In-depth reviews

Tesla Model S review - Engines, performance and drive

Performance is, erm, electrifying... but heavy batteries mean cornering feels disappointingly leaden

It couldn’t be any simpler to drive a Model S: there’s no handbrake or starter button, as sensors detect when you're sitting 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 Model S can be a little unnerving at first, but it quickly becomes second-nature.

Give the throttle a gentle touch and the car responds instantly. All versions of the Model S have four-wheel drive and have plenty of traction. And when you're taking it easy, all versions can cruise comfortably at motorway speeds.

Yet while the rapid acceleration will make you smile, any spirited driving will eat into your range. With a full charge, Tesla claims the Long Range will cover 379 miles, but whatever your driving style 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.

The Model S’s mass means it feels heavy in the bends. The steering is light and doesn’t weight up or offer much feedback, and it also doesn’t grip quite as hard as a Porsche Panamera. Even if you delicately squeeze the accelerator out of corners it triggers the traction control, so it actually limits performance until you’re in a straight line.

You also feel the car’s weight when braking, and despite the regenerative effect from the motors, it doesn’t feel particularly stable. Nor does it yield to tricky surfaces as well as some rivals, thumping over bigger bumps despite its air-suspension. There’s also a lot of road noise.

With no combustion engine to drown out wind and road noise, you hear more on the move, but despite a less sophisticated feel to the way the Tesla rides, it still offers a decent level of comfort.

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 PanameraYou choose the level of regenerative braking to help top the battery up. In the higher setting you don’t need to use the brake, the effect is so strong. However, one-pedal driving feels natural in traffic, but artificial on twistier roads.

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.

The (£4,400) optional 21-inch wheels give the Model S a firm edge on the roughest British roads, but no version is particularly uncomfortable. In fact, the Model S is an accomplished cruiser, with very little road or wind whistle - despite the lack of engine noise. Take it easy and the Tesla is a very relaxing car to drive.

Owners of the Performance can enjoy switching the car's acceleration settings from 'Sport' to 'Ludicrous' via the 17-inch touchscreen in the dash, which slashes the car's 0-60mph time to a hypercar-baiting 2.4 seconds. If you’ve not driven an electric car before, then you’ve never experienced the instant power an EV delivers. However, nothing can prepare you for the punch of the dual electric motors – you’ll be left stunned at the performance on offer.

This most powerful Model S comes with Tesla’s Ludicrous Plus power upgrade, which puts 754bhp to the road through all four wheels. However it’s the torque that takes your breath away. Despite the Model S’s hefty 2,316kg kerbweight, acceleration is rapid, thanks to the 931Nm on offer. In order to extract maximum performance, you have to go through a lengthy process of pre-heating the battery pack, which can take up to an hour.


Both models use a 100kWh battery, with the Long Range variant more than quick enough for any enthusiastic driver, completing 0-60mph in 3.7s. The aptly-named Ludicrous-spec Performance version offers other-worldy levels of acceleration, able to charge to 60mph in 2.3s.The dual motor, all-wheel drive system helps control traction and torque delivery, particularly useful in wet conditions.

Most Popular

'Nissan has been quietly building an advantage over electric car rivals'
Opinion Nissan EV

'Nissan has been quietly building an advantage over electric car rivals'

Steve Fowler thinks Nissan is in a great position to build on the Leaf's success
8 Apr 2021
New Citroen C5 X flagship crossover set to offer ‘ultimate comfort’
Citroen C5 X - front
Citroen C5

New Citroen C5 X flagship crossover set to offer ‘ultimate comfort’

The new flagship Citroen C5 X will arrive with petrol and plug-in hybrid power, and looks set to cost from around £27,000 when it arrives in the UK in…
12 Apr 2021
New 2021 Kia EV6: UK prices and specifications confirmed
Kia EV6 - front
Kia EV6

New 2021 Kia EV6: UK prices and specifications confirmed

The new all-electric Kia EV6 gets two batteries, 4WD and even a rapid sporty GT version. Prices start from £40,895
30 Mar 2021