- Max Speed
Explain the Plaid again?
Ah yes, the Tesla Model S Plaid, so named because it’s the only speed faster than Ludicrous in the 1987 Star Wars parody movie Spaceballs. Hashtag ElonHumour. Basically a tri-motor electric saloon with 1,020bhp, 1,050lb ft and all-wheel drive.
The combination allows for pretty brutal acceleration: in the US the Model S Plaid has been clocked at 2.11 seconds to 62mph from rest, 4.19s to 100mph, 6.99s to 130mph and 0-150mph in 9.17 seconds. The quarter-mile was completed in 9.248 seconds at just over 150mph. It beats the Chiron up to 100mph.
But more shocking? It’ll run from 60 to 130mph in 4.65 seconds, less time than it has taken you to read this slightly extended sentence. That’s not just fast, it’s seriously embarrassing for modern day supercars; this is a five-seat luxury saloon with a big boot. And a big frunk. It’s also got Netflix. The chill is optional.
And will it run out of charge immediately if you use it?
Well, if you run combustion cars hard, efficiency drops, so we’d expect a shorter range at 190+mph. In the Plaid, a top speed run would kill the battery in 15-20 minutes. But the Plaid weighs in the region of 2,265kg with its 95kWh (useable) battery, and offers 373 miles of WLTP range. If you drive it normally, you wouldn’t even know it had such massive power reserves. That Porsche Taycan Turbo S? It’s slower, less efficient, has less range and space, and costs more. It can charge a little faster if you can find a big enough charger, but that’s a marginal gain.
But the Porsche handles better, surely?
Ah, well that’s where the Track Package comes in. Because it’s a suite of optional bits that aim to make the Model S Plaid as good at track work as it is at making unsuspecting passengers need extra laundry cycles.
So what exactly is the Track Package, then?
Well…. the 175mph Plaid already had some Track options for the software, which allowed for a higher top speed and the ability to change the stability control’s aggression, as well as bias power from front to back. Though with the tri-motor set-up, you can obviously only bias to the individual motor’s max power. So full front is 340bhp-ish, full rear 680.
The Track Package ups that game to include a whole host of extras, from hopped-up battery conditioning - including cool-down programmes after hot laps - to ensure better and more regular access to full power, a higher top speed (200mph), some different settings for the air suspension, and more aggressive torque vectoring.
That double-tonne speed without a gearbox is down to carbon-wrapped rotors in the motors, by the way, which allow for higher rpm and therefore more top end. As long as you’ve got the horsepower, the motors can manage about 25 per cent more than standard. And the Plaid has the horsepower.
It’s the hardware that’s the most obvious though. For roughly £16,000 in the UK, you also get the carbon-ceramic brake package (410mm rotors at both ends, with six-piston calipers on the front and four-piston on the rear), high-temperature brake fluid, and a ‘Zero-G’ wheel and tyre package that includes 20-inch lightweight forged aluminium wheels and Goodyear Supercar 3R tyres. Which come as 285-section at the front and 305 at the back. This is all retro-fit capable to any Model S Plaid by the way.
So the Plaid didn’t have a big brake kit as standard?
Nope. And it was one of the things Plaid owners mentioned as being a weak spot. A surprising amount of US Tesla owners do actually visit the track, and they’re not shy of pointing out issues. Also worth noting here that the tyres, although legal on the road in some US states, are track-use only in the UK, so you’d have to swap them from the standard fit 21-inch Michelin Pilot Sport 4Ss.
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Handily, the Model S’s boot is so big (709 litres) that if you put the seats down (1,829 litres), you can get all four track-spec wheels and tyres in the back. That sounds a bit trite, but if you’ve ever needed to load four wheels and tyres into a saloon - even a liftback like this - you’ll realise how capacious the Model S really is.
Big question is: does it actually work? Is it a track monster?
Yes and no. It all works, and yes, it’s a monster. But there’s a more nuanced aspect to this than just whether or not the Tesla Model S Track Package is a fast car on a track. Taken in isolation - whether on track or not - the Plaid needs the bigger brake package: a car this fast just really needs the best brakes it can have.
The software upgrades and cooling aspects just help the car cope with its own performance, and give it that extremely amusing ability. What’s really interesting are the various modes and controls that filter how the Model S Plaid behaves: these alter things like throttle aggression, the settings for the air suspension, steering weight and battery optimisation, as well as the way the computer torque vectors.
Drag mode drops the car into ‘Cheetah Stance’ - which is the car equivalent of a sprinter’s crouch - and allows for that ridiculous 0-62mph time. At any speed under 150mph, it simply thumps away at the horizon. On test at Paul Ricard, it easily hit 190mph on the Mistral Straight; the 200mph claim is absolutely reasonable. Slower-corner traction was excellent, and it hung on better than anything with five seats has a right to.
What about Track mode?
We’re getting to that. Track mode and the suite of customisation sliders allow you to run the drive bias from front to back (in five per cent increments) so you can be very front-biased or very rear. This is tremendous fun: in FWD mode, the car just feels very powerful and has the usual tendency towards understeer. Stick it all to the rear, and it immediately oversteers. In the middle you get both axles working hard, and tremendous grip.
So what’s up with it?
Well, the steering is still too light and numb; you change direction without much info to go on. And while traction generally isn’t an issue, you can spin up the front tyres on the way out of a corner and corrupt the steering. A totally analogue car would be more satisfying on track, because you could concentrate on your own performance as a driver.
We’re also less convinced by the wheel and tyre package. Lighter wheels and less rotational mass at the end of the axles, always a big plus; stickier tyres are a boon for lap times. But the hassle comes when they’re not road legal, and if you’re going to start swapping tyres and getting all super serious then the Model S isn’t the right base vehicle. You’d be better off with something a bit more specific, probably lighter, more manual, more analogue, and yes, something with an engine and possibly a manual for the hell of it.
Plus, the good stuff about the Plaid happens on the standard Michelins; the amusement is still there and it’s not worth the hassle in the pits. Are you really setting lap times down to the nearest tenth in a Model S, or are you having some fun?
What comes across though is that the Model S Plaid, on the road, is something of an outlier. Driven slowly, this generation is better built, quieter, has more equipment and greater connectivity. Stick it in Comfort mode and it’s ‘just’ a Model S with all the advantages that brings. But Plaid mode and the braking system elevate it to something that can chasten a supercar’s ego. Will petrolheads prefer this to something like a BMW M5 CS? No. But to dismiss it would be folly.
Any good inside?
Tesla seems to be a bit shy in talking about what’s been improved with the Model S. The whole car weighs roughly 100kg less than the old one. There are fewer cells in the battery for the same range, soo improved battery density. The interior alone has lost 30kgs in weight, which is hugely significant. Even the hollow strut brace in the front of the car is now also used as the sealed volume for the air suspension reservoir. It all feeds that virtuous circle of efficiency.
Sound-deadening is heavy by design, so Tesla has removed a lot of the noise suppressing inserts and added microphones instead. These sample the noisy bits and then play the cancellation frequency through what is essentially a white noise generator. The car is quiet, even for an EV, even if it is a slight audio trick.
But in terms of quality? This is a Tesla…
As a flagship, the Model S we had was clean, crisp and easy to look at. Materials were good and it’s well screwed together. Yes, you can find little bits that aren’t quite up to the higher-end standards, but they’re few and far between now.
The big screen can be tilted towards driver or passenger and the graphics are slick; the car’s pretty easy to navigate after about 15 minutes. Yes, the on-screen drive selector takes a bit of getting used to, but it didn’t waver the entire time we had the car. And that included lots of three-point turns.
Come on then, how much does it cost?
A Tesla Model S Plaid is likely to list at around £125,000 in the UK (when it’ll land is another question entirely) with a decent standard spec. Then you can add the usual Tesla bits like ‘full self-driving’ (natch), Enhanced Autopilot, choose a wheel or yoke (best avoided), paint finishes (from five choices) and wheels. Interiors can be all-black, black and white, or cream.
As mentioned the Track Package (wheels, a little spoiler, badges, brakes and the other stuff) should come in at roughly £16k. But you can retrofit any of these bits to a ‘normal’ Model S Plaid as well. We’d definitely go for the brake kit, but the tyres aren’t hugely necessary.
The average lease should be somewhere in the region of £1,550 a month, based on insurance group 50. Benefit-in-kind for the first year will be two per cent, so £2,499.
Oh, and it’ll be pretty practical: you’re looking at 250kW DC on a Tesla Supercharger, so you’ll jump from 34 to 272 miles of range in half an hour. That makes it a great daily for longer trips.