What is it?
The ground-breaking, game-changing, preconception-smashing Tesla Model S, finally available in right-hand-drive form to UK buyers. It’s been a long time coming. Autocar regulars will know how highly we rate it, having taken in our full road test – and our video review – last year. Both are laced with superlatives – which are richly deserved by what is probably still the most convincing electric production car the world has ever seen.
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Apart from the steering wheel being on the normal side, there are a few other detail changes to report on, implemented since our road test last year. Nothing too significant – and unfortunately, nothing that addresses the few reservations we had about this car back then, either. But importantly, also nothing that ultimately takes the shine off what remains an absolutely outstanding execution – and one of the most appealing premium cars available at any price.
What’s it like?
Mostly, the same as it was. Stripped back to its essentials, the Model S is a mid-sized executive saloon with a hatchback boot – into which Tesla will fit two extra rearward-facing ‘jump’ seats on request. The fact that it also has a large carpet-lined boot under the bonnet makes the car remarkably practical – discovery of which would also surely make even the most disinterested passenger begin to suspect that this isn’t the typical luxury conveyance.
The car has a gigantic lithium-ion battery pack under the floor, and a three-phase electric motor packaged between the rear wheels. As standard – and for a smidgeon over £50k – you get 302bhp and 60kWh of battery capacity, the latter probably being enough for a real-world range of about 180 miles. Go for the ‘Performance’ version and those numbers rise to £69k, 416bhp, 85kWh, and about 220 miles. For another £14k, Tesla will provide the ‘Performance Plus’ version with its sport-tuned, height-adjustable air suspension, performance wheels and tyres and various other go-faster touches – in which spec we road-tested the car last year, and were provided with a car again for this subsequent test.
Such a big battery means, as well as taking longer than the average EV to discharge, the Model S takes its time to charge. Tesla’s UK-market offering includes a seven-pin ‘Mennekes’ style cable that’ll plug into the kind of wallbox that the likes of British Gas or Chargemaster will fit at your home, but not your regular three-pin indoor socket. In our experience, a full charge from the former takes anything up to 14 hours.
The first of Tesla’s ‘Supercharger’ three-phase rapid chargers for the United Kingdom are now in the planning phase, however. Capable of a full charge on an 85kWh car in less than an hour, they will be built in just-off-motorway locations on arterial routes out of London towards Bristol, Birmingham and Dover.
Back to the car. As explained, Tesla’s changes to the Model S comprise mostly of software updates for the many and various primary and secondary systems, and detail changes to the interior.
That interior looks a bit smarter and more contemporary, with a new instrument binnacle surround, new fascia trims, and neater stitching on the leathers covering the seats and panels. The cabin’s a comfy and agreeable place to be, and its crowning glory remains that huge central touchscreen through which you control pretty well everything besides going, stopping, steering and indicating. The Google Maps sat-nav system on it remains frustratingly slow to refresh – because it’s downloading mapping all the time via a 3G data modem.
Tesla’s added a voice control solution called Rdio, which is supposed to allow you to control the nav and audio systems with simple spoken commands. We couldn’t make it work at all.
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Meantime, there remain one or two slightly frustrating shortcomings on the inside of this car that you don’t expect to put up with. Oddment storage is thin on the ground (still no door-pockets, Tesla – really?). And fit and finish is pretty slapdash, too; the top of the dashboard flexes like it’s slowly becoming unstuck. However, the right-hand-drive execution of the car is good; the pedals and wheel are where they should be, and the central touchscreen has been reconfigured for RHD convenience.
One of the software updates for the Model S, Tesla says, was to ‘refine’ throttle response. Never felt like it needed much refining to us. But if it was immediate before, it’s now unbelievably sharp. Whether you’re at a standstill or coasting along at urban speeds, the Model S surges forward with absolutely instant muscular potency – often before you’ve even realised yourself that your right foot is already moving. And still, there’s almost no noise accompanying that incredible, burly response – which makes it all the more brain-scrambling.
The ‘Performance Plus’ version of the car tries to match that other-worldly powertrain to a properly sporting chassis, but it only succeeds in part. The air suspension is a touch hyperactive over a choppy surface, and feels skittish at times and short on wheel control. The electromechanical power steering, meanwhile, remains inconsistent; overly heavy at the extremities of lock, short on centre feel, and generally big on friction and short on feedback. Both work okay, but neither’s what the car deserves.
And both foibles could be addressed as part of a decent mid-life facelift on the car; perhaps it’s unrealistic to expect Tesla to have sorted them in an early model-year update. But the fact remains that they’re present, and they make the car feel a little unfinished.
Should I buy one?
Don’t hold back on account of a couple of minor quibbles. The Model S offers an unusual mix of performance, luxury and ultra-convenience, low-cost motoring that absolutely nothing else on the market can get close to. Assuming its operational range is sufficient, the car will feel like a liberation from the normal bugbears of day-to-day life on the road: buying fuel, and putting up with a noisy, thirsty and relatively truculent combustion engine in heavy traffic. The Model S zips through traffic absurdly easily.
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We’d recommend either steering clear of the ‘Performance Plus’ chassis modifications, or waiting for later in the car’s life to buy the sporting version, though. Truth be told, we suspect this car will always make a more convincing alternative to a BMW 760i than an M5. Either way, if you want the definitive performance version of this definitive electric car, it isn’t ready yet.
Tesla Model S P85+
Price £83,480 0-62mph 4.2sec Top speed 130mph Economy 283Wh/mile CO2 na Kerbweight 2108kg Engine 3-phase AC induction motor Power 416bhp at 5000-6700rpm Torque 443lb ft at 0-5100rpm Gearbox Single speed reduction gearing
What is it?