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Now that the hype surrounding Tesla has died down a little and the Tesla Model S has been given a facelift to keep it looking fresh, is it a sensible decision to pick the electric sedan over its German luxury rivals?
That question is hard to answer, because it requires a very personal perspective to come to a decision. The Model S is not cheap, certainly even in this lower-spec 75D variant that starts at around $136,000 (and goes up to $144,000 depending on your state, plus on roads).
It’s not possible to justify it on price alone but while Tesla may no longer be the newest kid with all the cool gadgets, it is still arguably the leading automotive brand when it comes to electric vehicle manufacturing.
It’s important to note what we mean there, because while Tesla knows how to make electric drivetrains better than, say, Mercedes-Benz, the German brand knows how to make cars better than Tesla, and that’s a very important distinction.
No matter how much one may wish to dismiss the traditional manufacturers for being too slow to the electric game and hence allowing Tesla the first major advantage, there are close to 300 years of engineering and manufacturing experience between Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz that simply can’t be ignored.
In fact, for those that have owned a recent Mercedes-Benz, jumping inside a Model S will immediately see you presented with very familiar-looking stalks for the indicator, cruise control and other bits and pieces that make sense for a currently niche brand such as Tesla to utilise.
Tesla as a brand has only been in existence since 2003 and in all seriousness, it has only been since 2012 that is has mass-produced cars. With that in mind, though, it’s utterly amazing how good the Model S actually is.
Even if the Model S was driven by a Volkswagen Group dieselgate engine, you would still be wowed by its interior and technological innovation. Walking up to a car and having its previously hidden door handles pop out on approach is cool.
Being able to simply jump in and out without ever having to turn the car on or off is equally exciting and the gigantic screen in the middle, that looks as if it could control weather patterns, is also very nice.
Not to mention the lack of a transmission or drivetrain tunnel allowing for a lot more room inside. Or, how about the ability for your car’s software to update itself over WiFi and bring you new features while you sleep? These are all features that seem obvious and easy to do from an engineering perspective, but it took Tesla to do it first.
Overall, if you can sit inside a Model S for the first time and not be wowed, you should consider anti-depressants.
That’s not to say the features don’t become the norm after some time, but go and sit in even a new E-Class, which is a very beautiful car in every way imaginable, and you won’t be impressed in the same manner.
Sure, it’s probably better built and better engineered as a whole car, but at the same time it is somewhat hindered by its 125 years of engineering experience. Tesla doesn’t have a past, so it embraces the future with both hands.
If you love the idea of a ‘car of the future’, the Model S and its now bigger SUV sibling, the Model X, are basically your only options. There’s always the upcoming Model 3, but who knows when that will launch. The fact that all these cars are electric-powered is almost a sidenote to the whole story of the brand’s technological achievements in general.
Anyway, back to the Model S. Once inside and you’ve paired your smartphone, engaged the Mercedes-Benz sourced steering-column mounted gear lever to select drive or reverse and the S comes to life. For the majority of owners, the Model S will be the first electric car they’ve ever driven and that sensation of acceleration is hard to describe.
It’s very much like a rollercoster, but with less screaming. There is so much immediate torque that it can actually make you feel a little sick. Certainly, the party trick of this car is outright acceleration from 0-100km/h which for the all-wheel drive 75D tested here is 5.4 seconds, if you go for the rear-wheel drive version you earn a 0.4 second penalty.
In terms of actual handling, the Model S is a very respectable sedan. You don’t really feel its 2205kg (yes, it's a porker!) weight all that much and while it’s not the sort of car you’d take on a spirited mountain run, if the time calls, it certainly won’t disappoint.
As for its ride comfort, we found it pretty reasonable on the 19-inch wheels tested here. It doesn’t float around much but it's also not that hard. Of course, if you opt for the larger wheels – which you really should to give it a better look – going for the optional air suspension isn’t a bad idea, either.
After you’ve smoked some pretenders off the lights, you do tend to get a little over the sheer acceleration and start driving the Model S more reasonably, in the hope of achieving the quoted 490km range. Look, it probably won’t get that far, but even if you manage 350-400km on a single charge, you’re doing pretty damn good.
Think of it as your iPhone: you go out for the day and then when you get home you plug it in. And it can charge from any wall socket (albeit slowly if it’s not a three-phase or a Tesla charger), it’s that simple.
And Tesla will give you a wall charger with a 7m cable for your garage.
Our advice? If acceleration times aren’t your main purpose, all you really need is the Model S 60 or 60D, it has the same battery pack except Tesla has software limited its range to 408km, but you save over $15,000, which is better put to some of the must-have options.
Those options really need to be standard in our humble opinion. Autopilot convenience features ($3800) is just a software enabler, the hardware is already there.
The premium upgrades package ($4500) is part of a pack that allows the doors to auto open. Again, these are the party tricks of the car and should at least be standard on the 75 to give you a reason to go up from the 60.
We can’t fault the car for what it is. It doesn’t really do anything that it shouldn’t and it does a lot of things that you wouldn’t think it could do.
Overall though, the main barrier to entry for the Model S and the Model X, is the price. Personally, I skipped the S and bought a fully-optioned Model X – if not just for the Falcon doors – and despite our begging and pleading and using every negotiation tactic known to mankind, Tesla didn’t reduce the price by one cent.
What you see on their website is what you pay. It’s like trying to bargain at the Apple Store. It doesn’t work. But at least you know everyone paid the same price.
Click on the Photos tab for more images by Sam Venn.