2017 Tesla Model S Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Aaron Cole Aaron Cole Managing Editor
June 26, 2017

The 2017 Tesla Model S is unlike any other car on the road for several reasons—good and bad.

The 2017 Tesla Model S is a relative outlier in the car world, not only because of its all-electric drivetrain, but also because of the way the automaker has approached its business. Every convention was questioned, every convenience was examined, and quite frankly, Tesla doesn't behave in any way like a traditional automaker.

That's a recipe for excellence or exceptional failure.

Our overall score of 8.3 out of 10 should be an indication of our opinion of how that's gone so far. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

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It's too early for official details on the 2017 lineup, but we expect that the same powertrains will likely be available for at least part of the year. The Tesla Model S is offered with 60-, 75-, 90-, or 100-kwh battery capacities. Only the 60-kwh model is available in rear-drive, the rest are all-wheel drive, which is denoted with a "D." The top-of-the-line 100D is also a performance model, and carries the P100D distinction.

Styling and performance

The Tesla Model S is a feat of carmaking in the way it looks. Despite its alternative drivetrain, the Model S would be striking even if it were coal-powered. The exterior sheet metal is sleek and muscular, and cuts an efficient hole through the air thanks to its engineering. Its fastback shape and long windshield are impressive, but so too is its interior shape and seating for four.

Inside, the style is relative letdown—the exterior is just too sexy. Aside from the massive 17-inch touchscreen in the center of the dash, there's not much too look at. The car is well-appointed, but somewhat stark compared to other luxury competitors.

Where the Model S manages to literally and figuratively pull away from the competition is in the way it performs. Acceleration in the Model S is breathtaking, and high-performance models are some of the fastest cars on the road today, comparable to some hyper cars. The standard rear-drive Model S versions are powered by a 270-kw (362-horsepower) motor. The all-wheel-drive "D" versions have smaller 193-kw (259-hp) motors powering each set of wheels. The P100D version boosts rear motor power to 375 kw (503 hp) and keeps the front motor at the same output.

The standard suspension setup is firm, but optional air suspension can make the car even firmer—or mushy soft, if you're in the mood.

Thanks to all its weight down low in the battery pack, and a 45/55 front-to-back weight distribution, the Model S is remarkably flat in cornering and hides its 5,000-pound heft well.

The EPA rates the range of the Model S between 218 miles and 315 miles depending on battery size and drive wheels. All-wheel-drive cars manage better range thanks to Tesla's programming, which shifts power between wheels for better range.

Comfort, safety, and features

The Tesla Model S is remarkably comfortable for four adults, or five if needed. The battery lives underneath the floor, so passengers might sit with their legs further ahead than in normal cars, but it's not uncomfortable.

The interior cabin can be a little stark—borderline boring—but Tesla's more than wiling to option up a Model S with premium sound, a massive sunroof, and cabin filtration systems that could keep attention going. An extra jump seat for two children with four-point harnesses in the rear cargo area is available, but few cars leave dealers with that installed.

Federal testers have given the Model S top marks in the past, and it's one of few cars available that ace every federal test. The IIHS hasn't yet rated the Tesla for safety (which is common for luxury cars), but Tesla installs the standard complement of airbags and traction control systems in the cars.

Advanced safety features such as forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and lane-departure warnings are standard on the Model S. Last year, Tesla upgraded the cameras, radar, and sensors in its cars to enable "fully" autonomous driving (even though it still has a steering wheel and pedals, which doesn't quite make it "fully" self-driving) along with its enhanced Autopilot. The system is capable of driving the Model S for hundreds of miles, although its failures have been heavily scrutinized in reports. Tesla also makes available a "fully autonomous" driving package on top of the Autopilot system that we haven't yet tested. According to the automaker, the system is twice as safe as having a human behind the wheel, something that only time and more data will tell.

All Model S sedans come equipped with keyless ignition, one-touch power windows, Bluetooth connectivity, power adjustable front seats, wi-fi connectivity, a rearview camera, and Tesla's giant 17-inch touchscreen with navigation.

The base Model S includes a standard onboard 10-kilowatt charger. A second charger can be ordered to bring the rate up to 20 kw, and Supercharging capability is now standard on all trim levels. That operates at levels approaching 150 kw and enables the battery to be recharged to 80 percent of its capacity in 20 to 40 minutes. The Model S does not use the standard J-1772 charging socket found on every other electric car, but the Model S comes with a J-1772 adapter cable, enabling Teslas to recharge at standard public and private charging stations.

Tesla announced that free Supercharger station charging would be a thing of the past; they haven't yet announced how much it may cost owners to charge at their network of stations.


2017 Tesla Model S


Updated in 2016, the Tesla Model S still has one of the best exterior shapes on the road today.

Its shape is unmistakable, and despite being on the market now for several years, the Tesla Model S still cuts one of the most striking shapes on the road today.

We'd go so far as to say that the Model S is exceptional in how it looks, and the interior is good. It earns an 8 out of 10 on our scale for style. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Last year, Tesla updated the exterior of the Model S for the first time since it was all new. Rather than the glossy black oval panel that looked like a grille, now the Model S sports a flat, blunt nose with a body-colored panel relieved by only a slim horizontal opening with a small "T" logo in it. The Model S keeps its fastback shape, which is viewed as a sedan even though its a five-door fastback like the equally exceptional Audi A7.

Although the Model S is very stylish, its shape was designed to cut the smallest hole through air possible. That includes the retractable door handles that automatically extend when the owner and his or her key is near, then smoothly slide back into place, flush with the body panels, when the car moves away.

The Model S is in rarefied air when it comes to luxury sedan looks: Audi, BMW, Jaguar, and Mercedes-Benz—even Maserati—are all exceptional in their exterior designs, which makes a startup like Tesla all the more impressive when you consider its exterior lines. Designer Franz von Holzhausen created a luxury sedan that can stand on its own as a desirable vehicle, even before any discussion of its all-electric powertrain.

Inside, the Tesla Model S is a relatively unadorned space trimmed in muted colors. Leather seats can be fitted, and most of the touchable areas are covered in soft-touch materials. Although it was groundbreaking when it was launched, others in the segment have caught up to the Model S in terms of interior fittings and luxury.

Aside from the 17-inch display that dominates attention in the center of the dash, there are few interior controls aside from the steering wheel, stalk-mounted controls, accelerator, and brake pedal. The lack of a drivetrain tunnel is initially impressive, but the automaker hasn't yet found a good way to make use of the space beyond just leaving it wide open.

Owners will get used to controlling cabin heating and cooling, audio, navigation, and even some vehicle settings—including charging behavior and suspension tuning—via large icons, sliders, and swipe motions. Images of analog gauges also appear on a second display within the instrument cluster behind the steering wheel. Both screens are clear and crisp, with simple, colorful graphics.

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2017 Tesla Model S


The performance of Tesla's Model S manages to beat expectations—and some natural laws too.

The 2017 Tesla Model S is the performance benchmark for many luxury cars today. It's stylish, fast, comfortable, and thanks to electric operation, quiet and smooth.

It's too early to know the powertrain lineup for 2017, but it's possible that Tesla could improve battery capacity and performance even further next year.

As of late 2016, the Model S is offered with battery packs of 60, 75, 90, and 100 kwh. Their EPA rated ranges vary between 218 miles to 315 miles. Higher speeds or climate control use could knock about 10 to 25 percent off of that range, however.

We give the Tesla Model S an 8 out of 10 for performance thanks to its superlative acceleration, good ride, and outstanding performance. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The standard rear-drive Model S versions are powered by a 270-kw (362-horsepower) motor. The all-wheel-drive "D" versions have smaller 193-kw (259-hp) motors powering each set of wheels. The P100D version boosts rear motor power to 375 kw (503 hp) and keeps the front motor at the same output.

It's not an exaggeration to say that the Model S can break some natural laws. It's 0-to-60-mph acceleration is less than three seconds, which is faster than gravity can pull a body from a tall building. It's stunning from a large five-passenger luxury sedan, and matches the output from some of the world's fastest cars from only a few years ago. Getting that kind of "Ludicrous" speed requires some additional cash outlay: the P100D starts at $134,500 before incentives. Videos of unsuspecting passengers reacting to the resulting, shocking, swift and silent acceleration (with a bit of whine) are a staple of YouTube.

With its maximum torque available from 0 rpm (like any electric car), the Model S surges swiftly and silently away from stoplights. The relative lack of noise makes it all too easy to hit 60 mph on city streets without intending to. After wind drag, weight is the main range killer, and Tesla keeps that under control by using aluminum for virtually the entire body structure—just as the Audi A8, Jaguar XJ, and various Range Rover models do. The all-wheel-drive "D" models weigh in at close to 5,000 pounds, with the lowest-spec version roughly 500 pounds lighter.

That makes the Model S heavier than you might be expecting. It feels closer to a Mercedes S-Class in terms of weight, although the Tesla's heft is much lower in the chassis. Cornering is flat in the Model S, aided by a weight distribution of 45/55 front-to-rear, and a low center of gravity.

The ride is surprisingly firm in the standard setup, but the optional air suspension (standard on the P100D) smooths out some road imperfections.

Drivers can set the suspension from very firm, through the default standard setting, all the way to a comfort option that a Tesla rep candidly described as "mushy." Drivers can choose whether they want idle creep, mimicking a car with automatic transmission that slowly moves forward as the brake pedal is released. The driver can also choose from two regenerative braking modes—Normal and Low. But even the more aggressive Normal is less aggressive than that of the BMW i3, precluding the "one-pedal driving" prized by some electric-car owners.

Tesla's network of Supercharger DC fast-charging stations continues to roll out rapidly, making long trips in the Model S to more and more destinations increasingly realistic. Those trips will be made in roughly 200-mile increments, punctuated by 20- to 30-minute stops to recharge the battery to 80 percent of capacity—a charging rate that's the fastest of any charging system in any car.

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2017 Tesla Model S

Comfort & Quality

The Tesla Model S is comfortable and quiet for four adults—five if necessary.

The 2017 Tesla Model S is functionally the same car it's been since it was new in 2012. It sits four adults in relative comfort—five, if required—with a pair of optional rear-facing jump seats for small children.

We give the Model S 8 out of 10 for comfort based on its comfortable front and rear seats, with an added point for being an honest-to-goodness comfortable sedan. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Entry and exit isn't perfect, though. The door openings are smaller than the doors themselves, and it can be a challenge for long legs to clamber into the sedan. Once inside, there's enough head room (just) for tall bodies, even with the optional sunroof installed. Rear passengers will also notice that the cabin narrows above their shoulders, with the windows angling in as they rise to the roof. It's all to reduce cross-sectional area to cut energy-sapping aerodynamic drag.

The battery pack is located under the cabin floor, which means the foot wells aren't as deep as gasoline cars. That means passengers will sit in more of a "legs out" position that isn't uncomfortable, it's just different. It's more acute in the rear seat, whose back cushion is reclined at an angle to provide sufficient head room.

The 17-inch touchscreen in the middle of the dash dominates attention, but the rest of the interior is relatively plain—bordering on stark. With luxury cars meeting the trend started by Tesla a few years ago, it's possible to get a Mercedes-Benz or BMW for a similar price with a classier interior. No other car has a display that is quite as large, but competitors are closer now more than ever with Volvo's Sensus touchscreen narrowing the gap.

Still, if you've never been in a Tesla, its interior can still "shock and awe." Turn on a exterior light, or use the turn signals, and the interior display mimics the action in a photo-realistic way on the Lights screen. Opening the sunroof requires swiping down on a view of the car, and mobile apps can be used with voice commands. Full web browsing is possible—when stationary, of course—using the car's built-in internet connection.

The central touchscreen and the smaller display in the instrument cluster behind the steering wheel are crisp, clear, and bright. That's good, because virtually all minor controls in a Model S are operated through the touchscreen, requiring the driver to look away from the road—although the fonts and icons are as large and clear as any we've seen, and the response is instantaneous. Together, the display's speed and size minimize distraction against any other car with a similar system. And the brilliant graphics, easy-to-learn control screens, and lightning-fast response still set a bar no other car meets, yet.

The Model S is supremely quiet and calm on the road, thanks to its copious sound insulation and electric drive. It's not entirely noise free—there's some whine from the electric motors, which is more pronounced if the stereo is off. The car's build quality has significantly improved since it was new, with fewer bad panel gaps or ill-fitting equipment found on the early cars.

In back, the liftback makes it versatile, with more than 26 cubic feet of cargo room in the rear. That goes up to 58 cubes with the rear seats folded in a 60/40 arrangement, and there's an additional 5 cubic feet of storage room available under the hood, which is possible thanks to the lack of a conventional engine.

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2017 Tesla Model S


Tesla's Autopilot steals the show, but the Model S has impressive—but inconsistent—crash data.

Rear-drive versions of the Tesla Model S have aced federal testing—one of very few cars on the road to make that claim.

Because of the sedan's five-star rating across the board, and its available safety features, it earns a 7 out of 10 on our safety scale. Why not a 10? The IIHS isn't as complimentary. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The IIHS doesn't award the Model S its Top Safety Pick prize because of concerns over the vehicle's performance in its small overlap test, which simulates a collision with a tree or utility pole. Additionally, the IIHS scored the Model S' headlights as "Poor," its lowest rating. 

Tesla is working on a fix for the Model S' structure; we'll update this space if it's tested. 

All-wheel-drive versions of the Model S haven't been fully tested by federal regulators, those models have only received five-star scores in side impact and rollover crash protection.

All Teslas are equipped with eight airbags, parking assistance, and a rearview camera as standard equipment. Forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking was rolled out to new 2016 Tesla Model S cars in December, and the sedan also includes adaptive cruise control, adaptive headlights, lane-departure warnings, and blind spot monitors.

The safety of the optional rear-facing sixth and seventh seats located in the cargo bay, which hold only small children in racing-style four-point safety harnesses, is less clear—but very few Teslas have those seats installed, so it may be largely an academic question. And a three-element protection shield under the car that blends aluminum and titanium components protects the battery pack against damage from road debris.

Tesla's self-driving software dominates headlines, thanks to its remarkable capability. Last year, Tesla effectively doubled the fee for Autopilot from $2,500 to $5,000 and added "full" self-driving capability to cars built in the last quarter of 2016 for another $3,000.

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2017 Tesla Model S


Most buyers equip them as lavish luxury cars, and the Tesla Model S is one of the most advanced cars on the road today.

Tesla hasn't detailed the entire range for the 2017 Tesla Model S and considering the automaker's unconventional approach to model year releases, we're just not sure when that may be.

Nonetheless, it's hard to imagine that the roster of features will significantly change this year. (Last year's updates to sensors and cameras was fairly substantial.) The Model S earns a 9 out of 10 on our features scale thanks to excellent base content, good features, a more-than-generous infotainment screen, and its "killer app" Autopilot. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

For 2016, four battery sizes were available—60, 75, 90, and 100 kilowatt-hours—but it's unclear if all four will return for 2017. There are various combinations of battery size with rear- or all-wheel drive (the latter denoted by "D" for dual drive), and the 100-kwh pack adds a "P" performance option that includes a larger rear electric motor.

The base Model S includes a standard onboard 10-kilowatt charger. A second charger can be ordered to bring the rate up to 20 kw, and Supercharging capability is now standard on all trim levels. That operates at levels approaching 150 kw and enables the battery to be recharged to 80 percent of its capacity in 20 to 40 minutes. The Model S does not use the standard J-1772 charging socket found on every other electric car, but the Model S comes with a J-1772 adapter cable, enabling Teslas to recharge at standard public and private charging stations.

All Model S sedans come equipped with keyless ignition, one-touch power windows, Bluetooth connectivity, power adjustable front seats, wi-fi connectivity, a rearview camera, and Tesla's giant 17-inch touchscreen with navigation.

Feature and equipment include options like a cold-weather package, a parking assist system, an Ultra-High Fidelity Sound Package, premium leather upholstery, premium interior lighting, fog lamps, power folding exterior mirrors, and a power sunshade inside the rear hatch. Optional wheels include a 19-inch cyclone "turbine" wheel, as well as the existing 19-inch aerodynamic wheel (which reduces drag and hence increases highway range) and 21-inch cycle "turbine" wheel. The sunroof option is actually a pair of back-to-back large glass panels, turning the roof into a dark, smoke-tinted glass surface.

Of course, Tesla's "killer app" is its semi-autonomous driving software Autopilot. Although the automaker says the software is still a "beta" program, thousands of drivers have opted for the expensive option that has clocked millions of miles on U.S. roads. In 2016, Tesla announced that it was updating the suite of sensors, cameras, and radar systems to a new hardware suite separate from previous cars. More sensors and cameras now can allow all Model S cars built after October to travel nearly fully autonomously (true Level 5 autonomy gets rid of a steering wheel altogether) although the automaker hasn't announced when those programs will be made available to the public.

Prices start at $68,000 before incentives for the base "60D" model with 218 miles of range. Buyers can configure their Model S cars as desired as they place their orders directly with Tesla via the internet, but the final number may be a shock. Pricing and options combinations are too numerous to list here, but a top-of-the-line Tesla Model S P90D with multiple options will reach $130,000. Still, Tesla has long said that more buyers than it expected are ordering high-spec cars, which has likely led it to boost the performance options at the top end of its range.

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2017 Tesla Model S

Fuel Economy

More than 300 miles on a single charge? Tesla Model S owners can't pronounce the words "range anxiety."

The 2017 Tesla Model S is available with four different battery sizes that deliver range from 219 miles to 337 miles on a single charge, according to the manufacturer. Starting with the 60 kwh-version, Telsa makes available a 75-kwh Model S, a 90-kwh Model S, and a 100-kwh version. All-wheel-drive versions are denoted with a "D" and slightly increase range thanks to Tesla's programming to shift power between the two electric motors.

Because of that long range on electron power alone, the Tesla Model S aces our fuel economy test, earning a 10 out of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Similarly, efficiencies vary by version, from 89 to 104 MPGe combined. (Miles Per Gallon Equivalent, or MPGe, is an efficiency measure that gives the distance an electric car can travel on the energy contained in 1 gallon of gasoline.) In cold weather and at high speeds, the quoted range and efficiency ratings will likely fall to a real-world number 10 to 25 percent lower.

The top performer, the P100D, offers "Insane" or "Ludicrous" modes that propel the sedan faster than falling off a roof. That's not an exaggeration, the all-wheel-drive car can rip off runs to 60 mph in less than 3 seconds with a full charge. Predictably, that'll chew through batteries and eat into overall range.

Like all electric cars, the per-mile cost of running a Tesla on grid electricity is one-third to one-fifth of the cost of a comparable gasoline-powered cars. (Of course, that entirely depends on what buyers pay for electricity.) Frankly, we doubt that many will buy a $70,000 to $130,000 Tesla Model S to save money on running costs—but it never hurts.

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