Review: Tesla Model S (2014)
Excellent performance with usable battery range. Impressive, huge touchscreen interface. Practical interior with plenty of luggage space. Easy to drive.
Fit and finish could be better for a car at this price. Supercharger network small, but growing.
Recently Added To This Review
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Tesla Model S (2014): At A Glance
The Tesla Model S requires you to recalibrate your perceptions of what a car should be. Once you have done, it’s hard to look at internal combustion engine cars as anything other than archaic – the Model S is very clearly the future. But nothing can be perfect and this is no exception.
There isn’t anything radical about the way the Model S looks from the outside, but under the skin there’s a lot to separate it from a typical car luxury car. Because the batteries live under the floor and there’s no bulky engine, there’s an extra boot under the bonnet, plus the rear luggage area is huge and there’s plenty of space in the back row.
The low-mounted batteries also mean weight is evenly spread, so the Model S doesn’t feel as heavy as it actually is. Depending on the variant you go for it either has a motor for the rear wheels or an additional motor up front, providing all-wheel drive. Either way, performance is excellent, with exceptionally quick, yet smooth and quiet acceleration.
It’s incredibly easy to drive – simply get in and flick the Mercedes-Benz-sourced gear selector to D. There’s no ignition switch and no handbrake. Then there’s a go pedal, a stop pedal and smooth, accurate steering. Ride quality is good, plus there’s very little noise even at motorway speeds.
And at motorway speeds the Model S has a party trick in the form of autopilot, an adaptive cruise system that steers, accelerates, brakes and will even change lane automatically with a flick of the indicator. It does require the driver to pay attention and hold the wheel, but it works very well and makes long journeys easy.
You can genuinely go on long journeys with the Model S, too. The different variants have differing battery capacities, but realistically more than 200 miles is perfectly achievable on a full charge. Charging from the mains takes a long, long time, but get a home charger installed and topping up overnight provides plenty of useful range.
There’s also a growing network of speedy Tesla Superchargers that are extremely easy to use and quick. And if you ask the Google Maps-based navigation system to take you somewhere beyond the current battery range it will automatically route you via a Supercharger so you can get where you need to. Clever stuff.
And that’s the best way to sum up the Model S. It’s unlike anything else on sale and shows the world that electric cars can be enjoyable, useable and desirable. It might be expensive – and there are a few question marks over fit and finish in places – but it’s still an amazing piece of technology and a great car.
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Tesla Model S (2014): What's It Like Inside?
The Tesla Model S is as high-tech as you’d hope inside. The instrument display is completely digital, but the centre of attention is a huge touchscreen system that controls everything from navigation and ventilation to opening doors and the sunroof. It’s slick, easy to operate and intuitive for anyone who has ever used an iPad.
It’s always connected wherever there’s mobile data reception, so mapping and music streaming via the built-in Spotify app are available even if you don’t pair your phone plus there is an onboard WiFi hotspot. This also enables the car to update itself over the air, with new functions added automatically at a convenient time.
From the driver’s seat the Tesla is incredibly simple. There is no ignition – the car detects the key – and there is no hand brake. Simply choose D on the drive selector and drive off. When you arrive, shift to P and get out. There’s nothing else to it and it’s surprisingly easy to get used to.
As a family car the Tesla Model S is very practical. There is no transmission tunnel, so the rear seats are spacious enough for adults, while the lack of a bulky engine means there is a luggage area up front and another in the rear, which is huge. Optionally you can get some occasional use, rear-facing child seats for the load area, too.
Impressive though it may be, the Model S isn’t flawless. For a car at this price, some of the interior materials are disappointing and the fit and finish could be better – a Mercedes-Benz E-Class does a far better job of interior quality than the Model S, even if it isn’t quite such a technological marvel.
The important gadgets come as standard, but there are options including air suspension, a high-end sound system, a power tailgate and enhanced functionality for Autopilot. It’s worth noting that some options are entirely software based, so can be unlocked (at cost) when you already have the car.
60 comes with a 60kWh battery, keyless entry, 19-inch alloy wheels, navigation with real-time traffic, over-the-air updates, Supercharger access, 17-inch touchscreen system, reversing camera, DAB radio, Bluetooth connectivity, front and rear load area, auto emergency brakes, various 12V and USB chargers.
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What's the Tesla Model S (2014) like to drive?
Tesla’s naming structure indicates battery capacity – so the 60 (which is being discontinued) has the smallest capacity battery and the 100 has the largest. The D suffix denotes dual motors – or all-wheel drive. There’s also a top, P100D model, which is designed with high performance in mind.
Range depends on driving conditions, weather, speed and various other factors including wheel size, but Tesla reckons the Model S 60 can get around 270 miles on a full charge, while the 100D can cover 424 miles between charges. Use air conditioning or pick up the pace and range decreases, but the Model S is still very much capable of long journeys.
Charge time depends on the type of charger, but if you’re planning to plug into a three-pin socket then you’ll have a long wait. But you can get a dedicated home charger fitted, plus there is support for most other charging formats. The best option for topping up when out and about is a Tesla Supercharger. These are free for the first 400kWh, then 20p per kWh afterwards and rapidly top up the battery.
The most striking thing about the way the Model S drives is the performance. Since there are no gears and torque is immediate, acceleration is seriously rapid even in the basic 60 model, while the P100D can get from 0-62mph in just 2.5 seconds. And all that performance is accompanied by nothing more than a gentle whir.
Since the batteries live under the floor and the electric motor (or motors) are compact, weight distribution is even and the centre of gravity is low. This makes the Model S handle surprisingly well for such a big car, with loads of traction through corners – though the steering is a little light.
If you drive on the motorway then the Autopilot feature will come in handy. It’s an adaptive cruise control system that can follow the car in front, steer and even change lanes automatically. It isn’t truly autonomous – you need hands on the wheel at all times – but it’s very effective and takes the pain out of a busy commute.
Around town the Model S feels quite big, but it’s manageable thanks to its smooth power delivery. Parking it in tight spaces can be a bit tricky because it is a bulky vehicle, but a reversing camera and some nifty parking sensors, which tell you exactly where and how far obstacles are, make things straightforward enough.
|100kWh Dual Motor||-||2.7 s||-|
|70kWh Dual Motor||-||5.2 s||-|
|85kWh Dual Motor||-||4.4 s||-|
|85kWh Dual Motor Performance||-||3.1 s||-|
|90kWh Dual Motor||-||4.2 s||-|
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