Market shocker. Alternative-propulsion cars have come and gone throughout the decades. Some have been no more grounded in reality than a fairytale; others enjoyed brief bursts of hype before settling into a dusty corner of history. Nothing, it seemed, could topple the reign of gas and diesel.
That changed when the Tesla Model S hit the scene. It had range, it had flair, it had style. It was usable on a day-to-day basis without resembling the final project of a high school geek squad. Above all, it proved electric cars could be cool. With the Model S, the electric car suddenly had a shot at real success.
All this was seven years ago. Today, the 2019 Tesla Model S remains a leader in its segment, setting the bar for style and performance. The latest changes to the Model S – there are technically no model years, so updates happen whenever CEO Elon Musk waves his magic wand – have seen the entry-level models eliminated in favor of the two higher-tier trims known as Long Range and Performance. In either iteration, the Tesla Model S is an appropriately luxurious automobile that still shows the world electricity can be just as good as gas.
Performance and range. The merit of an electric car hinges on its ability to offer decent range. Tesla understands this, and the Model S reflects that understanding with its impressive 315 (Performance) and 335 (Long Range) miles of EPA-estimated range.
Both available trims use a 100 kW battery paired with all-wheel drive. The Long Range gets two separate electric motors making 259 horsepower each, while the Performance gets a single electric motor putting out 503 hp.
Long Range cars unsurprisingly go the longer distance on a charge. Performance models sacrifice 20 miles of range in the name of acceleration, but speed junkies will find the trade-off well worth it. With characteristic instant torque – the electric motors mean there's no need to get the engine into its powerband for maximum thrust – the Performance Model S can slingshot off the line with neither drama nor sound. From a standstill, 60 mph will arrive in three seconds flat.
Tack on the $15,000 Ludicrous Mode option on the Performance model and that very quick acceleration time drops to an ungodly-quick 2.4 seconds. This easily makes the Model S one of the fastest cars in the world, running neck and neck with the most advanced hypercars from the most prestigious brands. Just don't expect to benefit from the maximum 315 miles of range when sampling these gravity-bending launches.
Besides being fast in a straight line, the Model S is also a competent handler. It tracks flat and assuredly along twisty roads, something that's no doubt helped by battery packs mounted under the floor and close to the road. The standard air suspension keeps things smooth and steady on pockmarked pavement and further improves driver confidence. That a 5,000-pound car can play like this is no small feat.
Style and space. It's hard to believe that seven years have passed since the world was first wowed by the Tesla Model S. In that time, the car has only been privy to a nose job – the rest of it remains untouched by designers and, it seems, time itself. Few cars have been lucky enough to age as gracefully as the eternally-handsome Model S.
This sense of style extends to the interior, where understated elegance is again the name of the game. Unfortunately, as slick as it looks at a glance, closer inspection will leave some luxury shoppers disappointed. Unlike, say, a German car of a similar caliber, the interior of the Model S doesn't have a sense of occasion, instead coming off as rather sterile. The fit, finish, and materials all seem a class below where they should be. We imagine that any sense of exclusiveness the cabin initially offers will wear off fast.
What won't wear off is the spaciousness. Due to being a hatchback rather than a sedan, there's 26 cubic feet of space behind the rear seats, which is more cargo area than any sedan and on par with small crossovers. A front trunk will carry an additional five cubic feet of valuables.
The roominess won't go unnoticed by passengers. Those sitting in the back will find plenty of stretch-out space; the airy feeling is helped by the ample head room and seat backs that are more reclined than in most cars and crossovers. It's the same story up front where there's plenty of room to lounge and relax. Such behavior is encouraged by the comfortable and supportive seats with 12-way power adjustment.
In-car technology. Of course, the Model S is also packing the expected boatload of technology, most of it hiding in the 17-inch touchscreen that dominates – no, is – the center stack.
Nearly everything is embedded within this massive screen. This could have spelled disaster for drivers, and it certainly would've were it as clumsy a system as the first-generation CUE from Cadillac or the early BMW iDrive. Luckily, this isn't the case here. The operating software makes things easy and intuitive for new users and effortless for those who are familiar with it.
The usual roster of active-safety features is standard, but the Autopilot and Full Self-Driving capabilities remain optional. The latter makes sense as an extra-cost feature, but the regular Autopilot seems overpriced at $3,000; considering it's little more than adaptive cruise control and lane keeping assist, we'd expect it to come standard on this usually-six-figure car.
Final thoughts. The Model S wowed the world in 2012 because it was such a complete automobile – in style, in substance, and in performance. Now, with Tesla's full network of supercharger stations across the country, the last serious concession with owning an electric car has been largely eliminated. The last time there had been an electric this competitive, drivers still had to dodge the occasional horse and buggy.
For those wishing to leave gas stations behind forever, there's still no better choice than the 2019 Tesla Model S. As the competition struggles to build a worthy competitor, the Model S will go on showing the world that the electric car is finally ready for the prime-time.