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.