The Tesla Model S is a sleek-looking, five-door luxury sports saloon powered purely by its batteries. It offers sizzling performance plus a roomy interior, hatchback practicality and high-tech onboard gadgets and toys. The Tesla also has a cool, modern prestige that makes almost everything else on the road seem a little old-fashioned.
Right-hand drive versions of the sensational American car first arrived in the UK in 2014 and made an immediate impact. Buyers were wowed by the distinctive looks of its aluminium body and pioneering performance from its very powerful batteries. There have been many battery variants since then but the Model S has always remained a five-door svelte hatchback with a recognizable ‘T’ logo on the front grille. It has a premium, executive-style front end and a sporty coupe-like rear, with a huge, if slightly bulbous, tailgate. To remind you of its luxury price tag the Tesla comes with big alloy wheels, xenon headlights and LED rear lights too.
It has a premium, executive-style front end and a sporty coupe-like rear.
What’s it like to drive?
Confusingly for used buyers, the Tesla Model S comes in more than a dozen different battery versions. They have various performance ratings that extend from merely swift to supercar levels of acceleration. More importantly for most drivers, they have different ranges too. Because of this, it’s definitely worth checking which batteries are fitted to any car you consider.
All models have plenty of driving features in common though. Drivers can select a ‘mode’ depending on circumstances, which means prioritising performance or battery life. It’s easy to drive, thanks to one forward and one reverse gear. The steering is light and accurate, and the handling crisp, matching most rival sports saloons. Standard Model S’s have rear-wheel drive for traditional-style handling, and some up-spec models add four-wheel drive for extra grip.
It’s easy to drive, thanks to one forward and one reverse gear.
Slip inside those large doors and the Model S’s cabin feels very spacious. The Tesla has an uncluttered, open, airy interior. That’s thanks to its wide glass areas and the completely flat floor with no intrusions from mechanical parts like petrol-powered rivals. There’s a panoramic glass sunroof allowing light to flood in. This uninterrupted space allows the Model S to seat five comfortably. There are seven seat versions too, with a pair of rear-facing pop-up seats for kids under the rear tailgate.
The interior is designed to match the premium aspirations of the brand. Materials are high quality. Fit and finish are very good. Drivers get a small soft-touch flat-bottomed steering wheel to emphasise the sportiness.
A futuristic dashboard has few buttons and dials. Instead drivers use a huge touchscreen to adjust everything from the Bluetooth and DAB to the temperature of the air-conditioning, it even opens the sunroof. Its icons are large, clear and easy to use while on the move.
Tesla has continually improved the Model S’s equipment over the years. Look out for high-tech options like an internet connection to Google Maps and various state-of-the-art autopilot systems. Perhaps more importantly, all models come with a good level of basics, like heated and electrically adjustable front seats, dual-zone climate control and a useful reversing camera.
Surprisingly, the Tesla Model S scores highly on practicality. It has more room and versatility than other people carriers. Start with the huge boot at the back, under a tailgate which opens and closes at the press of a button. The boot can be extended by folding the asymmetrically-split back seats in the usual way. But if that’s not enough, there’s another luggage space at the front under the bonnet. There’s even a big glovebox, stowage places between the front seats and a couple of cupholders too.
Standard-fit reversing cameras help with parking as rear visibility can be restricted. Because of a long list of executive-style optional extras, the Model S is often fitted with unexpected luxuries. Upgraded super-comfortable seats or smooth-riding air suspension are common extras.
Ignore the host of online rumours about safety. The Tesla’s official safety ratings are five star and all models have sophisticated anti-collision technology built in.
Running costs and reliability
The Model S has a choice of battery power packs that effect performance and range. The maximum range between charges is 393 miles, the lowest range is still a healthy 208 miles. Charging times and costs vary with batteries and the charging system being used. A full-charge can cost between £6-£10 on cheap overnight electricity, although they’re free from Tesla’s supercharger sites if you are signed up to the system.
Other costs are varied - tax is free but insurance can be high. Servicing costs much less than most premium cars but the Tesla has a complicated aluminium construction, any body damage can be more expensive to repair.
It comes with a four-year warranty from new and eight-year unlimited mileage cover on the all-important battery.
What we love
The Model S offers full electric motoring, sensational performance and a unique cachet no rival can match. It’s a new brand with a futuristic outlook and glamorous back-story. Yet the Tesla is also a very practical and spacious car. And if that’s not enough, it rivals many established brands as a luxury executive saloon too. Don’t forget that the Model S is packed with technology and toys, from great connectivity to state-of-the-art autopilot functions.
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Town and country drivers
With its long-range electric power, the Tesla Model S spearheaded an auto-engineering revolution. It still seems slightly futuristic years after its launch. Yet it’s easy to drive and own. The Model S offers a unique package of prestige, performance and practicality.
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