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New Tesla Model S Plaid 2023 review

Is the new Tesla Model S Plaid as rapid as the figures suggest? We hit the road to find out...

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

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Verdict

The Tesla Model S is back and better than ever – if you can forgive the fact it’s now left-hand drive only. And actually, given the level of tech and driver assistance systems on board, that’s easier to do than you might think. Picking the Plaid will be a provocative party trick for some, but there’s more to the brand’s flagship than straight-line speed. Tesla still sets the standard when it comes to interior tech, and the cabin quality is vastly improved over early cars. Would we pick the Plaid over a Porsche? Quite possibly.

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It's almost three years since Tesla last delivered a Model S to the UK. For what seems like an eternity, interested parties have been asked to place a deposit with no promise of when (or indeed if) their car might arrive.

But the Model S is finally back on our price lists with one small caveat: it’s now left-hand drive only. Tesla knows that might put some people off, and has offered those aforementioned deposit holders a full refund – or money off a Model 3, should they not wish to proceed.

Those unfazed by driving on the left – and if you keep reading, we’ll discuss a couple of reasons why you shouldn’t be – are given a choice of two cars: the ‘standard’ 661bhp Model S, and the range-topping triple-motor Plaid.

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The Plaid is recognisable by its subtly upgraded bodywork, rear diffuser, carbon-fibre bootlid spoiler and unique badging. Our car also featured Tesla’s optional 21-inch Arachnid wheels, wrapped in super-grippy Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres. So grippy, in fact, that moving around town on a warm day, you can hear the rubber sticking to the road as you crawl through traffic.

But it’s not just at low speeds where the Plaid remains resolutely glued to the tarmac. Find an open stretch of road – straight, windy or otherwise – and this revised Model S just refuses to let go, regardless of how much power you put down.

Power is something the Plaid has plenty of. If the standard car sounds quick, the range-topper is next level. With 1,006bhp, no current production car accelerates faster; 0-60mph, according to Tesla, takes less than two seconds.

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One quick prod of the right pedal and you can absolutely believe it. Yet launching from a standstill isn’t when this Model S feels fastest; watching slower moving traffic disappear in your rear-view mirror, as you descend a motorway slip road or roll by a national speed-limit sign, becomes a rather addictive past time.

That’s all thanks to the scarcely believable 1,420Nm of torque. Available in an instant, even part-throttle overtakes ensure a McLaren feels sluggish. If anything, it makes you lazy. There’s no need to plan; you see a gap and seize it. Simple as that.

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It even goes round corners with poise; this car is a Nurburgring record holder, after all. There’s very little body roll, and while the steering is almost completely devoid of feel, that grip means all you need to do is point it in the right direction and hold on. It’s the unsupportive seats that let things down – a couple of quick bends and you’ll instantly understand why the car used for that Porsche Taycan-toppling lap time was fitted with a figure-hugging bucket seat. 

Ultimately, both the aforementioned Porsche and the Audi RS e-tron GT have more character, even if neither would see which way the Tesla went, given the right stretch of road. Yet the Model S still does the mundane stuff perfectly well; dial the drivetrain into Chill mode and the car’s otherwise frenetic personality fades away. It’s still quick, but the dulled throttle response means it’s not constantly goading you into traffic-light drag races or unnecessary overtakes.

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We suspect this is how most Plaid owners will drive their cars day to day – with the suspension in its softest setting and the steering set to comfort. As before, the Tesla is an imperious motorway car – not as quiet as a BMW i7, but loaded with kit that takes the stress out of long journeys. Autopilot remains one of the smoothest and most advanced set-ups of its type.

The indicator switches on the steering wheel and the wiper controls buried in the screen don’t do the user experience any favours, but having constant visibility of cars, bikes and even pedestrians in your blind spot via the high-definition instrument cluster means you’ll soon forget the car is left-hand drive. The main 17-inch screen, despite not hosting Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, is as sharp and precise as an iPad or other tablet – with almost as much functionality, too. 

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But given how long it’s been since we’ve had a Model S in the UK, let’s address one of the old car’s biggest failings: build quality. Thankfully, this takes a very welcome step in the right direction; some of the external panel gaps are still a bit large for our liking, but most of what you touch inside seems worthy of this car’s luxury list price. Again, that screen really lifts the ambience, and while it perhaps doesn’t have the wow factor of the old portrait display, what’s hidden within is cutting edge. You can angle it towards the driver now, too.

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Otherwise, the 2023 Tesla Model S is the same car we’ve always known and (mostly) loved. There’s plenty of space inside; you’ll get three medium-sized adults in the rear, and if you fold down the seats, there’s enough space for a bicycle. The frunk is handy for storing the charging cables, though it still has to be opened via the main infotainment display.

And of course, a Tesla wouldn’t be a Tesla without a strong real-world range and access to the brand’s game-changing Supercharger network. The Model S Plaid will officially do up to 373 miles, but utilise that prodigious power and you’ll see that advertised figure plummet. Thankfully, 250kW plug-and-charge capability makes topping up a breeze; a 10-80-per cent charge takes 30 minutes.

As it stands, the Model S (and Model X) are only available from stock, though at the time of writing there were over 20 to choose from, with immediate delivery. There are five colours, three interior themes, and two alloy-wheel options, plus customers can also option a yoke-style steering wheel. Thankfully, our car didn’t have this fitted.

Model:Tesla Model S Plaid
Price:£113,480
Powertrain:100kWh battery, 3x e-motors
Power/torque:1,006bhp/1,420Nm
Transmission:Single-speed auto, four-wheel drive
0-60mph:1.99 seconds
Top speed:200mph
Range/charging:373 miles/250kW, 10-80% in 30 mins
On sale:Now
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Deputy editor

Richard has been part of the team for over a decade. During this time he has covered a huge amount of news and reviews for Auto Express, as well as being the face of Carbuyer and DrivingElectric on Youtube. In his current role as deputy editor, he is now responsible for keeping our content flowing and managing our team of talented writers.

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