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MPG

95 City / 100 Highway
Contributing Editor -

Although the new “affordable” Model 3 is grabbing most of the attention lately, the larger Tesla Model S carries on as the most direct route to practical electric-car technology. No other American-built, battery-powered sedan rivals the largest Tesla for luxury and spaciousness. Even better, the estimated range reaches far beyond other electric cars: more than 200 miles before recharging is needed.

What's New for 2016

Rather than make specific changes on an annual basis, like most manufacturers, Tesla upgrades its models sporadically throughout the year. In mid-2015, a new 90-kWh battery replaced the previous 85-kWh setup. Thus, the 85D and P85D models became 90D and P90D. Several months earlier, a 70-kWh battery replaced the prior 65-kWh, transforming the 65 series into the 70. A rear-drive 70 version was added during 2015. So was a “Ludicrous” performance mode for the top model, promising 0-60 mph acceleration in a barely believable 2.8 seconds.

Choosing Your Tesla Model S

Two distinct batteries are available, rated 70 kWh in the “70” series, and 90 kWh in the “90” series. Range, in miles on a single charge, varies according to battery rating. Both batteries can be charged at 120 or 240 volts, or quick-charged.

Mounting the battery on the floor gives the Model S a low center of gravity, greatly reducing rollover risk and enhancing handling. Because there’s no gas engine up front, the crumple zone is considerably larger than on other performance sedans. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has given the Model S five-star ratings.

Standard active-safety features include collision warning, blind-spot detection, lane-departure warning, and automatic emergency braking. Optional Autopilot allows the Model S to steer within a lane, change lanes by tapping the turn signal, and manage speed by using “traffic-aware” cruise control.

All-wheel-drive “D” versions are based on the dual-motor system that was developed for Tesla’s Model X crossover utility vehicle. A huge 17-inch touchscreen, in the center of the dashboard, integrates navigation, communications, cabin control, and vehicle data. Periodic software updates are transmitted directly to the car. In addition to carrying up to five adults, the Model S has space for two children, in optional rear-facing jump seats.

The Model S comes in four trim levels:

70

Priced at $70,000 (plus $1,200 destination charge), the rear-wheel-drive base Model S holds a 70-kWh battery and has a range of about 230 miles. Acceleration to 60 mph takes about 5.5 seconds. Standard equipment includes auto keyless entry, parking sensors, power-folding heated mirrors, navigation with real-time traffic updates, daytime running lights, and GPS-enabled HomeLink. Both 19- and 21-inch wheels are available.

70D

For an additional $5,000, the 70D adds all-wheel drive to the 70 sedan, with the same 70-kWh battery. Acceleration to 60 mph takes 5.2 seconds, and range is estimated by the EPA at 240 miles.

90D

The 90 version has all-wheel drive, uses a 90-kWh battery, reaches 60 mph in 4.2 seconds, and extends range to about 288 miles. The 90D adds $13,000 to the 70D's price.

P90D

Topping the Tesla S range, the P90D starts at $108,000, unleashes an astounding 713 pound-feet of torque, and offers an estimated range up to 270 miles. With the “Ludicrous” speed upgrade, the P90D can reach 60 mph in 2.8 seconds (without it, 3.1 seconds). Standard features include all-wheel drive, a carbon fiber spoiler, and red brake calipers.

Even the top model isn't fully loaded. Model S options include a "smart" air suspesnion, Premium Interior Lighting group, 12-speaker audio, and Subzero Weather Package.

All Model S owners are entitled to Free Long Distance travel via Tesla's Supercharger network, with fast-charge stations at more than 600 locations.

CarsDirect Tip

Note that Teslas are subject to incentives for electric vehicles, from the federal government as well as certain state or local agencies. Incentives lower the price somewhat, but these are still expensive automobiles. Options add up quickly, but the air suspension and Autopilot are especially worthwhile additions. The 90D is probably the best compromise between price and range; but earnest electric-car afficionados seeking a supremely serious sports sedan will probably be satisfied with nothing less than the P90D.

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