Tesla Model S Plaid review

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Tesla's Model S all-electric luxury car is frantically quick in top Plaid all-wheel drive guise. Jonathan Crouch reports.

Ten Second Review

The Tesla Model S is arguably the most practical electric car on sale today, but to create something very special, its American manufacturer has added more power to create this top Plaid version - a Model S that has gained extra capability without really sacrificing anything. It has 1,020hp, goes 200mph, gets to 62mph in under 2 seconds and costs nearly £120,000. The best electric car yet? Quite probably.

Background

When Tesla launched its first electric car, the Roadster, in 2008, it was met with a fairly lukewarm reception. By the time the Model S arrived in 2014, however, the world was far more accepting of Tesla's pure-electric creations. By then, electric vehicles (EVs) were becoming almost commonplace, with the Nissan LEAF leading the way while less successful attempts like the Renault Twizy and Peugeot iOn were also on sale, although all were spoiled by one fundamental flaw: range.

When the Model S came along with its 300-plus-mile striking distance, as well as seven seats and two boots, the industry was a little bit stumped. Here was an electric car with the space of a medium-sized MPV, the performance of a supercar and the range of a petrol-powered citycar. Latterly, the brand has added a Dual Motor four wheel drive system to this car's proposition and based this drive system's development around the needs of an astoundingly quick Model S flagship variant, this Plaid variant. It's the car we're going to look at here, which features the range of visual exterior and interior updates most recently made to this design.

Driving Experience

This Plaid Model S derivative gets a massive 1,020hp, split roughly 30/70 between the front and rear axle. All that power gets this top Model S to 62mph in just 1.99 seconds - faster than the mental Porsche 911 Turbo S. It'll beat most of the Germans at full chat, too, with a 200mph top speed. Even the electric car's Achilles heel, WLTP driving range, is addressed, with the Model S Performance managing 396 miles between trips to the plug.

Provided by using one electric motor on each axle, the four-wheel drive system increases traction but let's be clear here; the inclusion of four-wheel drive does not make this Model S into any kind of SUV. The ride height is no greater than that of the standard car, and there's no rugged-looking body cladding as found on soft-roading estate cars like the Volvo V90 Cross Country. Instead, the Model S Plaid variant's four-wheel drive is there for performance and traction purposes, in much the same way that all-wheel drive is offered in the Jaguar F-Type range - a fact highlighted by the sport button marked 'Insane'.

Design and Build

Very little differentiates the look of this top Plaid variant from a standard Model S Long Range derivative - which means it shares all the changes recently made to update this long-running design. Originally, 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 competitor 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 Tesla 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.

Where, if you've ownerd this car previously, you'll find a completely updated cabin. There's the weirdest steering wheel we've ever seen, cut in half like the tiller from a space ship. The 17-inch cinematic display central screen is completely different too, as before controlling everything from the air-conditioning to the air suspension. And you can specify a further central screen for the rear.

As before, 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 we'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. 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 price is around £119,000, but most buyers will purchase on a lease deal. With such a technologically advanced car, perhaps it's no surprise that there's a wealth of gizmos to keep you both safe and entertained on the road. As well as the usual safety stuff, like a reversing camera, blind spot monitoring and so on, the Tesla is offered with a system called Autopilot, which works with a forward-facing camera, radar and sonar to help you navigate the traffic. Simply tapping the indicator in the preferred direction is enough to persuade the car to change lanes - no steering input required. It can park the car for you too and it'll read traffic signs. With your safety taken care of, it's probably fitting to move on to the infotainment features, numerous as they are.

The touchscreen works similarly to a tablet or smartphone and it has internet access, so the satellite navigation system runs Google Maps and you can synchronise it with your calendar so the car will automatically navigate to wherever you need to be. Other goodies include a WiFi hotspot, climate control, keyless entry, heated seats and leather upholstery, all of which are standard features, alongside the optional Premium Interior and Lighting, which provides slightly more tactile materials, a powered tailgate and cornering headlights.

Cost of Ownership

How much a Model S Plaid will cost you to run really has less to do with your driving style and more to do with your energy provider and when you choose to charge up. Tesla recommends fitting a Tesla Wall Connector, which can charge a car at up to 68 miles of range per hour of charging, although the company says this will be cheapest between about 11pm and 7am, when electricity is in the least demand. Even if you charge in the middle of the day, though, it's still likely to be an awful lot cheaper than filling up with petrol.

While the Wall Connector may be a cheap and quick way of charging your Tesla, it isn't the cheapest or even the quickest. If you use one of the Tesla Superchargers popping up across the country, you could charge your car in about an hour and not pay a penny, because Tesla has made the Superchargers free for all owners.

These cheap running costs come at a price, though, because you'll be spending around £120,000 to get behind the wheel of this eco-friendly super saloon. It's expensive, but when you consider that a top-of-the-line Mercedes S-Class will set you back similar money and cost far more to run and tax, perhaps it isn't bad value.

Summary

With this top Plaid variant, Tesla has, quite simply, taken the Model S - a car which already held the title of the world's recognisable luxury electric car - and made it even more versatile. Putting extra power into a four-wheel drive Model S was probably unnecessary. It's hard to imagine anybody taking a look at the standard Model S 'Long range' variant and thinking: "Nice, but surely it could do with much more performance".

Still, although that may not have been the question we were asking, we should be grateful that Tesla has answered it. With two motors providing 1,020bhp between them and driving all four wheels, Tesla's Model S Performance is an EV capable of tackling pretty much anything. It's now a fully fledged super saloon, with the ability to carry the whole family even when a light dusting of snow falls. Add in the 396-mile range and you're left with what would appear to be the most capable electric car to date.

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