Tesla will soon have three battery-powered vehicles on the market, once the new, more affordable, Model 3 arrives. But until then, it’s the bigger Model S, launched for 2012, that spells Tesla to a lot of people. Its combination of luxury, spaciousness, stirring performance, and zero-emissions driving is almost impossible to find elsewhere. Perhaps best of all, the Model S' estimated range reaches far beyond that of most other electric cars. Even the new base model promises 210 miles before recharging is needed.
What's New for 2017
Unlike most automakers, which only update their vehicles once a model year, Tesla issues software updates "over the air" using a vehicle's built-in internet connection and makes upgrades to its models as they're built throughout each year. That makes it difficult to pin down what's new in a given year.
In spring 2016, Tesla made several updates, including a new front fascia, body-colored side rockers, revised rear diffuser, and full LED adaptive lighting. A higher-current charger also was added. Later in the year, a sweeping software update introduced enhanced radar processing for the Autopilot (semi-autonomous driving) option. It now uses four cameras and a dozen sonar sensors, promising twice the range of the prior version. Full self-driving capability, when available, will use eight cameras, available as a separate "Enhanced Autopilot" package.
Choosing Your Tesla Model S
Tesla offers four distinct batteries for 2017 and names its various Model S trims after them. The base Model S 60, introduced in 2016, uses a 60-kilowatt-hour battery, for example. There are also 75-kWh, 90-kWh, and high-performance 100-kWh trims. All-wheel-drive versions employ a dual-motor system and attach the letter "D" after the trim number. Range for all Model S sedans is measured in estimated miles on a single charge, which varies according to the size of the battery. Owners can charge the Model S at 120 or 240 volts, or quick-charge via Tesla's Supercharger network.
Mounting the battery on the floor gives the Model S a lower center of gravity, which enhances handling and reduces rollover risk. Because there’s no gas engine, the front crumple zone is considerably larger than on other performance sedans. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the early Model S five-star ratings, but the 2017 model has not been crash-tested by that federal agency. Standard active-safety features include collision avoidance and automatic emergency braking. Optional Autopilot allows the Model S to steer within a lane, change lanes automatically, and manage speed by using “traffic-aware” cruise control.
The Model S comes in four battery ratings, with rear-drive or four-wheel drive:
Teslas are eligible for EV incentives from the federal government as well as certain state or local agencies. Incentives lower the price somewhat, but Teslas are expensive automobiles. Options add up quickly, too. The 90D is probably the most logical compromise between price and range; but earnest battery-power aficionados seeking a supremely serious sports sedan might well be satisfied with nothing less than the P100D.