14.2.2018Tesla Model S 100D review
As the poster-car for the EV movement, expectations of the Tesla Model S are high. Even those unfussed about cars get their interest piqued by the Model S, and despite plenty of naysayers criticising Tesla, the executive saloon convinces just about everyone who drives one. With ranges available on a single charge regularly increasing, we look here at the Model S 100D and put the Tesla to the test.
Review by Chris Lilly
The performance of the Model S is well documented, and in fact I've had conversations with many friends that have been for a drive in a colleague / acquaintance / family-member's Tesla and raved about the acceleration. Tesla is notoriously cagey with its power figures. I've found two reputable sources, one that quotes 517hp (380kW), and the other that quotes 619hp (456kW) - for the same model, a Model S 100D. Whatever the precise figure is, it's safe to say that the Model S is quick - and I'm not even behind the wheel of the Performance version on this occasion. Having felt the performance of a 'P' model before, you will not be left wanting with a 0-60mph time of 2.5 seconds. However, while noticeably less Ludicrous, the 'standard' model is still no slouch, sprinting from 0-60mph in 4.1 seconds. As you would expect from an electric car, acceleration is instant and it will pull hard until well beyond the UK's legal speed limit. In fact, the Model S can more than keep up with motorway traffic and for long periods, something that no other electric car manufacturer can boast. The Model S 100D might not be lightning fast, but you will have to be racing supercars to complain about a lack of performance.
The Tesla Model S is a heavy old Hector, weighing in at around 2.5 tonnes - thanks mainly to that huge battery pack. Like most EVs though, the battery is placed in the chassis floor, meaning that what weight there is, is kept low down, dropping the centre of gravity. Because of this fact, the Model S feels agile and fairly sprightly while cornering despite the car's weight. However, even with the air suspension and variable steering options set into their sportiest settings, the Model S never offers a truly stiff ride. What all of this translates to in terms of driving is that the Model S 100D corners well and stays remarkably level, but the driving experience isn't engaging as it would be in a true sports saloon.
You see, the Model S isn't a sports saloon (apart from in Performance spec) - it just happens to have the pace and price of one but without the racing focus. Buy a Porsche Panamera or BMW M5 and they will be as quick, but each will offer a more rewarding driving experience. Pitch a Model S hard down a twisting B-road and the Tesla will deal with the situation well. It's just the smile you have in one would translate to a huge grin in a proper sports saloon. However, the Model S is more comfortable on the road, and as mentioned before, it will cruise along at motorway speeds with aplomb. Around town too, it will soak up pot-holes and speed bumps better than its sports saloon rivals - and the reason for all of this is its softer ethos. The suspension is set to be pliant without becoming squidgy, so the Tesla will get unsettled by large irregularities in the road's surface, but anything else will just be brushed aside. All this being the case, don't think of the Model S as a rival for an M Division BMW, despite it being just about as fast. Instead think of it as a rival for a pacy Audi - it's not as comfortable as a Mercedes - just quicker in a straight line.
The Model S is a stylish saloon - except it's not a saloon, but a hatchback. Still, whatever people think of it, the Model S is a nicely understated but well designed car, and one that is ageing well. The mid-life refresh that removed the large black 'grille' was a good move on the part of Tesla's designers, and the Model S makes good use of its electric vehicle foundations. With a skateboard-style chassis and motors sitting on each axle, the Model S offers a lot of space inside. The boot space available is excellent, aided by the hatchback opening. The space is so vast that you can spec a couple of rear-facing seats that fold away into the boot floor. It wasn't an option on the test car, but one that I've seen before, and might prove useful for some.
The advent of the larger, more family-friendly Model X is likely to have significantly reduced the number of buyers ordering a Model S ticking this option though. Better to go for the larger Model X, or stick with a larger boot. What's more, the Model S has a boot at the front too, under the bonnet. I found it useful to store the charging cables in there to make sure I didn't have to move any luggage etc stored in the normal boot when they were needed, but the front boot is large enough for more than a few charging cables. A couple of weekend bags would fit up front if you managed to pack the kitchen sink and accoutrements needed to fill up the rear on your hypothetical trip away. The Model S might have been usurped as Tesla's family-friendly offering by the Model X then, but it still has plenty to offer as a practical car.
COMFORT & CONTROLS
As hinted at in the handling section, the Model S is a comfortable car to sit in. The seats support the driver well even over long distances, and those in the rear get excellent levels of leg, shoulder, and head room. Even on long cross-country trips, the Model S has enough interior space to keep four adults in comfort, and because of the flat floor in the rear, the centre seat in the rear bench is actually usable by someone over the age of five - something that can't be said about a number of rival models.
The controls are basically all operated via the huge central touchscreen. There are two discreet buttons either side - one for the hazard warning lights, the other to open the glove-box - and that's it apart from the driver's stalks. Even here minimalism is the watch-word, with one drive-mode selector, one indicator/windscreen wiper/headlight stalk, and a cruise control control too - all snaffled from the Mercedes Benz parts bin. The touchscreen system has all the functionality of a tablet but with a much larger screen, and it is an excellent piece of kit to have. Everything from the satellite navigation system to the media player is available, alongside driving economy statistics, a web browser, settings for a huge number of the car's features, and even silly (but fun) little items too. The driver's instruments are all digital, and the displays will change depending on different features wanted by the driver, and navigation commands when a route is being driven. It's a high quality set of electronics, which unfortunately isn't quite matched by the rest of the cabin.
The build quality feels good, but not Â£65,000-worth of good - that's for the entry-level Model S 75D. With a high price comes high expectations, and despite a good level of quality throughout the cabin, the Tesla can't match up to its rivals in terms of build quality. The steering wheel is a case in point (though I grant I'm being picky). There are two roller-wheels, one to control the media system - volume/skip track etc - and the other to control the right-hand side of the driver's display - to change from phone, to economy, to media playing and so on. Neither control feels particularly high quality, and the rest of the car's design would either imply that the steering wheel would do everything you could possibly want it to and more, or it would be a completely clean design with no controls at all. Either able to order your favourite drink on the way to a coffee shop, or sparse and with only one focus - namely to steer the car. It's not a big thing, just a slight fly in the ointment, and a sign that Tesla - despite making strides of the length and pace of Usain Bolt - is still in its infancy in car manufacturer terms, and these little slips need to be taken into account. I know I've committed quite a few words to this criticism, but genuinely I think the cabin of the Model S ia a nice place to be.
MPG & RUNNING COSTS
Of course, as the world's leading EV manufacturer in terms of range, Tesla has this section sewn up. A large part of the Tesla's success as a long-distance EV maker has little to do with the car at all, but is Tesla's Supercharger network. The battery of the Model S is huge, with even the entry level model has almost twice the size of the next largest battery offerings from the mainstream EV market like the new Nissan Leaf or Renault Zoe. The 100D has, as the name suggests, a 100kWh battery, and as such would take well over two hours to charge from empty, even on a DC rapid charger using a CHAdeMO adaptor. Use the Type 2 AC and that time is around three hours. Granted, with the extensive range of the Model S 100D, even half an hour on a normal rapid charger would give the driver a decent top-up in terms of range, but so it's fair to say that Tesla's Supercharge network has been hugely influential to the company's success.
Able to charge at around 120kW, the Supercharger network means that drivers need not spend more than an hour at a charge point to charge to 80%, and that's with a car running on the electric equivalent of fumes. Used more often than that and a quick charge - the amount of time it takes to walk from the charge point, grab a comfort break and a cup of coffee, and walk back to the car for example - and the Model S has added 50-100 miles easily (depending on how quick you are). Hang around for half an hour as you would with a more conventional EV on a normal rapid charger, and the Model S will have had 150-200 miles of range added - a huge amount. I managed to cover a lot of miles in the Model S - 880 to be precise - and it simply wouldn't have been possible without the Supercharger network during the time I had with the car.
As for efficiency, I gave the Model S a good testing, which included harsh acceleration and sitting at motorway speeds for long sections. As such, the economy figures achieved are a good foundation to work on, carried out in winter. Over the course of the near 900 miles, the Model S 100D averaged a range of 267 miles on a single charge - 374wh/mile. Resetting the trip after the acceleration runs, but still with plenty of motorway work to be undertaken, the reported figures showed 288 miles of range - 346wh/mile. To reiterate, both of these are at the bottom of the spectrum as to what you might expect. A separate and varied trip reported back 300 miles of range, which would be easy to achieve without any careful driving at all. I would be prepared to say that in typical driving conditions, even in cold weather, you can rely on the Model S 100D achieving 330 miles on a charge, and that could be pushed past 350 miles without much hardship or care.
Is being an electric car not enough to appease your green credential demands? Well, the Model S obviously has regenerative braking, and very effective it is too. It will scrub off a lot of speed and top up the batteries while slowing down, and varies in strength in a smart manner. Tesla now offers live updates of its Superchargers too, making charging on the network more effective. If you select a Supercharger location on the map, it will show you how many of its charge points are currently in use. The sat-nav system will also direct you via multiple Supercharger locations should your trip be longer than the car's range. There are settings to change the effectiveness of the brake energy regeneration between 'standard' and 'low', while there is also a Range mode that can be turned on and off, which helps maximise the potential range available by optimising the climate control system and torque distribution between the two motors. Neither had a dramatic effect on range, but combined with other functions, they would be helpful as a suite of range-improvement features. The Tesla also offers acceleration settings of 'Standard' or 'Chill', steering modes of 'Comfort', 'Standard', and 'Sport', and if specified with air suspension, the ability to raise or lower it. Dropping it down when on the motorway for example improves aerodynamics - but remember to raise it again at slower speeds to minimise any speed bump related incidents. According to our calculations, the model tested has a Next Green Car Rating of 34.
As you would expect from a car that starts at around Â£65,000, the Model S comes well equipped. Standard kit for the range includes the 17-inch touchscreen control system with Google Maps sat-nav, and DAB radio with Bluetooth, USB, and internet radio. Because it's effectively a tablet rather than an infotainment screen, there is also an internet browser, and high-definition camera for parking and self-driving capabilities. All Tesla's are now built with the hardware required to operate the company's AutoPilot autonomous driving features, though it is an option as to whether the software is present or not. It's something that can be ordered at the same time as the car, or retro-fitted - either post purchase or on used models that have the hardware required. Also included is 400 kWh of free Supercharger credits each year, and the ability to update the Model S over-the-air to improve features or improve performance. A powered tailgate, climate control, keyless entry and start, LED headlights, 19-inch alloys, and glass roof are all included too. All models currently come with all-wheel drive too. Options on the test car included red paint, 21-inch alloys, black leather interior, wood trim, and the Premium Upgrade Package which a climate control system with 'Bio-Weapon Defence Mode' that actively cleans the air in the cabin, heated seats throughout, heated steering wheel, wiper blade and washer nozzle defrosters, and custom audio system.
In short the Tesla Model S is a fantastic car. It's an EV that allows you to drive with no more concern about range than you have in a conventional petrol or diesel car. Granted, a frugal diesel can cover 500-600 miles on a single tank - twice as much as a Tesla - but you will very rarely cover more than 250 miles in a single day. Even if you do, the Supercharger network is the ideal support, allowing you to top-up extremely quickly before you get on your way again. The build quality could be better and its price unfortunately puts it beyond the reach of yours truly, but those are the only criticisms I can level at the Model S. As a way to persuade drivers of the benefits of electric cars, you can do far worse than a Tesla Model S.
Model tested: Tesla Model S 100D
Body-style: Executive hatchback
Engine / CO2: Dual electric motors / 0 g/km
Trim grades: 75D, 100D, P100D
On-road price: Model S 100D from £89,500. Price as tested £103,530 - both inc. Cat 1 PiCG
Warranty: Four year / 50,000 miles - Battery & drive unit: Eight year / unlimited mileage
In the showroom: Now
Review rating: 4.5 Stars