Review

Tesla Model S saloon

Price  £55,335 - £86,435

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

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 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 its 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. 

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 – 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.

Though 19-inch wheels are standard, 21-inch wheels 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 over rough British roads. The wider tyres also generate a large amount of 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, but it isn’t as fun in the bends as its BMW and Porsche rivals because its bulky overall size, light steering and hefty inertia count against it.

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.

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 you can even have two small seats in the boot as a £2,100 option.

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 the 85kWh model can do 0-60mph in 4.2 seconds - which is 0.2 seconds faster than the high-performance 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. 

Price, value for money & options

2 / 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 - prices for top-spec models put the Tesla Model S in the same price bracket as 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 / 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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