Car review: Tesla Model S

Carlton Boyce / 26 October 2016

The clever Tesla Model S demands no compromise and is pretty good to drive, too.



Score 

10/10

The impact that electric vehicles (EVs) have on their immediate environment is much lower than that of cars fitted with internal-combustion engines: no exhaust gases to pollute pedestrians’ lungs; no noise to pollute their ears; and even when we factor in the displacement of their emissions from the point-of-use to an earlier point in the cycle, their whole-life impact is probably lower too.

They are also a hoot to drive, with instantaneous torque and giggle-inducing city speed acceleration. As long as the battery lasts, that is. 

Range anxiety might be more properly be described as charging anxiety and the spread of fast charging points – many of which are free to use – does help emolliate their restricted range, yet the fact remains that compromises do have to be made. (I write this having just planned an early morning airport run that cannot be undertaken in that week’s Nissan LEAF press car because it is too far away to get there on one charge.)

Car review: Nissan LEAF

Forget having to compromise

Well, they do in every other EV apart from the Tesla S, whose minimum 282-mile range makes it a very usable car indeed. British motorists have covered more than 6.6 million miles in their Teslas, with motorists worldwide covering more than one billion electric miles. 

You want 0-62mph acceleration in 2.8 seconds? No problem. 

A range of 346 miles? Yes, ma’am. 

Seven seats in a sportscar’s body? Of course. 

Are you starting to see that when I say that the Model S simply demands fewer compromises than any other, I’m not guilty of hyperbole?

This is an iPhone-clever car that quietly redefines what you expect from your transport. As an example, the onboard sat-nav links your driving to a location, so if, like me, you have to raise the suspension to get up your potholed drive, it will do so automatically every time you reach that point.

An ingenious interior

The interior is simple and dominated by a huge, 17-inch tablet-like centre console. It’s fresh-sheet-of-paper ingenious and unlike anything else on offer today; so clever, in fact, that the presence of something as mundane as an indicator stalk comes as a bit of a shock. Think of it as a Herman Miller Aeron instead of the antimacassar-covered, easy-access Parker Knoll that you’re used to in your current car.

Head- and legroom is ample, front and back, and the two boots – one up front under the ‘bonnet’ and one at the back where you would normally expect to find one - are huge. So big, in fact, that you can specify two rear-facing seats in the rear one, turning this sleek couple into a convincing MPV. Fewer compromises, y’see?

Ludicrously good to drive

The Model S is pretty good to drive, too. With a perfect 50/50 weight distribution and a very low centre of gravity, it rides well and corners flat and hard, even if you are never in any doubt that this is a very heavy, wide car.

It goes hard too; ‘Ludicrous’ mode (yep, you’ve got to love a company that installs a Ludicrous mode, haven’t you?) in the P90D gets you from rest to 62mph in 2.8 seconds thanks 713lb ft of torque deployed via electric all-wheel-drive. That’s impressive.

What’s more impressive is that it does it without fuss, time and time again. There’s no need to plan, or to rev the engine to peak torque before dropping the clutch to a shriek of tyre spin and the smell of burned friction surfaces. You just press the accelerator and go extraordinarily fast in complete silence. 

The first time I did it I had to pull over and reorient myself to a whole new set of metrics. A friend of mine gave one of his passengers mild whiplash. I promise you: you have never experienced anything like it.

A truly effortless journey

Yet it is no one-trick pony. It cruises at motorway speeds in almost complete silence, with a disorientingly low levels of noise, vibration, and harshness. A-road overtaking is as effortless as anything I’ve ever driven. 

The active cruise control is called Autopilot, mainly because the only thing stopping it being a fully enabled autonomous car is legislation and the reluctance of you, the weakest link in the motoring chain, to let it drive you. It will come, and will be fully enabled via the seamless Wi-Fi software updates that happen without you even noticing them. Early adopters love the Model S because of these sorts of constant revisions.

How does cruise control work? Is it safe?

It’s not perfect, of course. Anyone who appreciates the analogue challenge of steering a car with vim and vigour will miss the ability to minutely adjust the car’s attitude and aptitude via their own inputs but everyone else will revel in the fact that they are driving what is probably the cleverest car you can buy today.   

A game changer

The Tesla Model S is probably also the most important new car I’ve driven in my career to date. Life before Tesla meant choosing between a fast, profligate sportscar or a dull-but-worthy electric vehicle. Heads or tails. Black or white. Apples or oranges. 

The post-Tesla world is a richer, less reductionist place. There is no longer a need to sacrifice speed in the name of environmental responsibility; even if you drive a Tesla long and hard the world will still applaud you for your sense of social responsibility.

It’s also classless and almost free of any unpleasant associations, unlike that German executive saloon you’ve been drooling over. (It’s a crowd-pleaser too, if that’s your thing. Nothing I have driven has ever drawn more attention from such a wide range of bystanders.)

The Tesla Model S 70 is the most affordable version in the range while the P90D is the most ludicrous and self-indulgent but the 90D is the sweet spot; after all, who needs more performance that 0-62mph in 4.2 seconds and a range of 346 miles? The 90D is the automotive equivalent of having your cake and eating it and then going back for seconds. And getting an even bigger slice with a cherry on top and a large dollop of clotted cream on the side.

Stats – 90D

Power - 417bhp (depending on model)

Torque – 485lb ft

0-62mph –  4.2 seconds

Top speed – 155mph

Kerb weight – 2,107kgs

Official average fuel consumption – 346-mile range

Honest John real world fuel consumption – n/a

CO2 emissions – n/a

VED class – Band A

Warranty – 4 yrs/50,000 miles (8-year, infinite mileage warranty on the drivetrain and battery)

Price – £58,300 upwards

Price as tested - £58,300

Best-in-class

The Tesla Model S is in a class of one.

The best of the rest

The BMW i8 is hugely capable and supercar-quick, but doesn’t have the Tesla’s breath-of-fresh-air innovation.

Left-field alternative

The Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid is a decent-enough car, but it’s a hybrid and isn’t as half as clever as it likes to think it is.

Hybrid vs fully electric cars: what's right for you?


Carlton Boyce If you enjoy Carlton's inimitable style of writing, you'll love his motoring column - to have each one delivered straight to your door every month, subscribe to Saga Magazine today!

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