Review

Tesla Model S saloon

Price  £55,335 - £86,435

Tesla Model S saloon

reviewed by Carbuyer

Pros
  • Decent practicality
  • Impressive performance
  • Rock-bottom running costs
Cons
  • Expensive to buy
  • Cramped third-row seats
  • Not as much fun as Porsche Panamera

At a glance

The greenest
85 kWh Performance 5dr £74,135
The cheapest
60 kWh 5dr £55,335
Top of the range
85 kWh Dual Motor Performance D 5dr £86,435

"The Tesla Model S is a powerful, well equipped and practical saloon that's much less compromised than most electric cars."

The Tesla Model S is only the Californian company's second-ever car, following on from the Tesla Roadster – an electric sports car based on the Lotus Elise.

The Model S is the brand's first completely 'in-house' car, with an all-new body and underpinnings. It's around the same size as a BMW 5 Series or Audi A6, and Tesla says it rivals both of those models for passenger comfort, standard equipment and performance. The Model S is offered with three different battery packs – 40, 60 or 85kWh – each offering progressively longer range and faster acceleration for a higher purchase price.

There are three equipment levels, each linked to one of the three battery packs, with the performance flagship 85kWh version offering the furthest range and fastest acceleration. The Tesla Model S isn't cheap, but we think it offers a realistic glimpse of the future of everyday motoring.

MPG, running costs & CO2

4.5 / 5

Hard to beat, thanks to its all-electric motor

The Tesla is extremely cost-effective to run, as it can be charged from a household electrical socket – providing you can run a lead into your house without tripping up passers-by on the street.

The speed and cost of charging varies based on the equipment used, but as you can imagine, the Model S is much cheaper to run than any petrol or diesel-engined rival. It also qualifies for free road tax, as it has zero CO2 emissions.

Tesla offers a clever servicing package so owners know precisely what they're in for when they purchase a Model S. The four-year programme covers everything – including consumables such as wiper blades and brake pads, but not tyres. This makes the car's running costs transparent and manageable, and they should be a lot lower than for an average family car.

Engines, drive & performance

4.2 / 5

Fast, fun and unusual to drive

Because the Tesla is powered by an electric motor, it rockets away from a standing start – and with no need for a gearbox, it's incredibly smooth to drive. It's also eerily quiet, emitting just a low whir accompanied by road and wind noise.

Though 19-inch alloy wheels are standard, 21-inch rims are a popular option for the Model S. Despite the best efforts of the adaptive air suspension, the larger wheels can make for a fidgety ride on rough British roads. The wider tyres also generate more tyre roar, which disturbs the otherwise silent cabin. The floor-mounted battery pack gives the two-tonne Model S a much lower centre of gravity than a conventional saloon car, but it isn’t as much fun in bends as its BMW and Porsche rivals, because its bulky dimensions, light steering and hefty weight count against it.

Another feature of the Model S is regenerative braking, which harnesses the energy created during braking and sends it back to the battery to improve your driving range. The downside is that whenever you aren’t accelerating, the Model S slows down unnervingly quickly, but once you become accustomed to this, you'll find you don't have to brake as often as you do in a normal car.

Interior & comfort

4 / 5

Spacious and luxurious

The Tesla Model S is spacious and comfortable in the front and back. All models are fitted with a huge 17-inch touchscreen display, which is extremely user-friendly and intuitive.

Rear passengers have their own air-con vents and benefit from the full-length glass roof, which makes the interior feel more open. And you can even add two small rear-facing child seats in the boot at a cost of £2,100.

The Model S electric motor is positioned behind the rear seats, so the floor is completely flat, leaving more legroom for whoever's sitting in the middle rear seat. You won't have to store luggage on your lap, either, as there's loads of boot space with the third-row seats folded up.

Practicality & boot space

3.8 / 5

Class-leading space, without the usual range anxiety

The most common hurdle for potential electric car buyers is range, but the entry-level Model S offers a 242-mile range, increasing to 312 miles in the top-spec model. That's three times more than a Nissan Leaf, and further than any other EV on sale. When you consider the 85kWh model can do 0-62mph in 4.2 seconds – two tenths faster than the high-performance BMW M5 – its range is even more impressive. 

Inside, the Model S has more luggage space than a BMW 5-Series, Audi A6 or Mercedes E-Class, as its small electric motor allows for a flat floor and more storage areas. Under the bonnet there's a carpet-lined, 150-litre luggage compartment, while the boot area has a storage below the floor.

What's more, you can even specify a pair of small rear-facing seats in the boot – only suitable for children, but useful nonetheless. Fold down the middle row of seats and the total boot space expands to a massive 1,645 litres, which is enough to rival some MPVs.

Reliability & safety

4.4 / 5

The Tesla uses Mercedes and Toyota parts, so should be reliable

Tesla doesn't have the long history of rivals like Mercedes and BMW, so it counters this with an extensive warranty and exceptional after-sales service.

The Model S battery pack is covered by an eight-year warranty, which includes roadside assistance in the event of a problem. The rest of the car gets a two-year warranty, which might be okay for an EV, but is less comprehensive than warranties offered by rivals. However, the use of some Toyota and Mercedes parts bodes well for the Model S' long-term durability.

The Model S was crash-tested by Euro NCAP in 2014 and achieved the maximum five-star rating. It comes with a lane-departure warning system and a speed assistance system that can recognise the local speed limit and issue a warning to the driver when that limit is exceeded.

Price, value for money & options

2.5 / 5

Pricey to buy, but cheap to run

There's no denying the Tesla Model S is an expensive car to buy. Prices start at £49,900 with the government's £5,000 grant taken into account, making the car considerably more expensive than most of its German rivals. Meanwhile, the price of the top-spec model puts it in the same bracket as the Porsche Panamera supersaloon.

Of course, the Model S' status as an electric luxury saloon makes it a unique product for the time being, so very wealthy eco-conscious buyers won't be scared off. But it's out of reach of ordinary car buyers, especially considering its high price compared to a conventional family saloon won't be offset by the lower running costs for a decade or more.

Still, it's worth bearing in mind that Model S costs around half of what the company's previous model, the Tesla Roadster, did, despite offering more advanced technology. Its running costs don't increase in line with performance, either – unlike with conventionally powered rivals, where faster models use more fuel and emit more CO2.

What the others say

4 / 5
based on 2 reviews
4 / 5
"The Model S is good to drive, comfortable and well specced. It represents the convergence of digital and automotive tech, with its brilliant infotainment screen, while staying practical. It's pretty well built and offers super-saloon performance plus a range as good as any conventional rival. But entry-level models only have a 160-mile range and aren’t as quick."
4 / 5
"The Tesla Model S is a ground-breaking new electric car that's both desirable and capable. If the Model S is a sign of things to come from Tesla, then the future looks very bright."
Last updated 
13 Feb 2014

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