28.1.2019Tesla Model S P100D review
The idea that electric cars are simply eco-conscious, boring, glorified milk-floats is one that is considerably out-of-date, and few cars exemplify this argument more than the Tesla Model S P100D. A quoted range of more than 350 miles on a single charge champions its potential as a long-distance runner, but it is the acceleration time that makes the headlines. NGC takes the Tesla Model S P100D for a run to put that performance to the test.
Review by Chris Lilly
Although far from the raison d'être for the Model S, performance is nevertheless a key attribute for the P100D - the 'P' part of the badge standing for 'Performance'. Fortunately, the Model S stacks up, with a 0-62mph sprint time of 2.7 seconds. Yes, that's a 'two', as in sub-three seconds. It's frankly almost stupidly quick - with nothing negative about that statement at all. The grin-inducing nature of the acceleration doesn't wear off, and thanks to four-wheel drive, that time is basically achievable in all but the worst of icy conditions. Making good use of the instant torque available from the dual motors - one on each axle - the Model S P100D has one of the world's fastest acceleration times. What is potentially more impressive about this performance is that it is possible despite weighing considerably more than two tonnes. Compared to the impressive Bugatti Chiron for example, the Tesla weighs around half a tonne more. We have no precise figures as to its power output but it's safe to say that it's considerably less than the Bugatti's 1,500 hp, which speaks volumes about the performance characteristics of electric motors.
Of course, sprinting from standstill to close to the UK's speed limit is something that doesn't present itself as an option much of the time, but the linear power offered by the motors means that acceleration is more than brisk at any speed. Getting from 30mph to 50mph, or 50mph up a slip-road to motorway speeds are examples of quick bursts of acceleration where you can get a hint as to the P100D's potential. There are few cars that can cover UK roads as quickly as a Model S P100D, and even fewer that have seating for four in comfort, plus loads of boot space. Whereas I stated in a previous reveiw that 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 P100D removes even that caveat. It is lighting fast, but accessibly so. For the majority of the time, 'Ludicrous' mode will not be needed, but the Tesla remains a very fast car even in this normal setting.
While the weight involved in carrying around a large battery pack is overcome in terms of performance, the handling can't quite pull off the same trick. When cornering, even with the suspension in its stiffest setting, you can feel the weight of the Tesla pulled around a bend. Fortunately, the weight is low down in the chassis, which combined with a wide track, means the Model S P100D feels planted when cornering. It does lean a little though, and you can feel the physics at work as it tries to get the Tesla around a corner without losing grip. To have it set up any other way though would be to compromise the Model S P100D's flexibility. A great benefit of the Tesla is that it's a comfortable car to travel in - front or back.
The suspension isn't as ideally set-up as a large European saloon, with the American hatchback lacking refinement compared to its German or British rivals for example. It is still a true executive model though, capable of carting a car full or people and luggage at speed and in comfort over long distances, with motorways in particular a strength - despite the fact it's an EV. The length of the wheelbase and supple nature to the air suspension means it floats over fast surfaces with ease. Even over rough urban or country roads, the Model S performs well. It is just when looking at outright comfort or driving dynamics that the Model S P100D falls short of its sports-saloon competitors. It's not as focused as other models, which in many ways, is all the better for it. Considering this is the Performance model, it is a bit of a shame that there isn't a greater focus on handling thrills, but many buyers don't get a Tesla because they want the sharpest car to drive. Plus, sportscar-like handling would present a titanic battle with the car's weight, which engineers are unlikely to win, so overall it's best the Model S is set-up this way.
The electric saloon-cum-hatchback is something that might sound unusual, but the more you think about it, it mirrors the market trend for coupe-saloons. Whatever the reasoning behind the styling, the large opening for the boot means that the Model S is a very practical machine, helped by a deep load area, and aided further still by the lack of engine up front. This means that there is storage space under the bonnet too, enough for a large overnight bag or a few shopping bags - though I preferred keeping the charging cables in it. This way, they remain separate in case the cables got dirty, and means you don't have to lift up any luggage to get at them if storing them beneath the boot floor. Occupant space is equally generous, with designers making good use of the opened up packaging opportunities electric motors bring. Head, leg, and shoulder room will receive no complaints from those in the back, and the flat floor helps free up space and improve practicality. The Model S is still a stylish vehicle, made better by the mid-life refresh that removed the large black (lack of) grille, and replaced it with a slim opening that wraps around the Tesla 'T' logo.
Tesla's style doesn't just apply to the surfacing, with the interior touchscreen getting a dose of the manufacturer's famous wit. There are Atari games available to play (once parked up obviously), hidden Easter eggs, 'Warp Speed', and the ability to replace your on-screen Model S with James Bond's Lotus submarine. They do nothing in terms of practicality, functionality, or useful aesthetics, but are fun to play with nonetheless. Not sure how many owners continue to use them during life with the car, or if they become a bit of a novelty that wears off.
COMFORT & CONTROLS
The interior space is a great benefit for occupants, aided by seats that are supportive yet comfortable, even over long distances. It's all very minimalist, and has a feeling of Scandinavian interior design to the cabin, which makes for a pleasant place in which to sit. The only jarring note in this advert for Swedish living is the large touchscreen system that controls just about everything. Sitting centrally, the screen can show two different displays at the same time, or have one section expanded for the full display. It's particularly useful for navigation where - Volvo aside - no other manufacturer has really understood the benefit of portrait-orientated screens for the sat-nav - which display more of the road ahead, and less of the surrounding areas left and right that are often redundant. Tesla's navigation system is a good one, with live updates as to Supercharger statuses, and the benefit of constantly being connected to the internet for dynamic information. Of course, relying on mobile signal can mean that it takes a while to load a map in rural areas when starting from scratch, but the Tesla is rarely caught out. Other than the touchscreen, the only other controls are one stalk behind the steering wheel - for indicators, lights, and wipers - one to select gears with, and a smaller one for the cruise control. There are a few buttons on the steering wheel but not many controls there at all, a hazard lights button, and one to open the glove-box. Other than that, the dashboard is clean, clear, and dominated by the famous Tesla touchscreen.
Build quality doesn't quite match up to the impression of European sophistication though. The Tesla's interior is far from bargain basement, with some decent materials used, and plastics that don't knock about when hit. However, it must be remembered that the Model S P100D starts at more than £125,000. For that price, you can buy a BMW M5 for example, and still have enough for a Hyundai Kona Electric. Or buy a Jaguar I-Pace, lose it, and go and purchase another one to replace it, and still have spent less than on the P100D. Granted, the outright acceleration of the above can't match the Model S P100D, but you couldn't even call the Hyundai a slouch, and the Jaguar and BMW are all plenty quick enough for most drivers. The premium models feel much better than the Tesla in terms of build quality, and the Model S is closer to the Hyundai than it is to a BMW in terms of fit and finish. All of this might seem as though I don't rate the Model S P100D's interior, which isn't the case. It's a good cabin, but it has to be looked at in perspective.
MPG & RUNNING COSTS
The current USP for Tesla is the amount of range available on a single charge from its EVs. Newcomers in the premium sector such as Jaguar, the soon-to-arrive Audi e-tron, and due-to-arrive-a-bit-later Mercedes Benz EQC can't match Tesla in this regard, despite having newer products. The 100 kWh battery pack in the P100D is one of the largest available on the market, and provides an official range of 381 miles (NEDC) on a single charge - and this is the performance version; the non-Performance 100D has a quoted range of 393 miles. Jaguar, Audi, and Mercedes come in around the 300 mile mark - though on the tougher WLTP figures - but even accounting for the variance between the two testing cycles, Tesla still trumps the competition. During my time with it, I found the range to be somewhat shorter than the quoted official figure, though this is to be expected on two counts. First, the NEDC test cycle is always rather optimistic in its calculated driving range, and the second count is because of the addictive nature of the power available. This says more about how fun the Tesla can be to drive than any deficiencies in its range.
In real-world driving, I got an average of 250 miles on a charge, after more than 500 miles in the P100D. The 100D model previously tested averaged around 270 miles, with both models driven regularly at motorway speeds and testing out the car's famous acceleration, so should be lower than expected when compared to figures found by owners. I would easily expect 250 miles as a minimum, even on a long motorway route for the P100D, and 270-300 miles in normal driving conditions with a mixture of roads. A more efficient run - though no hypermiling - saw a projected 320 miles achievable. All of this possible in chilly conditions, with morning frost on the roads an indicator as to the weather.
To charge, the P100D is able to make use of Tesla's Supercharger stations. It's a network that makes the car even more attractive, with the possibility to charge at ultra-rapid speeds enabling easy long-distance trips. A quick top-up of 10-15 minutes will give you 70-100 miles of range, and 20-30 minutes will add more than half your range. There is a CHAdeMO adaptor available from Tesla for more conventional rapid charge points, though this will still take around two hours for a good top-up, since the 100 kWh battery would only be charged at a maximum of 50 kW, rather than a Supercharger's 120 kW. Charging is carried out through Tesla's Type 2 inlet, which deals with everything from Supercharging to the three-pin plug cable, and it will charge at up to 22 kW on AC public points.
The usual suite of electric car systems is available on the Tesla Model S to help with efficiency. Regenerative braking helps top up the battery when slowing down, and has two different strengths available. It's an intuitive system to make the most of, with a quick lift off the throttle in its strongest setting putting the anchors on quite hard, without the brake disks being touched. The car's sat-nav will direct you via multiple Supercharger locations on long trips if required, and has live updates as to how many of the charge points are being used at a time. The car can be put into Ludicrous mode for maximum acceleration, but sits in Sport as default, and can be placed in Chill for lessened throttle response and a more efficient drive. The air suspension can drop the car a little on the motorway to improve aerodynamics, and there is plenty of information available on the screen to keep track of your driving style. According to our calculations, the model tested has a Next Green Car Rating of 38.
Standard equipment is good on the Model S P100D, though you would expect nothing less for a price north of £100,000. Included as standard are 19-inch alloys, a powered tailgate, climate control, keyless entry and start, LED headlights, glass roof, carbon fibre spoiler, red brake calipers, smart air suspension with GPS memory, over-the-air software updates, heated and vented seats and heated windscreen, steering wheel, wiper blades and washer nozzles, active safety features and Autopilot, air filtration system, and premium sound system. The 17-inch touchscreen control system is also standard, which is more tablet than conventional infotainment set-up. It features Google Maps sat-nav, DAB radio with Bluetooth & USB, and internet radio. There is also surround view parking cameras, and an internet browser. 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. The test car had two options added - Midnight Silver metallic paint and 19-inch Sonic Carbon Slipstream alloys - at £1,450 each.
The Tesla Model S is a great car, and the P100D version is the flagship version. It's superbly and wonderfully quick, but retains the same comfort, space, and practicality as the 100D version. I would personally like to see the Performance models a little more focused, developed as great drivers' cars, not just superb drag racers, but the accessibility of the performance on tap means that anyone car make good use of the Tesla's acceleration. Support from the Supercharger network is an attribute that has to be included in the car's strengths, and only the comparative build quality and high price come up in the downsides section. After all, for the same sort of money as a P100D, buyers could also be looking in Aston Martin, McLaren, or Bentley showrooms. But then they wouldn't be able to buy an EV. For those that like the Model S, the P100D is the best you can get, and although range is compromised slightly over the non-Performance version, it's still so capable as a long-distance EV that you won't notice unless driven back-to-back. Tesla might have more competition than a year ago, but the Model S remains one of the leading EVs money can buy.
Model tested: Tesla Model S P100D
Body-style: Executive hatchback
Engine / CO2: Dual electric motors / 0 g/km
On-road price: Model S P100D from £128,060. Price as tested £130,960 - 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