Despite being a relatively new automotive manufacturer, Tesla has built quite a reputation as a maker of fast, luxurious electric vehicles. The Californian company isn't the type to rest on its laurels, though; the Model S has received a number of updates to keep it fresh.
This includes the option of four-wheel drive thanks to dual (hence the D) electric motors – one up front and one between the rear wheels as before. The combined power of the AWD 70 model is 324bhp, which is enough for it to complete the 0-60mph dash in 5.2secs on its way to a top speed of 140mph. That’s 0.3secs quicker to 62mph than the cheaper two-wheel drive.
Thanks to developments in battery technology, even this entry-level Model S now receives a 70kwh battery pack. In layman’s terms, this means an official range of 275 miles from a single charge. Realistically it won’t achieve that much, but you’re still looking at 150-200 miles between having to plug it in.
Despite being faster than the rear-drive 70 model, the more efficient power management afforded by twin motors actually improves range. Tesla claims 15 miles extra, although, in practice, this is likely to be nearer 10 miles. Still, anything that can lessen range anxiety has to be good.
More recently, the big news has been the introduction of Tesla’s Autopilot functionality. Potentially a major step towards autonomous cars becoming a reality, it costs £2200 as an option on all Model S variants.
What is the 2015 Tesla Model S 70D like to drive?
If you’ve not experienced an electric car before, it’s worth pointing out that there are some key benefits over conventional petrol or diesel engined vehicles. The first is refinement. Whereas a conventional engine makes a fair bit of noise when running and is noticeable when it starts and stops, this is not the case with an electric motor.
When you’re stationary, there’s no noise at all from the powertrain, and no vibration when you go to pull away. Instead, there’s totally smooth acceleration that isn’t punctuated by gear changes. As an electric motor has almost all its torque available from zero rpm, there’s no need for a multi-speed transmission.
That immediate response is something you really notice when you’re rolling, too. Accelerating from 30mph to 40mph, for instance, happens in the blink of an eye with minimal fuss. This easily accessible performance isn’t just good for going quickly, it also makes for effortless progress at slower speeds.
Not only do the twin motors help acceleration, they also make the Model S feel much more stable and secure. The rear-drive model could sometimes overwhelm its rear tyres thanks to the instant urge of its electric powerplant, a problem that’s been banished by all-wheel drive. Even stamping on the throttle from a standstill leads to a drama-free launch.
Helping comfort on our car was optional £2200 air suspension, a piece of kit that’s usually found in big luxury cars like the BMW 7-Series or Mercedes S-Class. This allows the Tesla to feel comfortable at a cruise, but also offer the possibility of stiffening on tight corners too. It’s always on the firm side, but this seems to suit the sporting aspect of the car, helping it deal with the twists and turns effectively. Its steering is precise, although it never offers much communication with the driver.
As for the Autopilot system, it’s impressive, but there are a few caveats. If you’re on a motorway or dual carriageway with clearly marked lanes, it’s arguably one of the best on sale. Unlike those in other makes, Tesla allows you to let go of the steering wheel completely at which point it will keep the car perfectly in the centre of the lane.
At first, it’s odd to see the steering wheel moving unaided as you barrel along at 70mph, but it's something that is surprisingly easy to get used to. There’s also radar-guided cruise control to ensure you don’t drive into the back of anyone, although you can change lanes for an overtake by just operating the indicators. Once the Model S detects the road is clear, it will pull out and go past.
Where Autopilot struggles is on roads where the markings are unclear or absent. In those circumstances the Model S can get confused and dart across the road. To be fair, though, Tesla advises being ready to take control at any moment should it be needed – we’re not yet at the stage where you can read the paper on your way to work.
What is the 2015 Tesla Model S 70D like inside?
They may not have hit the headlines like the Autopilot system, but there have been significant improvements inside the Model S. Fit and finish on early versions lagged behind rivals and the seats were narrow and uncomfortable. The 70D has supportive seats and a higher quality cabin.
If we’re honest, it’s still a bit behind the likes of Audi and BMW, but everything is now well laid out with attractive veneers and well-configured displays. Dominating the dash is the giant 17in touchscreen tasked with controlling almost all of the Model S's functions.
Not only is it easy to get comfortable up front, there’s plenty of head and legroom for rear seat passengers too. In fact, the Model S is surprisingly practical. Loading the boot easy thanks to the rear hatchbak, and boot capacity is a cavernous 894 litres. In fact, there’s so much space, you can even option a pair of rear facing seats to make the Model S a seven-seater.
With the rear seats folded in five-passenger models, luggage capacity jumps to more than 1600 litres, and there’s an additional storage space in the front of the car because the batteries are mounted low in the chassis. There’s no way you could package a petrol or diesel powered saloon like this.
Should I buy one?
If you’re in the market for an executive saloon and don’t need to worry too much about range, the Model S makes a great deal of sense. For the vast majority, 150-200 miles is more than enough for a day’s travel, and there is a growing network of Tesla Superchargers. These are free for Tesla owners and can recharge a battery to 80% in around 30 minutes.
The problem is that you won’t always have access to one of these chargers. Plug the Model S into the mains, and it’ll take more than a day to fully charge. Even a high-powered domestic system could take in excess of eight hours to charge a car from flat.
Still, the vast majority of road users could happily cope with the range and could easily top the battery up overnight. For these people, the updates Tesla has introduced have made the Model S a more convincing package than ever, both to drive and in terms of interior ambience.
The finances stack up well, too. Running a car on electricity is far cheaper than on fossil fuel, and Tesla owners benefit from free VED and business users only pay 5% BIK. Provided the range works for you, it’s a tempting alternative to a well-specced executive car.
As for Autopilot, you can tell this is a technology in its infancy; one that should become more effective over time. As long as you think of it as a seriously advanced cruise control system for well-defined roads, as opposed to a personal chauffeur, it’s impressive.
What Car? says...
Tesla Model S 70D
Twin electric motors
£55,000 (after £5000 grant)
275 miles (claimed)