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Engine options, top speed, acceleration and refinement

It wouldn’t be possible to combine the Tesla Model S’s remarkable refinement, potency and calming ease of use in one combustion-engined saloon.

Install a sufficiently large piston engine to deliver the same outright speed as this all-American EV and – unless you’re Rolls-Royce – you’re likely to end up with noise, vibration, complication and even physicality in the driving experience. None of which the Model S suffers in the slightest.

The Tesla Model S gains speed effortlessly

Modern performance saloons are made better by some of that, of course – but that’s not what the Model S is about. Rather, it’s like the 21st century’s equivalent of the old V12 Jaguar, BMW or big Benz: torquey, suave, relaxing – a privilege and a rare pleasure to just waft around in.

The genius of its delivery is all about instant, perfect accelerator response. Flatten it and the now defunct Model S 85D we tested, takes off from a standing start with the ferocity of a super-saloon. We timed the car at a 4.7sec two-way average to 60mph, which is marginally slower than Tesla’s claim. But it’s also faster than the Mercedes-Benz CLS 63 AMG we timed – a car that was burning fossil fuel at a rate of 7.8mpg.

The Tesla Model S can’t sustain being flat out for very long, however. For short bursts of full-power acceleration, the electric powertrain works brilliantly. But we couldn’t complete one flying lap of the dry handling circuit before the battery, inverter and electric motor tripped into safe mode and cut peak output by at least 50 percent.

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Nevertheless, the Model S likes to stretch its legs. But even more wonderful is how precisely and effortlessly you can meter out that pace. Surges of force from that electric motor carry the Tesla forwards like a stiff breeze does as it hits the spinnaker of a racing yacht.

And its response borders on the incredible at the most normal of speeds – 40mph – where the reduction gearing puts the powertrain simultaneously at peak power and peak torque.

At motorway speeds, where most EVs are out of their depth, the Model S strides on comfortably, able to pick up an extra 20mph in a moment.