From £58,6009
UK-market version of Tesla’s electric saloon remains brilliantly executed in all but a few ways

Our Verdict

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What is it?

The ground-breaking, game-changing, preconception-smashing Tesla Model S, finally available in right-hand-drive form to UK buyers. It’s been a long time coming. Autocar regulars will know how highly we rate it, having taken in our full road test – and our video review – last year. Both are laced with superlatives – which are richly deserved by what is probably still the most convincing electric production car the world has ever seen.

Read more about Tesla's electric SUV and BMW 3-series rival

Apart from the steering wheel being on the normal side, there are a few other detail changes to report on, implemented since our road test last year. Nothing too significant – and unfortunately, nothing that addresses the few reservations we had about this car back then, either. But importantly, also nothing that ultimately takes the shine off what remains an absolutely outstanding execution – and one of the most appealing premium cars available at any price.

What's it like?

Mostly, the same as it was. Stripped back to its essentials, the Model S is a mid-sized executive saloon with a hatchback boot – into which Tesla will fit two extra rearward-facing ‘jump’ seats on request. The fact that it also has a large carpet-lined boot under the bonnet makes the car remarkably practical – discovery of which would also surely make even the most disinterested passenger begin to suspect that this isn’t the typical luxury conveyance.

The car has a gigantic lithium-ion battery pack under the floor, and a three-phase electric motor packaged between the rear wheels. As standard – and for a smidgeon over £50k – you get 302bhp and 60kWh of battery capacity, the latter probably being enough for a real-world range of about 180 miles. Go for the ‘Performance’ version and those numbers rise to £69k, 416bhp, 85kWh, and about 220 miles. For another £14k, Tesla will provide the ‘Performance Plus’ version with its sport-tuned, height-adjustable air suspension, performance wheels and tyres and various other go-faster touches  – in which spec we road-tested the car last year, and were provided with a car again for this subsequent test.

Such a big battery means, as well as taking longer than the average EV to discharge, the Model S takes its time to charge. Tesla’s UK-market offering includes a seven-pin ‘Mennekes’ style cable that’ll plug into the kind of wallbox that the likes of British Gas or Chargemaster will fit at your home, but not your regular three-pin indoor socket. In our experience, a full charge from the former takes anything up to 14 hours. 

The first of Tesla’s ‘Supercharger’ three-phase rapid chargers for the United Kingdom are now in the planning phase, however. Capable of a full charge on an 85kWh car in less than an hour, they will be built in just-off-motorway locations on arterial routes out of London towards Bristol, Birmingham and Dover. 

Back to the car. As explained, Tesla’s changes to the Model S comprise mostly of software updates for the many and various primary and secondary systems, and detail changes to the interior. 

That interior looks a bit smarter and more contemporary, with a new instrument binnacle surround, new fascia trims, and neater stitching on the leathers covering the seats and panels. The cabin’s a comfy and agreeable place to be, and its crowning glory remains that huge central touchscreen through which you control pretty well everything besides going, stopping, steering and indicating. The Google Maps sat-nav system on it remains frustratingly slow to refresh – because it’s downloading mapping all the time via a 3G data modem.

Tesla’s added a voice control solution called Rdio, which is supposed to allow you to control the nav and audio systems with simple spoken commands. We couldn’t make it work at all. 

Read more about Tesla's planned UK R&D centre

Meantime, there remain one or two slightly frustrating shortcomings on the inside of this car that you don’t expect to put up with. Oddment storage is thin on the ground (still no door-pockets, Tesla – really?). And fit and finish is pretty slapdash, too; the top of the dashboard flexes like it’s slowly becoming unstuck. However, the right-hand-drive execution of the car is good; the pedals and wheel are where they should be, and the central touchscreen has been reconfigured for RHD convenience. 

One of the software updates for the Model S, Tesla says, was to ‘refine’ throttle response. Never felt like it needed much refining to us. But if it was immediate before, it’s now unbelievably sharp. Whether you’re at a standstill or coasting along at urban speeds, the Model S surges forward with absolutely instant muscular potency – often before you’ve even realised yourself that your right foot is already moving. And still, there’s almost no noise accompanying that incredible, burly response – which makes it all the more brain-scrambling.

The ‘Performance Plus’ version of the car tries to match that other-worldly powertrain to a properly sporting chassis, but it only succeeds in part. The air suspension is a touch hyperactive over a choppy surface, and feels skittish at times and short on wheel control. The electromechanical power steering, meanwhile, remains inconsistent; overly heavy at the extremities of lock, short on centre feel, and generally big on friction and short on feedback. Both work okay, but neither’s what the car deserves. 

And both foibles could be addressed as part of a decent mid-life facelift on the car; perhaps it’s unrealistic to expect Tesla to have sorted them in an early model-year update. But the fact remains that they’re present, and they make the car feel a little unfinished. 

Should I buy one?

Don’t hold back on account of a couple of minor quibbles. The Model S offers an unusual mix of performance, luxury and ultra-convenience, low-cost motoring that absolutely nothing else on the market can get close to. Assuming its operational range is sufficient, the car will feel like a liberation from the normal bugbears of day-to-day life on the road: buying fuel, and putting up with a noisy, thirsty and relatively truculent combustion engine in heavy traffic. The Model S zips through traffic absurdly easily.

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We’d recommend either steering clear of the ‘Performance Plus’ chassis modifications, or waiting for later in the car’s life to buy the sporting version, though. Truth be told, we suspect this car will always make a more convincing alternative to a BMW 760i than an M5. Either way, if you want the definitive performance version of this definitive electric car, it isn’t ready yet.

Tesla Model S P85+

Price £83,480 0-62mph 4.2sec Top speed 130mph Economy 283Wh/mile CO2 na Kerbweight 2108kg Engine 3-phase AC induction motor Power 416bhp at 5000-6700rpm Torque 443lb ft at 0-5100rpm Gearbox Single speed reduction gearing

Join the debate

Comments
69

9 June 2014
Read the original Autocar mag review which beat the Porsche 'pig ugly' car and I think it was the Aston Martin. It's not a perfect car but it is desirable.
And if they can achieve this in just a few years the future's looking good (unlike the Porsche ‘Pano’ pig ugly thing), and it’s got the the big boys onto the electric way of thinking

 

Hydrogen cars just went POP

11 June 2014
Do they do it in any other colour other than red...........?
I've yet to see one!

9 June 2014
Despite the best efforts of Elon Musk and the army of fanboys to keep the lid on things there are hundreds of reports of dangerous defects in the Model S.
Examples include;
Tyres that are worn away on the inside after only 300 Km due to alignment problems.
Failure to proceed due to broken drive trains and battery components.
Failure to STOP due to wet brake rotors and brake pedals that sometimes go to the floor.
Dangerously distracting 17' display.

Slightly less serious problems are that the claimed 200 Mile range is measured at an average speed of 55 MPH.
At UK motorway speeds the range will be much lower.

The Model S also fails on its supposed GREEN credentials.
It uses over a ton of freshly refined enviro-vicious aluminium.
(no recycled cans for this behemoth!)

It is recharged by using mainly coal fired electricity.
Renewable in UK account for only 5% of electricity production.

Other than that, go right ahead....enjoy!

9 June 2014
Sample:

Re: Bad brakes
« Reply # 23 on: Sunday 23 March 2014, at 20:50 »
Quote Nuvolari:
"Do exactly the same. brakes feel bad and I have to press hard for effect. Additionally victory brake pedal if I keep pressure on the pedal" I have exactly the same on mine, but do not think the brakes are bad even though they are different and require more power one my old Mercedes, but when they are wet, I notice a big difference. However, I am concerned by the phenomenon Nuvolari writing about. On a normal car, this is a common test to check if the brakes are in order and take pressure test on the brake lines. This is the one common test is taken at workshops and vehicle inspection and own purposes. The pedal should not fall and sink downward when you press hard on it. It is normal driving ban on a car, if it happens. It does this on my car and it only takes about 4 seconds before it reaches the bottom. Just try them all. I have demonstrated this for Tesla on Skoyen and they were surprised. They tested this on several cars they had built with the same results and could not say anything except that it was as it should be. Seems a little strange, for about four years MOT wild do not find it, if not there would be some special specifications Tesla then. Have been "out" for the pedal a couple of times when standing and waiting at a red light in the downhill. Recommend everyone to test this on the Tesla's. Go out, "start" the vehicle and depress the brake pedal firmly. Find out what's happening.

9 June 2014
Keef Wivanef wrote:

.....

It is recharged by using mainly coal fired electricity.
Renewable in UK account for only 5% of electricity production.

Other than that, go right ahead....enjoy!

If only you hadn't started quoting the 5% figured I wouldn't have bothered but it's currently over 11% and will be 15% by 2020 and far higher in Germany, demark etc. Better research next time please. Perhaps we should scrap Ferrai's as they catch fire all the time, Toyota's as they fail to slow down, GM's as their seat belts fail, Ford SUV's as they roll over all the time etc..., your bias makes me laugh.

 

Hydrogen cars just went POP

9 June 2014
So now that you've festooned the landscape with windmills the figure has risen a little.
Whooptee Doo!
So the Terdsla is driven by 85% non-renewable energy.
It's made from a shirtload of energy hungry aluminium and toxic environmentally damaging batteries.
It's a RICH WANKERS car subsidised by taxpayers.
Whatever floats your boat :)

TS7

9 June 2014
Keef Wivanef wrote:

So now that you've festooned the landscape with windmills the figure has risen a little.
Whooptee Doo!
So the Terdsla is driven by 85% non-renewable energy.
It's made from a shirtload of energy hungry aluminium and toxic environmentally damaging batteries.
It's a RICH WANKERS car subsidised by taxpayers.
Whatever floats your boat :)

Such is the eloquence of your argument you must be all of 13.

9 June 2014
Did you hear the one about the brakes?
Laugh?
I nearly fouled my undergarments!

Re: Bad brakes
« Reply # 31 on: Today at. 8:21 »
Tested mine now and the pedal sinks to the bottom. The brakes seem to work fine when it's dry, but wet / slush go there for a few seconds before there is any particular effect. Can to some extent be compensated by pressing harder, but if one is unprepared feel as if there basically does not have brakes. If you drive a few minutes before the next braking so that discs and pads are cold and wet again the same thing happens again. Should I be worried?

« Reply # 32 on: Today at. 8:41 »
Quote from: Muffinman on Today at. 8:21
Yes, undoubtedly. Sinking pedal to the bottom and you do not have braking on a car at over 2 tons so it does not matter what the reason is. The car is dangerous to use the manufacturer has corrected the problem permanently.

snurrehue

Re: Bad brakes
« Reply # 33 on: Today at. 8:54 »
Quote from: Brede on Yesterday at. 8:04 p.m.
TODAY MY GRANDFATHER'S GIRLFRIEND WAS HIT FROM BEHIND BY A TESLA. THE TESLA DRIVER CLAIMED THAT HE HAD NO BRAKING POWER AND HAD NO CHANCE TO STOP.

As I wrote earlier in another thread: this is actually a very safety and MUST result in a recall of Tesla. It is completely unacceptable, regardless of car, with unreliable brakes. A Model S is a car for over 2 tons and will trigger major forces in a collision. This time it was a car that apparently, he who drove the Tesla is telling the truth, had failing brakes. Next time it could be a mother with baby in a pedestrian being hit. brakes DO work at any time. A mandatory requirement

9 June 2014
xxxx wrote:
Keef Wivanef wrote:

.....

It is recharged by using mainly coal fired electricity.
Renewable in UK account for only 5% of electricity production.

Other than that, go right ahead....enjoy!

If only you hadn't started quoting the 5% figured I wouldn't have bothered but it's currently over 11% and will be 15% by 2020 and far higher in Germany, demark etc. Better research next time please. Perhaps we should scrap Ferrai's as they catch fire all the time, Toyota's as they fail to slow down, GM's as their seat belts fail, Ford SUV's as they roll over all the time etc..., your bias makes me laugh.

If it wasn't for the fanatic Tesla fans saying this is the car of gods but actually letting the shortcoming get through there wouldn't be so much resistance to this car. But from Musk and the Tesla church members to some easily impressed journalist that don't even mention the lack of infrastructure or it seems to be a no problem, people get tired of glorification of a car that is nothing but an EV with a whole lot more expensive batteries than other EVs. For it's price the offered range, performance and space is nothing more than expected.

Dan

9 June 2014
xxxx wrote:

If only you hadn't started quoting the 5% figured I wouldn't have bothered but it's currently over 11% and will be 15% by 2020 and far higher in Germany, demark etc. Better research next time please.

Have you been to Denmark recently, the entire countryside has been visually ruined by the intrusion of tens of thousands of windmills, it's almost impossible to drive for more than a few km's without seeing them. If this is the price of freedom from fossil fuels than I want none of it.

Personally I think anyone buying one of these is an idiot. I also think first owners will have a hard time shifting on cars with high KM, who want to buy one second hand then get lumbered replacing the battery? I live in Norway and even making electric vehicle exempt from tax and tolls won't get me behind the wheel.

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