘Summon’ feature which allows owners to direct their car short distances to their location using Tesla’s app, and the self-parking feature has been upgraded.
In this review
- 1Verdict - currently readingThe all-electric Tesla Model S is an impressively competent luxury EV, but new rivals mean it’s got a fight on its hands
- 2Engines, performance and drivePerformance is, erm, electrifying... but heavy batteries mean cornering feels disappointingly leaden
- 3Range, charging & running costsMinimal running costs and tax-breaks are appealing, while Tesla's Supercharger points are growing in number
- 4Interior, design and technologyIf you want to feel part of a digital future, the Model S is sure to impress
- 5Practicality, comfort and boot spaceThe Tesla Model S has a futuristic luxury feel that belies an improbably practical interior
- 6Reliability and SafetyTesla offers an eight-year battery warranty for the Model S, while safety levels are first-rate