“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 and 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 range and faster acceleration. There’ll be four equipment levels, each based around an individual battery pack, with the performance flagship 85kWh pack offering the furthest range and fastest acceleration. The Model S isn’t cheap, but offers a glimpse of things to come.
Because the Model S 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, but once you become accustomed to this, you actually don’t have to brake as often.
The Model S is spacious and comfortable up front and in the back. All models are fitted with a 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. The electric motor is positioned behind the rear seats, so the floor is completely flat, giving more legroom to the middle rear passenger. You won’t have to stow luggage on your lap, either, as there's loads of boot space. Minor let downs include a lack of seat-back pockets, door bins and a centre console.
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.
The most common hurdle for potential electric car buyers is range, but the Model S offers a 155-mile range for its entry-level car and 310 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 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 low landing with storage below the floor. Fold the 60:40-split rear seats down and the total space is a massive 1,645 litres. Then there's the practicality of the 17-inch LCD, with full internet access, clear maps and almost unlimited entertainment, including Internet radio.
Value for money
Prices are yet to be announced for the Model S, but it's likely that it’ll cost more than its German rivals. 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. Still, at home in the US market, the 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.
The Tesla is extremely cost effective to run as it can be charged from a home power socket. The speed and cost varies based on the charging equipment used, but currently it's much cheaper to run than any internal-combustion-engine 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 – apart from tyres. This makes the running costs transparent and manageable.