Tesla Model S car review
The Tesla S is the most practical electric car yet, but at a very big price.
What is it?
The most convincing electric car yet seen, but at a high price. The Tesla is luxurious, thoroughly enjoyable to drive and has a range between recharges more than double that of most other EVs.
How safe is it?
There is no Euro NCAP crash test rating for it yet, but it scored very highly with top marks and a five star result in equivalent US safety tests by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Who should buy one?
Green-minded, technology-keen drivers who like their motoring to be smooth, silent and cosseting. Anyone who is minded to save the planet and has the income to afford a lavish outlay.
DRIVING AND PERFORMANCE
The scepticism many of us have about electric cars, their performance and especially their range, is swept away by the Tesla. Under ideal conditions it can cover just over 300 miles on a single charge. Realistically it is more like 260 miles in real-world driving, but that is more than enough to drive at motorway pace from London to Bristol or Birmingham without worrying about running out of stored battery power on the way.
The snag is that you can’t just pop into any filling station on route to top up. The limitation of Britain’s current EV charging infrastructure means that you have to plan where to recharge. At a 32-amp public charging point a full re-charge would take 15 hours. A high-output Rapidcharger will do it in half that. Using a standard three-pin domestic plug is very slow, taking all night for a decent top-up and up to 24 hours for a full recharge. Tesla is installing a network of Superchargers that will be free for owners to use, and deliver a half-charge in 20 minutes, and a full charge in 70 minutes.That’s more like it.
Performance is stunning. This is a seriously quick car, capable of 130 miles an hour if it were legal, and with a 0-62 mph acceleration time to match a Ferrari. The snag is that if you use the Tesla’s considerable performance lavishly, the battery pack empties pretty rapidly too.
Pacing your trip more moderately to be range-considerate, the Model S is still gorgeous to drive: smooth, quiet, responsive, beautifully refined, with a creamy ride on an even surface and crisp steering. The brakes feel powerful, and can be set to grab back some energy through regenerative braking. On coarser road surfaces the ride can become a bit choppy, but the overall driving experience is of a quick and high-class car that is blissfully quiet and very comfortable.
SPACE AND PRACTICALITY
You certainly are not squeezed for space in the Tesla. It is almost five metres long and nearly 2.2 metres wide. Head room and leg space inside the car are very generous. There are full-size seats for five people, with another pair of reward-facing child-size seats that stow under the rear boot floor.
The car’s big doors open wide for easy access, and the rear tailgate can be opened remotely by pressing the tail of the car-shaped key fob. You can also unlatch the bonnet this way, by pressing the front of the fob.There are front map lights and rear reading lights, the automatic climate control is dual zone, and there are two USB ports and a 12v power outlet for media connection and phone charging.
The huge battery pack in conveniently under the entire floor. Because there is no engine, the car has two boots: a massive 745 litres at the back, stretching to 1,645 litres with the rear seats folded. Then there is another smaller boot under the bonnet at the front, adding a further 150 litres of luggage capacity.
This is a big car with a good level of in-built safety provision. It is equipped with traction control and electronic stability control. There are six standard equipment airbags, and the front seatbelts have pre-tensioners and load limiters. All three rear seats have ISOFIX tethers for securing child safety equipment. There is a rollover crash sensor. The Model S is fit for a five-star rating under Euro NCAP crash test programme, according to its performance in comparable US crash tests.
One wow factor is a miniature Model S-shaped key fob to remotely open the car and operate the boot lid and bonnet. Another is the biggest sat-nav screen you’ll find in any car: it fills the centre of the dash panel and stretches 17 inches long, where others boast eight-inch screens. Air suspension gives a cushioning ride, and there is a Performance Plus handling package that glues the Tesla to the bends.
The Tesla is an electric supercar with a price to match. The Model S range starts from around £55,000, but this high performance range-topper with a lavish list of kit costs very close to six figures. It is expensive to insure too, in the top group on the ABI scale. Running costs should be low, though, with free entry to the London congestion charge zone, no tax payable as a company car, and free battery top-up at a Tesla supercharger.
The most practical electric car yet, but at a very big price.
AT A GLANCE:
Price: £98,000 as tested
Performance: 0-62mph in 4.2 seconds
Range: up to 312 miles
Insurance: Group 50
Tax: Band A (£0 first year)
Figures for the Model S P85+