Tesla Model S Review 2023 | Top Gear
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Tuesday 28th March
Arguably the biggest step forward for EVs since the Prius, Tesla shows cylinders may have had their day

Good stuff

Scintillating acceleration, interior design, massive range

Bad stuff

Not the most enthralling to drive


What is it?

Tesla’s first mass-market all-electric car was launched – would you believe –  way back in 2012. In EV-years, that’s a very long time ago indeed. Advances in battery technology and the like mean electric cars have come on leaps and bounds since then, yet somehow the Model S still does the business. It still feels fresh, both to drive and to live with.

This four-door, five-seat saloon is the car that established Elon Musk’s California-based company as a force to be reckoned with, a company whose products deserve to stand alongside the likes of BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi.

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The Model S might have a fairly conventional silhouette – but what lurks beneath is far from it. Or at least it wasn’t in 2012. Two electric motors draw power from a 100kWh battery pack, driving all four wheels through a single-speed transmission.

Doesn’t sound that radical…

Bear with us. The drivetrain lives in a kind of skateboard, with the body bolted on top. This keeps the centre of gravity nice and low (battery packs are heavy old things, and the Model S has a much bigger one than most other mainstream EVs), which aids handling and means there’s loads of storage space in the cabin.

Nope, my mind still isn’t blown.

Wait for it. Performance is… significant. A quick YouTube search reveals thousands of videos of these things beating Lamborghinis, Ferraris, McLarens, Porsches and so on away from the lights. The fastest Model S Plaid adds a third motor into the mix and claims 0-60mph in less than two seconds. Even the bog-standard Model S does the same in 3.1 seconds.

… okay, that’s impressive.

Told you. An even more powerful Plaid+ version was planned with a scarcely believable 1,084bhp, but it was cancelled after Musk deemed the normal Plaid more than fast enough. If you do go for this you’ll have to make do with a mere 1,006bhp, or just 661bhp in the standard car. However will you cope?

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Sounds like I’ll manage.

You sure will. It’s addictively fast, whatever the spec – and that’s bad news for range, which Tesla puts at 405 miles for the entry-level car and around 396 miles for the Plaid. So at least you’ve got more distance to play with than most other electric-car drivers.

In reality, the Model S ought to run for over 300 miles on a single charge. And if you do find yourself running low, owning a Tesla gives access to a network of high-speed chargers called ‘Superchargers’ that can top you up in minutes, not hours. There are more than 30,000 stations worldwide, including 780 in the UK at the time of typing.

Charging costs vary as some Teslas include an annual allowance of free charging, but if you’re paying in the UK you’re looking at 28 pence per kilowatt-hour. Tesla reckons this amounts to £81 for every 1,000 miles, which is cracking value against most combustion-engined cars. And if you have the freedom to charge at home, you'll slash those running costs further still.

Want to know what the best electric cars are? Click here for the top 20

Our choice from the range

What's the verdict?

The future is here and it's amazing. The Model S is a true game-changer

There's no denying the Model S is a mightily impressive achievement - and from a company whose only previous credit was a Lotus Elise-based roadster. A usable amount of range, decent handling and plenty of tech-y appeal, the Model S has made the mainstream manufacturers sit up and take notice. 

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