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:
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.