Tesla's Model S has revolutionised the way we think about electric cars. There affordable version is the all-wheel drive Model S 70D. Jonathan Crouch assesses its chances.
Ten Second Review
The Tesla Model S has already established its incredible credentials. Here, we look at the most affordable 70kWh version that still whizzes to 62mph in under six seconds yet nevertheless boasts an effective range of 275 miles, offers all-wheel drive and comes in at less than £60,000.
You've probably seen the hype about the Tesla Model S. Here it comes, this amazing piece of all-conquering technology that, at a stroke, manages to make all conventional cars look about as modern as oxcarts. Behind all the clickbait headlines, there's a lot that's real and accessible about the Model S, but the price has been a bit of a sticking point. Initially, the car was slated to carry a price tag somewhere north of £80,000 over here, which made it pretty much irrelevant to most car buyers. Then something interesting happened. Tesla started giving us options. Today, the top-spec 'Performance D' model with the 85kWh power pack would still cost around £85,000 on the road, but the ordinary all-wheel drive 85 kWh variant these days costs under £70,000 and you can get a 2WD version of that car for well under £65,000. Even more affordable is the variant we're going to look at here, the all-wheel drive 70 kWh 70D model, priced for a £60,000 budget. It could be the best Tesla Model S propect yet.
No, the 70kWh version of the Model S doesn't have the neck-snapping acceleration of the otherworldly 85kWh car, but it's certainly no slowcoach. The motor generates an equivalent 257bhp front and rear, so 62mph from rest is just 5.2 seconds away, which will be quick enough for most. There's still that uncanny feeling of being gathered up by a giant hand and thrown down the road, such is the relentlessness of the electric motor's torque. It'll keep going to 140mph, making the Tesla a car that can acquit itself comfortably on a motorway run. The 'D' in the car's '70D' name doesn't stand for a smoky oil burner but instead designates the addition of the 'Dual Motor' option - Tesla's way of describing 4WD. The 'All Wheel Drive Dual Motor' set-up, to give the system its full name, changes this car's mechanical configuration. So you move from the simple layout of the original 2WD Model S - that of having a single 380bhp electric motor slung out over the rear axle driving the back wheels - to one that, as the terminology suggests, offers two electric motors, one sitting on the front axle, the other driving from the rear. That gives the perfect recipe for AWD traction.
Design and Build
Tesla deliberately set out to style this car in a relatively conservative fashion so as not to alienate its core buyers. There's even a dummy air intake at the front. The car it most closely resembles in external dimension is a Porsche Panamera, but when you check the tape measure you realise quite what a massive car this is. At 4978mm long, 1964mm wide and 1435mm high, it's 8mm longer, 33mm wider and 17mm taller than a Panamera, which is already a pretty sizeable hunk of automotive real estate. The width makes it feel a handful on narrow city streets but there's plenty of space inside. The car is a comfortable five-seater and can even be configured into a seven seat mode thanks to a pair of the cleverest rear-facing occasional seats I've ever seen. They flip out of the boot floor and while they may only be good for small kids, it's a trick that few will see coming. With no internal combustion engine to package, the Model S has storage front and rear totalling a massive 895-litres. Fold the rear seats flat and you get 1,642-litres of luggage capacity. The dashboard is dominated by a monster 17-inch colour touch pad display that controls everything from the air-conditioning to the air suspension. Parts quality inside is extremely good although the eagle-eyed amongst you might well spot some Mercedes-Benz switchgear. Still, that's no bad thing.
Market and Model
The relatively affordable £60,000 budget required for ownership of this Model S 70D means that it's now able to put the frighteners on cars like the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, the Audi A6 and the BMW 5 Series, not to mention the Lexus GS, the Jaguar XF and the lower orders of the Porsche Panamera range. The price also makes this all-electric car a tempter for those with a £60k ceiling on their company car budget. Equipment is also a tough one to compare, so focused is the Model S on its integrated touch-screen display. This includes an internet browser, internet radio, Google maps navigation, a high definition reversing camera and Bluetooth. The All Glass Panoramic Roof is constructed from lightweight safety glass. With a simple swipe of the touchscreen, it opens wider than any other saloon's panoramic roof. Other neat touches? How about the charging port that's hidden in the taillight. This pops open automatically as it detects the connector cable nearing it.
Cost of Ownership
Do the sums and it's hard not to get a bit seduced by the Tesla Model S. Incentives such as zero showroom tax, zero Vehicle Exercise Duty and exemption from London's Congestion Charge sweeten the deal and Model S owners can also look forward to saving thousands of pounds in fuel cost over the life of their car. Instead the Model S can simply be plugged in and charged from any electrical outlet. UK buyers who choose a Model S as a company car can also benefit from a 5% Benefit-In-Kind (BIK) rate. Compared to the standard BIK rates of 24-28% for a typical premium ICE saloon, this incentive helps make Model S even more attractive to corporate clients. An annual service fee covers an annual inspection, replacement parts like brake pads and windscreen wipers, 24 hour roadside assistance, system monitoring, remote diagnostics, software updates, and new features sent through the touchscreen. It's possible to charge the battery half way in about 30 minutes using Tesla's 'supercharger' but as with most elements of this car, it requires a change in your way of thinking. That also includes taking into account the 275 mile range, which is a little more restrictive than the 310 mile figure of the 85kWh version.
The Tesla Model S will change you. Really. Suddenly the old ways of doing things seem utterly antiquated. It won't be for everyone. You need to be able to fit the car's range to your lifestyle, and you also need to be able to charge the thing, which might well rule out many otherwise interested urban dwellers. The most remarkable aspect of the Model S is that it actually works. It's here and it marks the moment the electric vehicle really came of age. In many regards, the Model S couldn't have been built by a 'legacy' car manufacturer. It's an entirely new way of thinking. You only have to sit inside it to realise this. It's not as if Elon Musk's team has tried to reinvent the wheel. It's just that they were able to recognise that the wheel had been rolling in the wrong direction. Try it. You'll see.