2017 Tesla Model S

Styling

Before the introduction of the Tesla Model S in 2012, most Americans thought of an electric car as small and dorky. The big and bold design of the Model S changed all that—and made electric cars cool and sexy.

In 2012 and 2013, every sighting of a Model S was remarkable and somewhat shocking. Seeing one rolling down the street, you couldn’t help but stop in your tracks to admire its broad stance, sleek lines, and chest-pounding confidence. Today, the novelty has mostly worn off, especially in big cities in California and on the coasts where seeing a Model S is a daily occurrence. The Model S now elicits pretty much the same casual but fawning admiration received by a Maserati, Jaguar, or Aston Martin, which bear some resemblance to Tesla’s big sedan.

The automotive press has unanimously endorsed the Model S design as a winner. Any minor blemishes—for example, visibility is not great—don’t undermine the beauty of the Model S design, which succeeded in its mission to make a full-size all-electric sedan as attractive as possible. In terms of looks, it arguably beats its gas-powered rivals, such as the Mercedes-Benz CLS, BMW 7-Series, and Porsche Panamera, while trouncing those vehicles for efficiency.

Tesla Model S

In the 2018 version, the Model S’s front fascia is consistent with the styling of the Model X SUV and the recently introduced Tesla Model 3. The headlights were repositioned, and the taillights were tweaked as well. The oval-shaped faux grille is now gone, replaced with a thin “mustache” accent that frames the Tesla logo. The decision to move away from styling cues that in any way mimic cars with internal combustion engines should come as no surprise. The fact that EVs are fundamentally different from gas cars is a huge source of pride for Tesla. The latest Model S model is still somewhat minimalistic on the inside, but a premium upgrade with more leather is available. And the décor options include Figured Ash Wood, Dark Ash wood, and Oak.

Performance

In its first review of the Model S, Edmunds.com said: “Acceleration is eerily quiet and incredibly potent. With all torque being immediately available, it's like being shot out of a gun barrel—with a silencer.” That description remains apt.

As impressive as the performance of the original Model S was, each successive year brought tweaks to its drivetrain, battery, and software (mostly delivered via over-the-air updates). Over the years, specs for the powertrain configurations were amped up. In fact, it's difficult to keep up with Tesla's steady flow of announcements about performance upgrades, new features, and the list of trim options.

All of the current Model S variants are now all-wheel-drive. The base Model S with a 75-kWh battery pack delivers zero-to-sixty-mph performance in 4.2 seconds with a top speed of 140 miles per hour. Upgrade to the 100D variant and the sprint to 60 miles per hour is trimmed to 4.1 seconds with a top speed governed to 155 mph. The P100D boosts performance cuts the zero-to-60 time to a mind-boggling 2.5 seconds.

Sharp handling and precise steering, along with a height-adjustable air suspension, gives the Model S excellent road manners. The Model S offers drivers the option of creeping forward from a standstill when you lift your foot off the brake or, for a purist EV experience, the car can remain still until you step on the accelerator. There are adjustable levels of regenerative braking, although even the highest level is not quite as aggressive as a BMW i3 or the Chevrolet Bolt while in Low.

Options for the Model S are abundant. The Enhanced Autopilot feature uses four cameras, and 12 sonar sensors allow the Model S to maintain its speed in traffic, stay centered in a lane, automatically change lanes, merge onto highways, and exit highways. As if that isn’t enough, you can Full Self-Driving capability so the car can also identify an available parking spot and then park itself. The “Summon” feature allows drivers to use a smartphone to retrieve the vehicle from a garage or nearby parking spot. It even can be configured to open and close the garage, and set the car to the desired temperature. (Be advised to keep your hands on the wheel. These features do not represent full autonomous driving.)

The “Premium Upgrades Package” includes an advanced air filtration system, adaptive LED headlights, additional leather interior trim pieces, lighted door handles and interior lighting, a power liftgate, a quick-connection phone dock, and sub-zero weather features. Separately, there is an option for rear-facing seats, which allows the Model S to carry up seven passengers by adding two seats for children in the third row. Again, the exact features in these packages—and their costs—are a moving target. It’s best to visit Tesla’s website close to the time of purchase.

Efficiency/Range

For 2018, there are three Model S powertrain configurations, each offering their own blends of efficiency and range. The 75D has a 259-mile range, while the 100D, with its bigger battery pack, provides an estimated 335 miles on a single charge. If you choose the more powerful P100D, you get a big jump in oomph but at the cost of some range, which drops to 315 miles per charge.

These are official numbers rather than real-world figures. As with gas-powered vehicles, your mileage will vary. In extremely hot or cold weather, your range will shrink as the car uses its battery to power climate control. When driven at moderate speeds in temperate climates though, Teslas have been to known see their ranges significantly outperform official EPA estimates. The current record set in a 100D is 670 miles.

The secret sauce of the Tesla Model S, both regarding power and driving range, is the use of nearly 7,000 small commodity battery cells, rather than the larger automotive modules used by other automakers. This strategy, once considered risky and still viewed as unorthodox, has proven effective, economical, and durable over time. Of course, these cars are still pricey—but Tesla’s unique engineering strategy is viewed as the key to eventually offering affordable mainstream electric vehicles with nearly as much range as petrol cars.

Elon Musk speculated that Tesla might one day offer a reasonably-priced battery upgrade that would extend the range of the Model S “into the 500-mile territory.”

Charging

Much in the way that Tesla pushes the limits of EV acceleration and range, the company offers the most elegant and powerful charging system in the marketplace. The Tesla Model S uses either an 11.5-kW or 17.3-kW charger. This means adding about 35 to 50 miles of range per hour of charging from a 240-volt source, rather than around 20 to 25 miles in that same hour with most other EVs.

The big battery pack used in the Model S makes this faster rate very useful—although most drivers will find that they have plenty of energy reserves on a daily basis for everyday driving (regardless of charging rate). Never satisfied to offer just the best—rather than the crazy over-the-top aspirational best—Tesla beats the competition for home charging rates when combined with adequate amperage from home electricity service and Tesla’s $500 High Power Wall Connector. In some states, Tesla offers professional installation of home charging.

2017 Tesla Model S

For Model S owners, the cherry on top of the EV ice cream sundae is the free use of the Tesla Supercharger network, which enables all-electric road trips. The network—consisting of strategically placed 120-kW rapid chargers that can add as much as 170 miles of range in just 30 minutes—is a stroke of genius by Tesla. There has been talk of limiting free usage to 400 kilowatt-hours per year for Model S owners, although that is not yet the case.

According to the company, about 98 percent of the US population has ready access to the Supercharger network. Consult with the Tesla website to see the current layout of Superchargers in your region: http://www.teslamotors.com/supercharger

Passenger/Cargo Room

The cabin of the Model S is attractive and spacious—although not as plush and refined as some high-end German flagship sedans in the same price range. There’s a little bit of American muscle in the relatively minimalistic hip design of the large Tesla EV. Again, a Premium Interior upgrade will add more leather and accoutrements.

What is certainly not minimalistic is the amount of cargo space and the liberal use of technology on the dashboard. The Model S trounces competitors for cargo because it not only has a spacious hatchback but a trunk in the front where other cars would need a lot of messy internal combustion components. Tesla cutely calls this space the “frunk,” a term that is now used for other EVs, including the Jaguar I-Pace. Many owners believe the abundance of storage and legroom match the utility of the top SUVs on the market. To be exact, you get 26.3 cubic feet, which expands to 58.1 cubic feet with the second-row seats folded down. Compare that to the Audi A7’s 24.5 cubes under its hatch and the 17.4 cubic feet in the Porsche Panamera.

The stark interior is dominated by a 17-inch iPad-like touch screen, giving digital control of nearly every automotive function. The interface is brilliant—a step above anything else you can drive. However, the gap between competitors is narrowing as the entire auto industry follows in Tesla’s footsteps and introduces relatively large touch screens. Lighting, climate, and music selection are intuitive.

The allure of the screen’s functionality—including full web browsing capability and high definition rear-facing camera that is available at any speed—can be distracting. Don't misunderstand: the ability to have a full screen for entering addresses and keywords for navigation is kick-ass. The homegrown audio system will also blow you away.

2017 Tesla Model S

Safety

Tesla asserts, “The Model S has the best safety track record of any vehicle in the world,” with a great deal of justification. Standard safety features for all Tesla Model S variants include head, knee and pelvic airbags for the front passengers, as well as front and rear side curtain airbags. All models have stability and traction control, crash sensors for a high-voltage disconnect, antilock disc brakes, and a rearview camera. Also, the rear-facing seat option augments the existing rear bumper with a second, high-strength aluminum framework.

The 2018 Tesla Model S has not yet been tested. The 2017 Model S earned the best scores from IIHS, except in two categories. The Tesla Model S’s headlights in 2017 were rated as “Poor.” The Model S also received only an “Acceptable” rating for the small overlap front crash test. That evaluation tries to replicate what happens when the front corner of a car collides with another vehicle, or with an object like a tree, at 40 miles per hour. Since the kinetic energy involved in a front crash depends on the speed and weight of the vehicle, the Tesla Model S’s “Acceptable” rating could be explained by crashes that are more severe than ones experienced by lighter cars.

In a statement, the company responded: “Tesla's Model S received the highest rating in IIHS's crash testing in every category except for one (sic), the small overlap front crash test, where it received the second highest rating available. While IIHS and dozens of other private industry groups around the world have methods and motivations that suit their own subjective purposes, the most objective and accurate independent testing of vehicle safety is currently done by the U.S. government, which found Model S and Model X to be the two cars with the lowest probability of injury of any cars that it has ever tested, making them the safest cars in history."

Price

The 75D offering 239 miles of range, sells for a base price of $74,500. The 100D, which provides the longest range of all variants at 335 miles, sells for $94,000. The high-performance P100D brings a significant jump in cost to $135,000. Tesla’s destination fee tacks on an additional $1,200 to each model.

These prices also do not reflect the $7,500 federal tax credit. (Make sure you have that much of tax liability to take advantage of the credit.) Additional tax incentives are available in different regions of the United States. Heads up that Tesla hit the 200,000-limit on federal incentives in June 2018. See our story about this milestone to understand the phase-out of incentives through 2019, when the tax credit will drop to zero for all Tesla vehicles.

Be prepared to bring a magnifying glass to the Tesla showroom so that you can read the fine print on a purchase agreement. A wide range of options and trim enhancements will quickly increase the price by many thousands of dollars. Expect any number of additional tacked-on fees—including a $600 annual service fee to cover inspection, replacement parts like brake pads and windshield wipers, 24-hour roadside assistance, system monitoring, remote diagnostics, and software updates.

The best way to get a more precise estimate cost is to visit the Tesla website and use its design/pricing tool.

Comparison with Similar Cars

Is there another electric car that can be fairly compared to the Tesla Model S? The short answer is none that aren’t also manufactured by Tesla. in professional reviews, the Model S commonly receives higher marks than the gas-powered Mercedes-Benz CLS and Porsche Panamera— regarding most performance and handling metrics, as well as visual style (although perhaps not in interior comfort).

Nonetheless, competition for the Model S is on the way, starting with the 2018 Jaguar I-Pace. The stylish, 240-mile Jaguar I-Pace is the British brand’s first battery-electric vehicle. The low-slung, small five-seat crossover is the first of several cars to challenge Tesla for drivers wanting long-range, luxury all-electrics. Starting at about $70,000 before incentives, the 394-horsepower I-Pace is already earning praise as a Jaguar halo car. Thanks to Jaguar’s association with Land Rover, the I-Pace has stronger off-road capabilities than the Model S or Model X. Expect more long-range, luxury EVs to arrive from Audi, BMW, Porsche in 2019 and 2020.

Purchase Process

Tesla does not want to merely revolutionize automotive technology, but to also change core business models in the auto industry. The company, primarily an automobile manufacturer, also owns and operates more than 200 stores around the world. Company executives argue that these retail stores are necessary for competing against the entrenched gasoline powered vehicle market.

“Our goal is to bring electric vehicles to the mass market by telling our story, educating the public about electric vehicles, and delivering the best car in the world,” said CEO Elon Musk. “The ability to sell cars through Tesla-owned stores is important for sustainable transportation and is the best chance a new electric car company has of succeeding."

Musk believes that EVs operate under a different set of rules, and therefore Tesla's stores in no way conflict with the dealer model for gas cars.

In fact, all Tesla purchases begin with an online order, whether placed at home or from one of the company’s showroom floors. Product specialists are also available by phone, between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. Pacific to answer questions. Call 1-888-518-3752.

Tesla Model S specifications

Availability: Now
Base MSRP: $71000
Est. tax credit: $7500
Technology: Electric Vehicle
Body type: Sedan
Seats: 5
EPA Range: 315 miles pure electric
Battery size: 100 kWh
Charging rate: 10.0 kW

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