The Tesla Model S has attracted headlines non-stop since its release earlier this year, many good, some not so good. The electric saloon’s latest brush with the media is particularly impressive; the car has just achieved the highest safety rating ever recorded in the United States.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) doesn’t publish safety ratings higher than five stars, so that’s the Model S’ headline number. however safety levels better than five stars are recorded in the overall vehicle safety score, in which the Model S racked up 5.4 – the highest ever.
In the side pole intrusion test, the Model S preserved 63.4 per cent of driver space. The Volvo S60 – a five-star-rated vehicle, preserved just 7.8 per cent of driver space in the same test. Tesla attributes this to the fact it nests multiple deep aluminium extrusions in the side rail of the car, which can absorb the impact energy and transfer load to the rest of the vehicle, causing the pole to either be sheared off or stopping the car before it hits an occupant.
The Tesla Model S fared well in rear crash tests, partly due to the fact the company installs a double bumper if the third row seat is ordered, protecting against high-speed impacts in the rear. The car also impressed during rollover risk tests, with other highly-rated vehicles being approximately 50 per cent worse.
Of course, the NHTSA tests can be gamed, as Tesla readily admits. It is possible to strengthen a car at the precise locations used by regulatory testing machines in order to gain a five-star rating. Tesla admits this was an approach it took, however it then went back and analysed the Model S to determine the weakest points in the car, retesting at those locations until the car achieved 5-star rating no matter how the test equipment was configured.
Crucially, the Model S lithium-ion battery did not catch fire at any point during or after the testing began.
Tesla is taking orders for European versions of the Model S now, with prices starting from €71,400 (£57,992).