The Tesla Model S rewrites the rulebook for cars, as it's a different kind of car from a different kind of company, a Silicon Valley startup. The fully electric Model S is a remarkable car that combines performance, agility, styling, high-tech, no emissions and low operating costs. It's one of the best cars we've ever tested.
Tesla makes it relatively painless to switch to an electric car from a more conventional one with its usable range and the ability to charge quickly and often. The standard range has been extended since we last tested a Model S and is now rated at 287. The Long Range version is rated at 373 miles. Charge times are about seven hours on a Tesla dedicated wall connector, or 12 hours on a generic 240-volt connector. Public Superchargers are also available for the occasional topping off which, depending on battery charge level, can add 60 miles of range in 30 minutes or so. That's a significant (and exclusive) benefit for Tesla owners.
The Model S rides comfortably, carves corners with precision, accelerates like a catapult, stops on a dime, and glides in a whisper quiet manner. But it's no one-trick pony, since it's also a practical car with two trunks, offers hatchback versatility and an optional third-row seat. All-wheel-drive is standard.
The Tesla rivets drivers' and passengers' attention from the start. Simply touching the flush aluminum door handles causes them to slide outward, welcoming people inside. With the car-shaped fob nestled in a pocket or purse, a tap of the brake pedal brings the Model S to life. There's no need to start an engine or release an emergency brake. Stepping on the throttle brings an experience that's silent yet with a potent surge of power that can make drivers of many sports cars weep with envy.
As impressive as the Tesla is, its range, relatively lengthy charge times, and reduced cold-weather range are still limitations. For longer jaunts, drivers will have to plan when and where to charge and how to spend the time during those sessions.
Unlike most luxury cars, which are introduced fully realized, the Model S has been a continuous work in progress. Current owners and future buyers will benefit from frequent over-the-air updates. In the past, these updates have added traffic-based navigation, location-based air suspension adjustments, calendar syncing and extra capabilities to the Autopilot functions. In our tests of Tesla's Autopilot system, we found that it can add convenience but could potentially lull drivers into complacency.
The large center screen serves as the gateway to many of the car's functions. It packs several categories and is configurable but it proves highly distracting and some tasks require several steps.
Compared to the established luxury brands, the Tesla's interior fit and finish isn't in the same league as that of Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz. The Model S's rear seat isn't as accommodating and access is rather tight. Rear three-quarter visibility is wanting. It also lacks a couple of key features such as Apple CarPlay compatibility and a true blind-spot warning system.
The Model S has reinvented the wheel in several respects and the Tesla brand has created a cult following. For those not needing the ability to cover long distances frequently or benefit from a plusher cabin for the price, the Model S might be the right car.