29.2.2020Tesla Model S Long Range review
When you have make of the world's leading electric cars, it would be easy to rest on your laurels. That's not Tesla's style however, as the Model S has received a series of upgrades as it looks to fight off increased competition. With a number of new features, NGC tests the latest version of the EV industry's most famous creation - the Model S - to see how those changes stack up.
Review by Chris Lilly
The Tesla Model S is kitted out in Long Range specification for the iteration tested. This means it features dual electric motors, ensuring there is a lot of performance to tap into; lots and lots in fact. Tesla has a Performance version available for those not satisfied with the Long Range's statistics, but few will be demanding any more power or pace really. The Tesla's 0-62 mph time is 3.7 seconds before heading on to a top speed of 140 mph - brisk doesn't even begin to cover it. Those really demanding more can pick the Model S Performance with a 0-62 mph time of 2.4 seconds. Sticking with the 'normal' Long Range model then, the Model S feels extremely quick whenever you want it to be. Although a large and relatively heavy car, the Tesla never feels sluggish, instead using the natural torque characteristics of the electric motors to pick up at any speed and surge forward. Something familiar to anyone that's driven a Tesla before will be just how accessible that performance is in the Model S Long Range. It's not difficult to drive a Tesla, in any setting really. It's composed on the motorway, relaxing in traffic, and rapid on the open road. It's not really an engaging car to drive, rather a very digital machine, but it's got a certain character to it that makes the Model S an appealing proposition.
If the Model S's performance is lightning fast (apologies), the handling can't really match up. The main reason for this is that although the performance levels are up there with some of the best supercars around, the Model S is a large, practical executive hatchback. Remember this fact and the handling set-up makes far more sense, since it behaves as you would expect an executive saloon to behave. It might have the pace of a super-saloon, but it's not set up like one. Instead, the Model S proves rather comfortable in most situations. The weight of the car and the large wheels fitted mean the ride can crash a little over harsh surfaces, but on the whole the Tesla is refined and relaxing to drive. It's excellent on the motorway, where the car's length and suspension set-up means it soaks up the bumps and miles with ease. In town and on country roads, those harshest of road surfaces can catch the car's weight unawares, but it tends to do a good job at ironing out imperfections. Pushing on, the Model S does manage to provide some handling thrills on occasion. For those wanting a more driver-focused car, the Model S Performance will begin to meet those needs, though there isn't a Tesla on sale that could be described as a "drivers' car". Instead, the Model S Long Range will use it's natural attributes - low centre of gravity and wide track - to get you around a corner with the minimum of fuss. Should this Tesla be pitched as the performance-orientated model, the handling would be slightly disappointing. It's not though, and as such, the Tesla's set-up is a bit of a Jack-of-all-trades, performing well across the board.
It's easy to forget that the Model S is a hatchback rather than a saloon. It's rivals are all conventional saloon models, but the Model S's boot hinges at the roof rather than the bottom of the rear window. As such, owners get a more practical car, with access to the rear load space huge in any respect, but particularly so compared to competitor's efforts. The boot itself is cavernous, and although the Model X SUV offers more space, few buyers will actually need anything more than the Model S offers. The space is superb further forward too, with passengers in both front and rear seats enjoying good levels of head room and excellent leg space. It's predominantly down the improved packaging available with an electric powertrain. The batteries are in the middle of the car under the floor, and there are two electric motors, essentially over each axle. As such, boot space isn't taken up with a fuel tank, and there isn't a huge engine and transmission up front encroaching on occupant space. The flat floor allows for greater space for those passengers in the rear, and there's a small amount of space under the bonnet for additional storage. I found it perfect for holding the charging cables and adaptors. A press of the bonnet on the key opens the covering easily with no fishing around for a release catch, and the space is ideally suited for a set of cables. As such, you don't need to keep them in the boot - either out or in the under-floor storage - which is great news when you often fill the boot with kit. Surrounding this practical interior is a stylish bit of cladding. The Model S has been around for a good few years now, but still looks fresh and the most coherent design currently available from Tesla.
COMFORT & CONTROLS
The Tesla's interior is about as minimalist as they come. There's a steering wheel with a couple of controls on it, three stalks behind the wheel, and a huge portrait touchscreen system on the centre console. That's just about it, and the rest of the car looks like it's been more than a little inspired by Scandinavian interior design. It's a nicely designed place in which to sit, with comfortable seats able to support occupants even over long distances. They're not the best on the market, but few will have any complaints. The controls - such as there are - feel of reasonable quality but not of the best. Considering the car's price, the Model S should have the highest quality controls, but instead makes do with last-generation Mercedes switch-gear for the driver. There's nothing wrong with them, but a bit of Tesla-designed bits of kit would add a greater air of luxury I'm sure. That confidence is because Tesla can clearly do computer user interfaces, even if it hasn't really tried with the physical controls. Although I prefer actual buttons to touchscreen systems when driving, the Tesla set up is clear, easy to use, and very well thought out. The large screen means navigation for example displays in a better orientation than most systems, and the graphics and responsiveness are top notch. It relies on a mobile signal for navigation which tends to be very reliable, and is beneficial most of the time. There are occasions in more remote areas where the screen is a little laggy in displaying tiles of the map, but it's rarely an issue. It also allows live status updates for Tesla Supercharger units and traffic. On the whole, the interior can't compete with similarly priced executive rivals for luxury, fit or finish, but it's still a very nice cabin.
MPG & RUNNING COSTS
Tesla offers customers some huge driving ranges from its line-up, and the Model S Long Range has the largest of the lot. The official figure for the model tested is 379 miles on a charge, which is quite some distance - I've driven petrol cars with less. Backed up by Supercharging capabilities, it's the leading electric vehicle for those needing to cover long distances regularly. In real-world driving, the figures continue their strong showing. Most electric cars are able to reach 90%-95% of the WLTP range in normal driving conditions, with the official stats achievable with a bit of care. The Model S Long Range is no different, and I quickly started working on an average range of 350 miles on a charge. It's a massive driving range when you think about it. It would take four to five hours to deplete the battery on a long run, by which time everyone will need to - or on safety grounds should - have stopped at least a couple of times by then. Topping up on Superchargers will extend that driving range further, meaning the Model S is only a compromise prospect in terms of long-distance driving for those regularly driving further than the equivalent of Southampton to Edinburgh. It's very impressive, and having completed around 360 miles with one quick stop for charging on the first day, it just went to prove how flexible the Model S Long Range is to drive.
Tesla's regenerative braking system is a very good one, topping up the battery as you slow down. There are no separate levels to select via paddles as you get with some other EVs, rather the variation in regen strength comes from how far you're lifted off the throttle. It's very well weighted however, and quickly proves intuitive to get an accurate gauge of regen required in braking situations, meaning you often don't have to touch the brake pedal at all. It helps maximise the car's range with just a little forward thinking on the part of the driver. Adaptive suspension can lower the car when travelling a motorway speeds to improve aerodynamics, and the car can be pre-conditioned to save battery charge when plugged in. According to our calculations, the model tested has a Next Green Car Rating of 31.
Standard specifications on the Model S range are very good, though for a car that starts at more than £78,000, that's to be expected. Included as standard are 19-inch wheels and a Premium Interior with HEPA air filtration system. This includes heated seats all-round, a heated steering wheel and wiper blade defrosters, a premium audio system, and sat-nav with live traffic, internet music streaming, and over-the-air updates. Also added are LED fog lights, Bluetooth connectivity, Autopilot driver assist system, hardware for fully-autonomous driving when legally possible (activation an optional extra), and dual-motor all-wheel drive set-up. The 17-inch touchscreen system includes a number of games and driver information systems, while there's a panoramic glass roof as standard, and the driver has a digital instrument panel. Remote access is possible from the Tesla smartphone app, and a CCS charging adaptor is included for charging off non-Tesla rapid charge points.
Having been regularly developed over the years, the Model S has maintained its position as one of the best electric vehicles around. Now with a longer range, the popular Tesla is better than ever. For anyone requiring long-distance capabilities from their EV, there simply isn't anything better. Even for the majority of drivers that will rarely push the driving range on a single charge, the Model S Long Range remains a good choice. It's quick, practical, stylish, and quick to charge, meaning the Tesla adds to its already well established reputation.
Model tested: Tesla Model S Long Range
Body-style: Executive hatchback
Engine / CO2: Dual electric motors / 0 g/km
On-road price: from £78,690 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