- Unparalleled acceleration
- Highly practical
- Feels like nothing else
- Not exactly cost effective
- Uncertain long-term resale value
Ben Griffin reviews the facelifted version of the Model S to see exactly what has changed and if going all-electric, Tesla style, is sensible.
This is the third time we have had the pleasure of living with the Tesla Model S, only this time we have the facelifted model at our disposal in its top-spec, somewhat bonkers P90D guise. Yes, that means 0-60mph in 3.0 seconds if you tick the the 'Ludicrous' upgrade box.
But is it still worth considering if you want a big luxury cruiser and what exactly is new? Has the scene improved when it comes to living with an all-electric car? Recombu Cars ditched the combustion engine for a few days to find out.
When we first drove the Model S, just about everyone wanted to look at it, come up to us in car parks to talk about it, even get a picture. Three years on, the Model S still has that power. Though hardly beautiful, it is a pleasing mixture of Maserati, Jaguar and other premium saloons.
One aspect of the facelift is the front fascia similar to that of the Model X. We rather liked the old meaty grille design, but the aerodynamically-focussed revision suits the nature of the car and provides a bit of variety. People do seem to confuse the facelifted Model S with the Model 3, though.
There are new headlights, too, which are of the adaptive full LED variety. Besides improving the look of the car, the 14 three-position LEDs improve visibility at night.
Also new is the option of two new wooden trims, Figured Ash Wood and Dark Ash Wood, both of which help give the cabin a more plush feel, though it still more sparse than luxurious. A strip of Alcantara on the dash does at least soften the cabin up.
Bar the odd cheap plastic and vibration when the eager (and easily adjusted, we should add) subwoofer kicks in, the Model S feels expensive in its own futuristic way, especially with that internet-enabled 17-inch touchscreen taking up much of the dashboard.
One annoyance during the week was when Spotify crashed, leaving an annoying loop sound until we switched the car off and on again (the old solutions are the best). There are also times when the 17-inch touchscreen display feels a bit fiddly to use, which can take your attention off the road for longer than it should.
The last addition to the new Model S is the HEPA air filtration system seen first in the Model X that is said to remove at least 99.97 per cent of exhaust pollution particulates as well as virtually all allergens and bacteria. This lets those in the cabin enjoy extremely clean air free, even if surrounded by gas-guzzlers.
Enable the Bio Weapon Defense Mode (not even joking) and the Model S creates positive pressure in the car to protect the occupants from any nation that decides to start World War 3. Not that popping to the shops will be a primary concern at this point, but it's nice to know you can.
Those with the old Model S may find the facelifted version all-too familiar, but then the new additions are unworthy of an upgrade anyway unless money is no object. With that said, those taking the punt are getting slightly better value for money, not to mention faster charging, thanks to the standard charger's 48 amps as opposed to the usual 40.
The Model S is one of the most practical cars of its size on the market because it has no engine up front and the battery pack sits in the floor of the car to avoid taking up space and lower the centre of gravity. Only the addition of a front motor for the all-wheel drive variant affects space.
Though legroom is plentiful in the back, even with a tall driver and passenger up front, headroom is somewhat impeded by the panoramic roof for those above six-foot. But four passengers and one child will still have a comfortable time.
As per usual, the Model S can be specced with two rear-facing seats in the boot that fold away when out of use. Though there is too little space for adults to use them, children and short people are catered for, turning the Model S into a seven-seater.
Interior space is still somewhat lacking, as there are no door bins. The adjustable cup holder storage area below the 17-inch touchscreen is, however, a nice addition, as is the other area between the front seats for resting a phone, plugging into the USB and storing the Tesla's key fob.
The biggest trump card of the Model S is the boot, which offers a cavernous 894 litres without those little rear seats, becoming 1,645 with the rear seats folded flat. The automatic tailgate, operated by a typical button or the Model S-shaped key fob with a double press, adds to the convenience. For any shopping overspill, there is also the aforementioned front trunk ('frunk', as Tesla calls it).
It is also worth noting the Model S can be specced with Autopilot, a driving assistant that uses a combination of clever technologies to keep the car within the white lines and a set distance from the car in front. It drove us for longer than 50 miles without us having to touch the steering wheel, accelerator or brakes.
This alone makes it perfect if you regularly commute on motorways, partly because it gives your leg a rest when there is lots of stop and start, but mainly because it steers more smoothly and holds a constant speed, both of which help eke out those extra miles of range.
There is, of course, the fact you will need to keep the Model S topped up at home using a wallbox, which is hardly an issue unless you are away from home for more than a day. There are various superchargers around the UK and these can recharge half the P90D's battery in 30 minutes, but you may find yourself having to hover around to use them. Upon reaching John Lewis at Cribbs Causeway in Bristol on a Saturday, we found two other Model S cars charging for around an hour.
To be fair to the Tesla, most of us would stop for a coffee, toilet break or just to stretch our legs on a journey over 200 miles so letting the car juice up for an hour or so is hardly hardship. But some areas of the UK will obviously be better covered by chargers than others so it pays to make use of the charging point map in the car and third-party apps such as Pod Pay.
Those who regularly drive hundreds of miles may be better off in a diesel, but then a bit of effort will mean dramatically reduced fuel bills and most motorways have some form of charging point. Plus the 100D's larger capacity does help ease range anxiety, somewhat.
Performance & handling
This car doesn't just feel fast, it feels like a particularly savage fairground ride. The Model S P90D and its dual electric motor setup manages 0-62mph in 3 seconds – 2.5 seconds if you go for the P100D, which is now the only model to have the 'Ludicrous Upgrade' as an option.
Just a quick note on the acceleration: The P90D before the P100D's arrival could do 0-60mph in 2.8 seconds with Ludicrous enabled. While you can still buy the P90D, Ludicrous is no longer an option on it. But instead of reverting the 0-60mph back to pre-Ludicrous performance, Tesla went with a happy medium of 3 seconds.
Beyond 100mph and the Model S starts to lose steam and its 155mph top speed is relatively low given the sheer level of horsepower (691hp, crudely speaking), but the Model S is still blisteringly quick. All 910Nm of torque is available instantly, which, when combined with the all-wheel drive system, means a whiplash-inducing surge of pace.
The Model S can jump from 40 to 60mph in a second or so, which makes it perfect for overtakes, sneaking ahead of a car if you are in the wrong lane at the traffic lights or, our personal favourite, for embarassing tailgating Audi drivers.
Those fat tyres do create a bit of rolling noise at motorway speeds but you really only notice it because of the lack of engine noise in the first place. Conversations with the passengers or enjoying music through the optional and very capable 'Ultra High Fidelity' sound system is no problem.
With Tesla's optional Smart Air Suspension, which allows you to adjust the ride height when moving and can adjust itself based on your location (it lowers on the motorway to improve air resistance, for instance), the ride is soft and sometimes bouncy yet limits body roll. Think smooth and relaxed, not taut and racey.
Steering feel is a bit lacking, but the Model S is more than capable of quick maneouvres without causing alarm and you can tell when you are pushing your luck in the corners. The sport mode does add a bit of steering weight, mind you, and the smooth, quiet nature of the car encourages you to pick up speed on the straights anyway.
The Model S is by no means the last word in cornering, but it is agile enough to inspire confidence and its weight and wide tyres keep it planted. As a comfortable cruiser with some serious bite, however, it is hard to fault, especially as the regenerative braking used to claw back wasted power brings the car to a gradual halt. You can quite easily get away with never using the brake pedal in the Model S, even with the setting on its gentler 'low' setting.
Economy & efficiency
With zero emissions emitted locally, the Model S is about as clean as it gets. There is, of course, the issue of pollution while building the car and its battery and the matter of how green the electric you are using is. Solar panel? Great. Coal? Not so much.
To that end, the Model S is not a green as you first think. But, and this is the important bit, reducing our reliance on fossil fuels is always a good thing and, with emissions causing millions of deaths worldwide, having a CO2-less car will do fellow commuters and pedestrians a favour in the long run.
'Filling up' the Model S costs around £5 to £10 at home (largely dependant on your tariff and usage habits, of course) which is good around 248 miles on a single charge, making it substantially cheaper to run than an equivalent diesel or petrol.
It is, however, worth bearing in mind some chargers now require money to use (EcoTricity being the most recent to go that route), which reduces the benefit of going electric. But then Tesla's superchargers are free to use and a home charger is essential so you can limit the reliance on using them.
Realistically, it would take many, many years (if ever) to see a return on a car approaching £100,000, even when you factor in the government grant of £4,500, money saved in VED and never going to a petrol station again. To that end, you buy this level of Tesla because you want ridiculous performance; the eco credentials are a bonus.
Equipment & value
Tesla's approach to adding extras to the Model S is refreshingly simple, which makes it dangerously easy to add on a hefty premium on its already hefty £94,600 asking price. Those pretty grey alloy wheels are £3,900 alone, while the dark blue paintjob is £850.
Autopilot, meanwhile, is £2,600 but well worth the money for motorway users. The sound system is worth it for £2,200 if you take sound quality seriously, while the Smart Air Suspension (at £2,200) does provide a comfortable ride.
There is also the question of resale value outside of the four-year, 50,000 mile warranty, although batteries over the 70kWh capacity come with an eight-year, unlimited mileage warranty (whichever comes sooner, basically) that provides some peace of mind.
Overall reliability, meanwhile, is harder to ascertain but a recent survey of owners found them happier than anyone else so it would appear they can't be too bad.
Those who want to see a return should opt for the 60kWH entry-level car and keep the options to a minimum, as it offers ample acceleration and is considerably cheaper.
The Tesla Model scored a full five stars in the Euro NCAP test and was voted the safest car in the US. This is thanks to a number of airbags and safety systems such as automatic braking that can prevent a collision if the driver is preoccupied or too slow to react.
In its P90D form, the level of performance needs to be respected, of course, and its near silent operation means pedestrians can and will never know you are there. A touch of extra care in urban environments is welcome.
As for the issue of deaths when using the Autopilot system, though tragic, they highlight the fact some drivers think Autopilot is more than a driving assistant. It is not and using it anywhere but a two or three-lane road with clear white markings and without the same level of attention isn't just unadvisable – it's asking for trouble.
The sheer price of the Model S P90D makes it more of a status symbol than a car that makes good financial sense. The interior is less luxurious than some of its Germanic competitors and longer journeys do require some planning, but there is something special about the Tesla that makes you covet it.
But then you would when it has the acceleration of hypercars without any compromise on boot space or seating. Though it is a big car, it changes speed and glides along with wonderful levels of grace and comfort.
Perhaps the biggest issue is that the P100D offers even more range so at this price point you may as well go for it. Or wait until the Model 3 arrives as that will likely pay for itself within a realistic time scale.
The impatient early adopter who buys the Model S P90D will, of course, end up with a car that is continually updated, offers a memorable ride and shows electric cars can get the blood flowing.
- Tesla Model S P90D (facelift)
- Electric dual motor
- 691hp (221hp front, 470hp rear)
- 607lb/ft (910Nm)
- 0-60mph in 2.5 seconds with Ludicrous Mode Upgrade
- Around 248 miles (316 miles NEDC)
- 0g/km of CO2 locally
- Depends on charger
- From £94,600 (£115,580 tested)