The Telsa Model S is the only fully electric luxury car you can currently buy. Despite being a rare sight in the UK, the Model S is something of a phenomenon in its homeland of California, with this sleek electric car even managing to persuade SUV-loving Americans to part with their cash in exchange for very high refinement levels and rapid acceleration.
It’s not often that a car has no direct rivals, but the Tesla Model S is one of those machines. While electric cars are nothing new – with models like the Nissan Leaf, Renault Zoe and BMW i3 finding homes with an increasing number of buyers – the Model S is the only mainstream electric car that boasts potential range of more than 300 miles between charges, along with a spacious, upmarket interior.
Due to its premium billing, large size and sleek silhouette, the closest competitors for the Model S include the BMW 6 Series Gran Coupe, the Audi A7 and Mercedes CLS, which are all available with petrol and diesel motors. Though the Model S is priced closely with German rivals, Tesla owners can save huge amounts on running costs thanks to free car tax, discounted company car tax rates and by being able to charge the car for free at Tesla’s powerful Superchargers, which are now popping up around the country.
What is it?
The Model S is a large luxurious hatchback, which features a spacious, upmarket interior, punchy performance from its electric motors and the ability to cover up to 310 miles between charges. Unlike most other electric models, a large number of versions are available, from an entry-level 60kWh model, which can cover up to 240 miles per charge and sprint to 60mph in 5.9 seconds, to the P85D which includes four-wheel drive and can hit to 60mph in a supercar-rivalling 3.2 seconds.
Buyers can choose between two and four-wheel drive versions of the 85kWh, and opt for two boot-mounted seats for children. Uniquely, thanks to a second boot under the bonnet, the Model S is potentially just as practical for families as a people carrier. 85 and P85D models both include compatibility with Tesla’s ‘Supercharger’ network of rapid chargers, meaning that owners can fully charge the car in just 75 minutes. Those who buy the 60kWh Model S can opt for Supercharging ability for £1,800.
What is it like to drive?
The Model S is unlike any other car – electric or otherwise – to drive. This is due to the huge power reserves on offer and its sheer size; most electric cars come in much smaller packages. The first impression for the driver is just how simple the Model S is to drive though. Motorists who enjoy wafting around with the minimum possible effort are likely to relish being able to simply select forward or reverse from the stalk mounted gearchange – without even having to use a handbrake, as the car applies this automatically when in ‘Park’ – and effectively drive the car with just one pedal as ‘regenerative braking’, which adds charge back to the battery, means that lifting off the throttle slows the car quickly.
Enthusiastic drivers shouldn’t feel short changed either. With instant power on tap from the electric motor and rapid acceleration when you press the throttle, the Model S is a satisfying machine to drive. The steering gives you a reasonable amount of confidence around corners too. This is a big car, however, meaning that negotiating tight spaces can be a bit tricky and visibility could be better. It does have a reversing camera which displays on the oversized touchscreen display, though, which makes backing up into tight spaces much easier.
As an electric car, refinement levels are high. Wind noise is audible at speed and the ride on the optional 21-inch alloy wheels could be smoother, but overall the Model S is a competent long distance tourer. We found that the front seats could offer better back support, however. We drove the car from the UK to Norway on our test and over this time the real world range seemed to hover around 200 miles per charge – potentially lower than it would normally be due to cold temperatures. This is a long way down on the claimed figure, though many petrol and diesel cars fail to meet their official economy figures by a similar margin.
What is it like inside?
The Model S’s interior is absolutely dominated by a 17-inch touchscreen media system, with only two physical controls on the dashboard – one to open the glovebox and the other to activate the hazard lights. The 17-inch tablet-style device lets you access 3G internet from across Europe, meaning that those in the passenger seat can access internet on the move. It can also display sat nav directions onscreen (as well as in a small panel to the left of the speedometer) and is large enough to allow split-screen functionality, with sat nav and radio screens open simultaneously, for instance.
The rest of the cabin is also quite different to mainstream models, with a large tray on the floor where a gearstick would traditionally be and a flat floor for the rear seats. With the batteries under the floor the cabin does seem to offer less height that conventional rivals. We also found that the shape of the seats wasn’t the most comfortable, while the rear seats could offer more back support and foot room. The car we drove featured tactile dark wood trim across the dashboard, leather and suede, giving it a stylish and high quality feel.
Is it practical?
Absolutely. The batteries located beneath the cabin and motor situated between the rear wheels free up a large amount of room for front and rear boots. Even the front boot has room for several medium sized bags, while the rear space is more than big enough for most families. As for the interior, there is a reasonable amount of room for five people, with a flat floor in the back meaning that three adults should be able to fit in the rear seats. There is also the option of two boot-mounted child seats. Ally this to the boot under the bonnet and seven passengers and their luggage should fit in the car, making it as practical as many people carriers.
With the ability to cover around 200 to 250 miles per charge, the Model S is a much more practical prospect as an everyday car than most electric cars. With 75 minutes needed to fully charge the Model S, and a half charge taking around half an hour at one of Tesla’s own Superchargers, charging the car also takes less time than other electric models, such as the BMW i3 and Nissan Leaf.
Should I buy one?
If you can afford the Model S’s £60,000 price tag and are after a speedy, upmarket luxury car, this Tesla is a fantastic machine. No rival can offer the same blend of performance, eco-credentials, space and equipment and even the price tag seems reasonable compared to petrol and diesel alternatives.
Bear in the mind that charging the car at Tesla’s Superchargers is free too, with charging taking less time than for other electric cars and the Model S is very much without rivals. When you consider that this is Tesla’s attempt at a mass market car, it is an extremely impressive vehicle, which should win many fans with those who have deep enough pockets to be considering a luxury car.
Don’t want to buy new? You can browse for a used Tesla Model S in our classifieds here.
Tesla Model S 85kWh
List price: £58,680
Engine: Electric motor
Top speed: 140mph
0-60mph: 5.4 seconds
Official range: 310 miles
Euro NCAP rating: Five stars
Picture: Jonathan Fleetwood