The Tesla Model S has improved with age, with more range and performance than the car that debuted in 2012, plus vastly improved build quality. The hatchback form means it's plenty practical, and access to Tesla's Supercharger network should help alleviate any range anxiety and make road trips possible. It's not all rosy, though. While Autopilot remains one of the best suite of driver aids around, the in-car tech and control scheme are frustrating and distracting to use.
How does the Model S drive?
The Tesla Model S Performance is comically quick. Its 0-60 mph time of 2.9 seconds shames nearly every other production car on sale today, or ever, really. Thanks to the electric powertrain and lack of transmission, acceleration is smooth and seamless. Whether you're passing on the highway or squeezing into a small gap on surface streets, the Model S delivers. The brakes are fairly impressive too, with plenty of stopping power and the ability to slow to a stop solely with regenerative braking (one-pedal driving).
We do wish the handling could match the Tesla's straight-line performance. The steering feels loose and sloppy on center, so it feels a bit unstable at full throttle when the weight shifts rearward. The Model S has plenty of grip, so you can race through corners with speed, but the suspension doesn't feel totally buttoned-down and the car's weight becomes more apparent.
How comfortable is the Model S?
As with the rest of Tesla's lineup, the Model S has improved immensely over the past few years in terms of comfort and quality. The seats look a little flat, but they're soft and supportive, even after a full day of driving. They don't breathe well, though, and can get a little warm on sunny days. The rear seats are also more comfortable than they appear.
The ride quality has improved too, and it's much better at tuning out imperfections on the road. The ride was impressive even with our test car's 21-inch wheels. It's not perfect — the Model S crashed over some bumps rather than tuning them out — but it feels good for what we expect from this class. The Model S is fairly quiet, though we found the wind and road noise on the highway louder than in some gas-powered cars.
How’s the interior?
Almost all major controls are tied to the massive touchscreen display that takes up the entire center of the dashboard. While it does make for a clean design, it can be frustrating and confusing if you aren't familiar with the menus. Simple tasks such as setting the cruise control or checking the tire pressures requires searching through the digital manual, and other controls mean taking your eyes off the road far too often.
That said, the rest of the interior is pretty good. The doors open wide enough to make getting in and out fairly easy, and once you're situated it's easy to find a comfortable position. It's relatively roomy up front, but the back seat has less headroom than you'll find in the smaller Model 3 sedan. Visibility is good thanks to a relatively low hood, but the rear window is narrow and feels positioned too high.
How’s the tech?
Tesla's Autopilot driver aid system is one of the best on sale today. It's smooth in operation, and it's easy to adjust braking sensitivity or the gap between cars when using cruise control. It also doesn't play Pong between the lane lines like some less sophisticated systems.
The navigation system is simple and easy to use, and the massive Google-based map provides plenty of detail. Voice commands are limited in scope, but what's there works well. Our biggest knock: device integration. Tesla enjoys doing its own thing, so there's no support for Android Auto or Apple CarPlay. The only way to play stuff from your phone is through Bluetooth. On-screen controls are limited too, and the audio system is just good but not up to the level of the class leaders.
One of Tesla's most significant innovations, and a big selling point for many buyers, is the capability to update their cars over the air, adding features or improving performance and efficiency. Other manufacturers are beginning to follow suit, but Tesla pioneered the concept.
How’s the storage?
Despite what it may appear to be, the Tesla Model S is actually a hatchback. That means there's tons of rear cargo space that's easy to access and take advantage of. It features far more cargo space than many rivals, EV or not. The split rear seats fold flat, opening up the space even more. Storage up front isn't so great, and we'd prefer a better alternative to Tesla's solution of making the center console one big bin with adjustable dividers. The lack of door pockets means everything goes in the center, and small items can get lost.
Getting a car seat in and out is relatively easy. The doors open wide, and the anchors are fairly accessible. The lack of headroom might be a bit of an issue when installing a seat.
How economical is the Model S?
The 2020 model year car Model S Performance we tested was equipped with 21-inch wheels, giving it an EPA-estimated range of 326 miles at 35 kWh/100 miles. In Edmunds' real-world range testing, we came up a little short of the EPA estimates, managing 318 miles on a single max battery charge with a slightly more efficient consumption rate of 32.6 kWh/100 miles. That's more range than most EVs we've tested. Still, it fell short of the Porsche Taycan 4S we drove that had a significantly lower EPA rating.
Is the Model S a good value?
Tesla has improved its build quality immensely over the years, though it didn't have anywhere to go but up. We think it still falls short of the class leaders and other luxury cars at this price, but the flaws in the paint, trim and bodywork have been greatly reduced. The Model S offers a lot of performance and range for the money, but the interior isn't as nice or premium as those of other cars in this class or at this price point.
Access to Tesla's vast Supercharger network is one of the best parts of Tesla ownership. It should help relieve much range anxiety and can allow you to take the Model S across the country on most major highways without worrying about finding a charging station. The basic warranty is four years/50,000 miles, which is about average in this luxury EV segment. The powertrain and battery are covered for eight years/120,000 miles.
Anything with this much power is fun, and the fact that the power is backed up by sharp looks and competent handling only makes things better. There's no gap too small or highway on-ramp too short for the Model S, even the non-performance models. It's not quite as sharp to drive as the Porsche Taycan, but it's still plenty entertaining.
The design has held up well too, and there's almost a subtlety to the Model S at this point. Even the performance models don't shout in your face like some German performance cars do.