Review

Tesla Model S saloon

Tesla Model S saloon

reviewed by Carbuyer

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

“The Tesla Model S is a powerful, well-equipped and practical saloon with fewer compromises than most electric cars.”

The Tesla Model S is the Californian electric carmaker's second vehicle following the Tesla Roadster, an electric sports car based on the Lotus Elise.

The Model S is its first in-house car, with an all-new body and underpinnings. It's around the same size as a BMW 5-Series or Audi A6, which Tesla says it rivals in terms of passenger comfort, equipment and performance. It's offered with three different battery packs – 40, 60 and 85kWh – each successively offering greater mileage range and faster acceleration.

There’ll be three equipment levels, each based around an individual battery pack, with the performance flagship 85kWh pack offering the furthest range and fastest acceleration. The Tesla Model S isn’t cheap, but offers a glimpse of things to come in the not-too-distant future. 

MPG, running costs & CO2

4.5 / 5

Hard to beat, thanks to it's all-electric motor

The Tesla is extremely cost effective to run as it can be charged from a home power socket – providing you can run a lead into the house without tripping passers by on the street.

The speed and cost varies based on the charging equipment used, but as you can imagine, it's much cheaper to run than any petrol or diesel-engined rival. It's also in the lowest tax band, as there are zero emissions.

Tesla also offers a clever servicing package so that owners know precisely what they’re in for when they purchase a Model S. The four-year program covers everything including consumables, such as windscreen wiper blades and brake pads ­(but not tyres). This makes the running costs transparent and manageable, and hopefully lower than your average family car. 

Interior & comfort

3.8 / 5

Spacious and luxurious

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

Rear passengers have air-con vents, as well as benefitting from the full-length glass roof, which makes the interior feel more open – and there's even a pair of tiny seats in the boot.

The electric motor is positioned behind the rear seats, so the floor is completely flat, giving more legroom to whoever sits in the middle. You won’t have to stow luggage on your lap, either, as there's loads of boot space with the third row folded.

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 Model S offers a 242-mile range for its entry-level car and 312 miles for the top-spec model – three times more than a Nissan Leaf, and further than any other EV on sale. When you consider it can do 0-60mph in 4.4 seconds - which rivals the super-fast BMW M5 - its range is even more impressive. 

Inside, it has more luggage space than the BMW 5-Series, Audi A6 and Mercedes E-Class, its electric engine allowing a flat floor and more storage areas. Under the bonnet is a carpet-lined, 150-litre compartment, while the boot area has a storage below the floor.

What's more, there's even a pair of tiny seats in the boot – reserved exclusively for children – but useful nonetheless. Fold down the middle row of seats and the total boot space is a massive 1,645 litres, which is enough to rival some MPVs.

Reliability & safety

3.1 / 5

The Tesla uses Mercedes and Toyota parts so should be reliable

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

There's an eight-year warranty on the battery pack, which includes roadside assistance in the event of a problem, as does the two-year warranty, which might be okay for an EV but is less time than warranties offered by its rivals. However, partnerships with Toyota and Mercedes lend Tesla a little more credibility in terms of dependability. 

Engines, drive & performance

3.6 / 5

Fast, fun and unusual to drive

Because the Tesla is powered by an electric motor, it rockets away from a standing start with great ease – and the absence of a gearbox means it's incredibly smooth to drive. It's also eerily quiet, with a small whir accompanied by road and wind noise.

Another feature of the Model S is regenerative braking, which harnesses the energy created by braking and sends it back to the battery to improve range. This does mean that whenever you aren’t accelerating the Model S slows unnervingly quickly, but once you become accustomed to this, you actually don’t have to brake as often.

Price, value for money & options

2.0 / 5

Pricey to buy, but cheap to run

There's no denying the Tesla Model S is an expensive car to buy. With prices starting at more than £55,000, it's considerably more expensive than its German rivals – and the top-spec models are priced on a par with the Porsche Panamera.

Of course, it's also a unique product as a premium EV saloon, so the fashion and eco-conscious won’t be scared off. But it’ll be out of reach of the ordinary buyer, especially considering the high entry price won’t offset the savings in running costs unless you run it for a decade or more.

Still, at home in the US market, the Tesla Model S is around half the cost of the first Tesla, the Roadster, despite offering more advanced technology. Running costs also won’t increase with the performance, either, unlike its rivals that use more fuel and have less range as you choose faster versions. 

What the others say

4 / 5
based on 2 reviews
  • 4.0 / 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."

  • 4.0 / 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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