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Tesla Model S engines, drive and performance

2014 onwards (change model)
Performance rating: 4.6 out of 54.6

Written by Keith Adams Published: 9 October 2023 Updated: 9 October 2023

  • Two models to choose from – both quick and efficient
  • Performance from both is highly impressive
  • Longer range alternatives now available

The Tesla Model S range is easy to navigate – you get the choice between regular and Plaid models. The regular Model S has a claimed 394-mile range, maxes out at 155mph and has a 0-60mph time of 3.1 seconds. The Plaid takes you up to 200mph with options and the 0-60mph time drops to 2.0 seconds. Range is reduced to 373 miles, not bad given it has an extra motor.

The regular Model S has four-wheel drive with two motors as standard, one in the front and one in the rear. Torque is independently controlled between the front and rear wheels, helping acceleration off the line. Plaid versions add another motor to the rear axle to give independent control of both wheels and give more power. The 1,020hp headline figure makes this one of the fastest accelerating production cars in the world.

And performance really is eye-opening. Full-bore acceleration is like no other car, with a surge that just keeps coming. It’s a party trick, though, and we soon found ourselves driving the Model S Plaid in Chill mode – because who really needs that much acceleration on our crowded little island? More relevantly, mid-range acceleration is impressive, with overtaking dispatched with comical ease – good job as you’re sat on the wrong side of the car in this left-hand drive model.

What’s it like to drive?

  • Decent but not outstanding to drive
  • It’s a big car and feels it on tighter roads
  • More comfortable options in the class

Discerning executive car buyers expect their cars to be good to drive, and while it’s not class-leading, Tesla Model S handling characteristics are nonetheless pretty good. It’s difficult not to allow your impressions to be dominated by its tyre-shredding performance, but you do get used to the acceleration on offer, and it almost starts to feel normal after an extended run.

It’s certainly a sharper drive than the far softer Mercedes-Benz EQS and BMW i7, with decent body control over undulating roads and tenacious grip. However, it doesn’t feel quite as polished as the BMW and the Porsche Taycan leaves it for dead dynamically. We’ve no issue with the Tesla’s brakes in normal use, which feel more natural than the EQS and Taycan’s long pedal travel.

Instead, it’s the remote steering and the way it clumsily deals with bumps that make its German rivals feel superior. Ride quality is also disappointing for a car with such a lavish technical spec, with a jittery, unsettled ride in town and on the motorway. Bodyroll is kept to a minimum, though. There’s no doubt the Taycan is a more agile, entertaining thing in the bends, while the i7 suits those who prefer comfort.

A word for Autopilot, though. Often cited as being more advanced than rival adaptive cruise systems, we can’t really see the advantages. It’s not as glitchy as it used to be, but it’s far from being the hands-off system fanatics say it is. Lane-keeping can be jittery, and automatic slowing for turns via a sat-nav route works inconsistently. With patience, you’ll adapt to it, but do keep your wits about you as it’s nowhere near 100% fail-safe.

Finally, being left-hand drive only and occupying a US-sized footprint, the Model S is no fun threading through UK towns and cities, country lanes or your favourite B-road. Yes, some city dwellers will wecome kerbside egress and ingress, and regular continental drivers will approve, but we suspect they’ll be be in the minority.