2019 Tesla Model S

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Senior Editor
April 5, 2019

Buying tip

The low-price Model S is gone. If it must be a Tesla and you don’t need all-wheel drive or don’t have six figures, consider a Model 3.

features & specs

100D AWD
75D AWD
AWD
MPG
NA
MPG
NA
MPG
NA
MSRP
$94,000
MSRP
$76,000
MSRP
$85,000

Though the Model 3 is all the rage, the larger 2019 Tesla Model S remains a stunning achievement and design trendsetter, albeit somewhat dated in the details.

The Tesla Model S wasn’t the first model from the California electric carmaker, but it’s the one that put Tesla on the trajectory as an innovator. It was unprecedented in many ways and has already earned a place in history books—the fastest volume-production plug-in car; the longest-range electric car; and the first production car built on a platform that provides over-the-air updates.

The Model S comes in Long Range and Performance models. Long Range versions have a 100-kwh pack and a range of 335 miles. Performance models also have the 100-kwh pack but are rated at 315 miles. All versions of the Model S now come with all-wheel drive.

Add the $15,000 Ludicrous Mode option to the Performance model and you have the top-performing Model S, good for an official 0-60-mph time of 2.4 seconds.

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We rate this year’s Tesla Model S at 7.8 points out of 10, with points above average for style, speed, and efficiency. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Those considering a Model S should be aware that Tesla doesn’t observe model years in the way that other automakers do. It rolls out updates whenever they’re ready, rather than holding them for the next model year For instance, a Model S built in November 2019 may be quite a different car than one built in January 2019.

Another thing to consider is Tesla still has an advantage for those thinking about an electric-car road trip—not so much because their range is so much longer, but because of the strength of its Supercharger network. Supercharger hardware blankets the lower 48 states and canadd up to 200 miles of range in 30 or 40 minutes with current V2 hardware, or up to 75 miles in 5 minutes with the V3 hardware coming later this year.

The Tesla Model 3 caught German luxury makers by surprise back in 2012; serious alternatives to the Model S are finally coming out this year and next, for 2019, 2020, or 2021. The Model S remains as much of a standout today as it was back then—primarily because no other rival can go as far or accelerate as quickly completely free of tailpipe emissions.

For a vehicle with such a sporty, elegant, low-set profile, the Model S is quite spacious. Even though it’s a wide car, the greenhouse tapers inward and the cabin can’t easily fit three across—although four adults will fit well for a long-distance trip. The cargo area of the Model S holds 58.1 cubic feet with the rear seats folded, and a small frunk (in front, under the hood) allows enough spare purses or handbags.  

The 2019 Model S costs more than $86,000 to start, before applicable state or federal tax incentives. Model S buyers are eligible for up to $3,750 in federal tax credit, although that will dwindle later in 2019. Top-end models easily crest six figures.

 
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2019 Tesla Model S

Styling

The 2019 Model S still remains head-turning on the outside, and that says a lot about how well Tesla got this design right from the start.

It’s hard to believe that the 2019 Tesla Model S is already in its eighth model year. While the Model S is no longer fresh, it still looks on pace with many other contemporary designs, and that’s saying something. Partly to credit for that is that Tesla got the low, sleek fastback design right in the first place; it’s changed very little over the years, with the exception of new wheels and a different nose design.

The Model S earns 7 out of 10 points for its super-attractive, above-average exterior and good-looking interior. You might say that the Tesla Model S is a great-looking sedan no matter what powers it. Franz von Holzhausen designed the car and created something that’s easy to spot, yet still mimicked to this day. To our eyes the Model S one of the best fastback sedan profiles outside of the last-generation A7. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

On the outside, the door handles of the Model S are one of the most distinctive features; they can extend out for hands on approach, but are otherwise flush with the door surface.

Some might see the Model S as a sedan, however it’s actually a five-door hatchback—or liftback/fastback, some might say. The large rear tailgate sits high enough (and the hatch opens wide enough) to load big boxes or bicycles.

Inside, it’s also fair to say that the interior of the Model S has been a trendsetter but perhaps not to the degree that the exterior has been. The dash looks the part in fitting in next to luxury sport sedans, and the huge 17-inch vertically oriented touchscreen, is the focal point. Soft-touch surfaces and mostly understated colors fill in an otherwise somewhat understated cabin ambience, with an elegant simplicity to the whole look.

The center screen is as good as any of today’s tablets, it’s clear and crisp The driver and passengers will need to get used to controlling the car’s audio, climate controls, navigation, and nearly everything else, via the touchscreen.

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2019 Tesla Model S

Performance

The 2019 Tesla Model S offers quick, in some versions stunning, acceleration, as well as great roadholding—plus the convenience of the Supercharger network.

With the introduction of the more affordable Model 3, the Model S lineup has moved more upscale, toward the upper end of its performance scale. Base rear-wheel-drive and Standard Range models are gone from the lineup for 2019 and leave only Long Range versions—100 kilowatt-hours, approximately—with the Long Range Performance model sitting at the top of the lineup.

With an official manufacturer 0-60 mph time as quick as 2.4 seconds, acceleration is one of the bragging rights for the Model S. For that, we give the Model S two points above the average, plus another one for being a defining electric-car model for range and performance. That adds up to an 8 out of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Standard versions of the Model S have a pair of 259-horsepower AC induction motors, one per axle. Performance models sub in a 503-hp rear motor and upgrade power and electronics systesm.

All Model S versions are swift and quiet in the way they accelerate, well into triple-digit speeds, but it’s the Performance model that’s the standout. Add the $15,000 Ludicrous Mode option and it accelerates to 60 mph in 2.4 seconds on the way to a  155-mph top speed and 315-mile range.

The Ludicrous Mode performance has been one of the best ads for Tesla yet. Just look for the acceleration videos on YouTube for passengers’ shocked reactions.

The Performance model with Ludicrous mode is not cheap—it starts around $115,000—but its acceleration can’t otherwise be found in anything short of a supercar.

The Model S has been one of the best cheerleaders for going electric since its introduction. The strong, silent kick of torque off the line and the lack of wind or engine noise make it easy to mistakenly break speed limits around town.

As frisky as the Model S feels in straight-line performance, its behavior in corners can’t hide that it’s very heavy. All-aluminum construction plus the big battery pack’s very low mounting mean the center of mass of the Model S is very low to the road, and it feels that way. It corners flat and confidently, and the air suspension copes well with more types of surfaces and road conditions.

Although the Model S doesn’t have physical mode buttons like some other sport sedans, there’s a screen-based menu through which drivers can choose standard or more aggressive regenerative braking—although even the aggressive setting isn’t anywhere close to the level you might get in the BMW i3 or from Nissan’s e-Pedal in the Leaf. You can also opt whether to add idle creep at stops (when you lift off the brake pedal) or eliminate it altogether. The air suspension can be set either in its standard setting or in a comfort mode that’s on the soft-and-mushy side.

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7

2019 Tesla Model S

Comfort & Quality

The 2019 Tesla Model S has a quiet, composed ride and can offer long-distance comfort for four adults, though some may quibble with the ambience.

The 2019 Tesla Model S has the comfort basics covered, plus more.The basics: It can seat four adults in comfort, and has a mostly quiet, composed ride. Those pluses: It has way more cargo space and versatility than comparable sedans, as well as the convenience of two extra, rear-facing jump seats.

The comfort of its front seats and its superior cargo capacity earn it 7 out of 10 points on our scale. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The Model S has the proportions of a rear-wheel-drive sport sedan on the outside, but inside it feels a lot larger than those typically space-pinched luxury machines. That’s partly due to the lack of a drive tunnel between the seats. Front seats in the Model S are good and supportive, both for a wide range of driving positions and for longer distances.

In back, especially in the outboard seats, there’s a surprisingly comfortable space good for even lankier adults—although the rear seat is reclined more than in other big sedans. The issue is mainly getting to them (and in, and out) as the door openings are smaller than they look like they’re going to be on the outside—a cost of the superb styling and proportions, we suppose. There’s enough head room even with the optional sunroof, although trying to fit three across will make everyone aware of how the cabin narrows noticeably toward the roof.

The rear seats in the Model S are different due to the battery pack, which is under the flat cabin floor. You don’t tuck your feet under the front seats, so it results in more of a “legs out” position.

The cargo space pencils out favorably, too. Behind the rear seat there’s 26.3 cubic feet of storage—larger than any sedan trunk. And it’s 58.1 cubic feet with the 60/40-split folding rear seat down. Because there’s no engine, pop the hood and you’ll find a 5.3 cubic-foot “frunk” up front—sometimes good for items you want to keep out of reach of those in the back seat.

The 17-inch vertically oriented touchscreen at the center of the dash holds up well next to the newest from most other automakers—as well as the latest tablets—and it’s not plagued with the latency and lagginess that dogs some rival systems. It controls most interior and vehicle functions, outside of some traditional steering-wheel stalks and buttons.

The Model S mostly rides well and stays quiet, smooth, and composed. Some whine filters inside the car from time to time, but Tesla did a good job in sealing out most road and wind noise that is more noticeable in electric cars that lack engine noise.

The one weakness for the Model S, and Tesla products in general, tends to be something that’s a little harder to put a focused finger on: The ambience of the whole cabin experience. The Model S still feels a little less posh and premium inside in its surfaces, materials, and how it all fits together. It’s where some people looking at the versions with six-digit price tags might end up not downright disappointed, but perhaps a little underwhelmed.

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2019 Tesla Model S

Safety

No matter how or what you think of its Autopilot driver assistance functionality, the 2019 Tesla Model S has generally good crash-safety ratings.

As the crash tests for the two U.S. agencies have evolved, the Tesla Model S has fallen from its once-lofty perch.

On our safety scale (Read more about how we rate cars), the Tesla Model S weighs in at 7 points out of 10, with a point added for having a five-star overall NHTSA rating, for including automatic emergency braking, and for the wide range of features and safety attributes included in the company’s Autopilot system.

The Model S hasn’t fared as well in IIHS testing, where it earns the top rating of "Good" on all tests except “Acceptable” in the driver’s side small-overlap front crash category. That test hasn’t been performed for the passenger side, either. Crash avoidance and mitigation measures are rated "Superior" for the Model S, and the low-set fastback’s headlights earn its lowest rating, "Poor."

The Model S has eight airbags, a rearview camera system, and eight airbags, as well as automatic emergency braking, active lane control, and blind-spot monitors. The optional “Autopilot” system, the Model S can steer, maintain lane position, speed, and following distance on well-marked roads for miles at a time, provided you put your hands on the steering wheel at regular intervals to show the system you’re still in charge.

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2019 Tesla Model S

Features

The 2019 Tesla Model S may be priced like a luxury car, but it isn’t oozing features that pamper; technology features make up for some of that.

The 2019 Tesla Model S earns 8 out of 10 points for its features, with points added for its high level of standard features. With its 17-inch infotainment display (still noteworthy today) and dedicated internet connection, plus the standard “Autopilot” suite of semi-autonomous driving features, there’s a lot of tech you don’t find included in rival models. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The lineup of the Model S gets simpler every year, with the low end of the lineup cleared away to leave room for the smaller, more affordable Model 3 sedan. Tesla doesn’t offer conventional trim levels and this year discontinued the Standard Range version and its 75-kwh battery. That leaves just the Long Range and Performance models with a 100-kwh battery pack and all-wheel drive. Prices start around $86,000 and run past $130,000.

The 2019 Model S comes with most of what you would expect to find in luxury sedans (and fastback sedans) in that price range. Standard equipment includes 12-way power-adjustable front seats with memory (including mirror position), LED ambient interior lighting, and power folding door mirrors with memory that also self-dim (as does the rearview mirror). The rear liftgate includes power assist.

The options this year are mostly limited to cosmetic ones, Autopilot, and Full Self-Driving.

All Model S cars receive Tesla’s suite of cameras and radar sensors necessary for core safety systems. Autopilot—Tesla’s term for cruise control that enables your car to steer, accelerate and brake automatically for other vehicles and pedestrians within its lane— is a $3,000 option.

For another $5,000 on top of Autopilot, you can get Full Self-Driving—which used to be called Enhanced Autopilot. It brings Navigate on Autopilot, which can use Autopilot to follow ramps, and pass vehicles (with turn-signal confirmation); Autopark, which automatically parks the Model S in parallel and perpendicular spaces; and Summon, which has your Model S come find you in a parking lot (avoiding people and obstacles, of course).

The Model S comes with a standard 72-amp onboard charger  that can charge at a much faster rate than other electric cars via Supercharging or 240-volt home charging. Supercharging fast-charging capability is standard, although free charging isn’t included anymore.

Tesla vehicles use a proprietary charge port but an adapter for the common J1772 design is included. The Supercharger network is being upgraded and  soon the Model S can charge at up to 145 kw at existing Version 2 (V2) Superchargers. V3 Superchargers arriving later this year may add 75 miles of range in just 5 minutes. With existing V2 Superchargers, owners can plan on adding up to 170 miles of charge in 30 minutes.

The Model S, like other Tesla vehicles, is regularly updated via on-the-air updates, which sometimes bring new features.

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2019 Tesla Model S

Fuel Economy

The 2019 Tesla Model S is one of the longest-range electric vehicles available; it’s also one of the most energy-efficient.

Every 2019 Tesla Model S is a battery-electric vehicle with a range longer than 300 miles and no tailpipe emissions. That aces our fuel-economy score. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Both versions of the Model S for 2019 are rated for more than 300 miles, according to the EPA. The Model S Long Range is rated at 335 miles, and the Performance is rated at 315 miles, whether you opt for the Ludicrous mode upgrade or not.

Although it’s hard to make sense of the corresponding efficiency ratings of 102 MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent) for the Long Range and 98 MPGe for the Performance, that difference does point out that if efficiency matters, the Long Range is the way to go.

Keep in mind that if you travel faster than 70 mph on the highway, cut nearly 20 percent from those numbers; and cut another 20 for colder winter weather.

Because of its range and comfort and the Tesla Supercharger network, the Model S is one of the best picks for all-electric road trips. Tesla has developed the network of chargers along major highways and interstate corridors, and the Model S can recharge roughly 200 miles in less than an hour.

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Expert Rating
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Styling 7
Performance 8
Comfort & Quality 7
Safety 7
Features 8
Fuel Economy 10
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