Tesla came from nowhere and brought us the world’s first all-electric saloon, the Model S, in the process leapfrogging past car manufacturers that had been around for 100 years. We reviewed the Model S back in 2014 and 2015, when it was clearly ahead of the field by a long way. However we now have the established car manufacturers bringing new electric cars to market; so how does the Model S compare today?
The basics of the Model S haven’t changed since it was first introduced; there’s a large battery in the floor, 100 kWh capacity in the case of the Model S 100D, and all-wheel drive is delivered by electric motors at the front and rear. Because there’s no engine, there’s lots of space for the driver and four passengers, and a big boot. Or you can have an extra two seats in the rear, making it a seven-seater, but you still get some boot space. And you also get another storage compartment under the bonnet – primarily for charging cables.
The interior is also mostly unchanged from when it first appeared; there are virtually no buttons or other controls; the large 17-inch touchscreen dominates the dashboard.
Despite the Model S having been around for a few years, it still looks good today.
There are many more electric cars around today, so there is more awareness of what they’re like to drive. But it’s still good to get back in a Model S. There’s nothing as old fashioned as a button to start the car, it switches itself on automatically as you get into the car. Similarly, you can’t switch if off – it does that by itself too.
One of the few features of the Model S that is a familiar sight within the car industry is the Mercedes-Benz derived gear selector stalk, which sits on the right of the steering column; to get moving, you just need to pull it down into Drive. You then press the accelerator and the Tesla glides away silently and smoothly. If you find yourself in a suitable location, and you can floor the accelerator, any passengers that haven’t experienced electric propulsion are likely to be highly shocked at this point. The Model S 100D accelerates from 0-60 mph in 4.2 seconds, which is impressive enough in its own right. However it’s the way that it does it that is amazing. There are no peaks and troughs of torque like a petrol or diesel car; there’s just one continuous linear surge – which keeps on going and going. Oh, and all in virtual silence.
During the week we had the Model S it rained. And rained. Not great for photoshoots, but a good test of the all-wheel drive system’s traction. The verdict is that despite all that torque, there’s lots of grip, even on very wet roads.
The ride is also good, and in fact the whole car feels better from a noise/vibration/harshness point of view than the last version that we tested.
Because the battery, and therefore the centre of gravity, is low, this means that the handling is impressive. However as you might guess, the Model S 100D is hardly a lightweight car (it weighs 2215 kg). You’re not particularly conscious of the weight based on the way it accelerates, but, combined with its size, the Model S can’t really be described as agile.
We’re not fans of touchscreens as a general rule, but the Tesla system actually works well. You can adjust various driving settings on the touchscreen including steering weight, the level of regenerative braking, and suspension height. The satnav can show you a detailed overhead view of wherever you’re driving, and the screen provides you with a large, clear image of what’s behind the car when you’re reversing.
A brilliant feature, which we’ve always thought all EVs should have, is the graphic of the rear of the car on the instrument display, which shows when the brake lights are on (and the indicators). This is useful because, apart from when braking, the brake lights come on when lifting your foot off the accelerator due the regenerative braking – but not at all times, so it’s useful to know when you’re annoying drivers behind you with lots of brake lights simply by lifting off.
A new feature since the last time we reviewed the car back in 2015 is the display on the dashboard which shows the other vehicles around the car. You can usually physically see the actual vehicles with your eyes, but it’s reassuring that the car can also see them, as Teslas can operate on AutoPilot, and this will be even more critical as the company moves towards increasing levels of self-driving ability.
And of course Teslas benefit from over-the-air software updates, which means that your car can have the latest upgrades without having to visit your dealer or buy a new model.
The driving range of the Model S 100D is 393 miles based on the (old) NEDC cycle. This will reduce based on the new WLTP testing procedure. Whenever we’ve had a Tesla before, we’ve always had a mission to see how far it can go on one charge. Our latest week with the Model S 100D was different; very unusually, there was no car launch at the other end of the country to drive to; we just lived with it as part of a typical week for the average driver. It came with a range of 312 miles displayed. We drove it as part of normal life for a week, and it went back with 150 miles of range left. We didn’t charge the car at all during the time it was with us. So as other manufacturers catch up with Tesla, it shows that the range of the latest electric cars is sufficient for most people’s lives.
Although we didn’t use a Tesla Supercharger during this most recent Model S test, we should mention that we often drive around the UK in a variety of electric cars, and a Tesla is the only car in which you can be completely confident that you can turn up at a Supercharger site, plug the car in, and obtain a rapid charge – potentially up to around 250-300 miles of range per hour – without any problems. If you charge at home using a 7.4 kW wallbox, it will take around 15 hours to charge from empty to full (at around 20 mph).
The combined energy consumption of the Tesla Model S 100D is about 310 Wh per mile.
The Tesla Model S 100D costs £71,700. This isn’t cheap, but the running costs of electric cars are around one-fifth of petrol cars. If it’s a company car, then the Benefit in Kind tax rate is 16% this year, but this is due to drop to just 2% in April 2020, which will make Teslas – along with other pure electric cars – a very attractive proposition. The zero emission benefits of the Model S will only get magnified as more areas around the UK introduce clean air zones, low emission zones, or zero emission zones in order to protect people’s health.
There’s also the Model S 75D and the Model S P100D. And there’s the Model X SUV, and now the smaller Model 3 is finally arriving in the UK.
The Tesla Model S was a ‘disruptive technology’ when it was launched. It now has increasing amounts of rivals due to the traditional car manufacturers desperately trying to play catch-up, such as the Jaguar I-PACE and Audi e-tron. However such rivals don’t change the fact that, all these years since its introduction, the Model S is still an excellent car. It’s rapid, quiet, refined, spacious, it has an excellent driving range of over 300 miles in real-world driving, you can recharge it easily, quickly and reliably at Tesla’s Supercharger network, and of course it has zero tailpipe emissions. If you also like the latest tech, then that’s yet another reason to buy a Model S. The Tesla Model S 100D retains its Green Car Guide rating of 10 out of 10.