When we first reviewed the Tesla Model S back in early 2014 we had to make do with a European spec P85+ as the car had not yet been officially released in the UK. At the time, while I was getting use to driving on the wrong other side of the car, Nikki and I mused at how it would be interesting to try a base-model car to see how that compared.
The other week I was able to fulfil this desire when Tesla loaned me their newly released Model S 60D.
The lower end of Tesla’s Model S range has always been a little confusing. While the higher end just keeps getting larger battery packs and better performance the lower end has jumped all over the place.
It all started, before launch, with a 40 kilowatt-hour version that was nixed before production. This led to the car launching with a 60 kWh model, which was replaced by the 70. This in turn was replaced by the 75. And now, finally that brings us back to the 60 which was reintroduced earlier this year, albeit in a, some would say, cheeky way.
Tesla’s Model S 60 doesn’t actually have a 60kWh battery. In reality it has a 75kWh battery which is software limited. This move has brought both criticism and praise – more on this later.
The car, as reviewed, was a Solid White Model S 60D with a few extra features thrown in, namely: the panoramic roof, autopilot and the smart air suspension. As driven the car comes to, including the £4500 UK government plug-in grant, £63,880. The car has a range of 253 miles according to the NEDC test cycle – which we all know is rubbish. On the more accurate EPA test cycle Tesla believes the car will clock in as having a range of 218 miles which I would say is more realistic. I will go into its range in another article soon, for this review I will focus on the car itself.
It looks as stunning as ever and the white paint, while causing some cars to look a little weird, works well on the Model S. It gives it a slightly futuristic look that wouldn’t be out of place in a film or TV show set a few years in the future.
The new fascia, brought in to unify the Model S with the design language used on the Model X and upcoming Model 3, doesn’t look as out of place as it does in some photos. Possibly the inclusion of the license plate serves to break up the solid frontage now that the faux-grille has been removed. Whatever the reason, the new front view snaps into place with the rest of the car’s lines in a way it didn’t before the change.
Internally the car I drove had the dark ash wood décor which accented the cabin with wooden highlights. In a similar way to the BMW i3, the wood served as a great juxtaposition between the old and the new, providing a down-to-Earth feel while everything else was dominated by a very modern feel.
New to me was the inclusion of the centre column which wasn’t in the Model S I drove two and a half years ago. While this is a welcome addition in terms of functionality I can’t help but think the car lost some of its ‘art’ with its inclusion. Without it, sitting in the Model S feels open; It makes a statement about what the car is. It says, ‘This is not an internal combustion engine car.’
With the central column there are no clear immediate indicators that anything is different about the internals of the car. I could be sat in any large luxury car with a massive petrol or diesel engine hidden behind the bonnet/hood.
Is the functionality increase worth this as a cost? I don’t honestly know. I’m torn.
The tan leather interior is also very nice to look at – reminding me of the light interior options of the Nissan LEAF albeit in a much fancier way. But the tan colouring does make the car look a bit like a chauffeur car. It did get to the point where I felt like I was driving my passengers around as their driver. Though, I admit, this could just be my biases about the colour.
In its driving the car was stellar. The four-wheel drive option drops the 0 – 60 time to 5.2 seconds from the 5.5 seconds that is available in the rear-wheel drive version. To be honest, either of these are plenty. At no point in the 600 miles I drove the car did I feel like it was lacking any power.
Also, at no point on the drive did any of the wheels slip. And this included some very wet days. This is in stark contrast to the P85+ we tested before where we could hardly jump off the line without the wheels spinning and the car having to employ measures. Though, do keep in mind that we are now comparing two cars with very different torque levels and drive systems (rear-wheel drive vs four-wheel drive).
The car, as far as I can tell, is somehow glued to the road. I could approach any corner at any speed and just glide around it. All with almost imperceptible body roll. The weight of the batteries, along with the wide wheel base keep the car firmly seated at all times.
A nice feature that many existing electric car drivers will like is the one-foot driving. The aggressive energy regeneration employed by the car facilitates only the slightest tap of the brakes to come to a full stop. Most other braking can be controlled by just the power pedal from slowing to an almost stop around town to quickly reducing speed on a motorway. The car automatically activates the brake lights when needed too, which is a nice touch.
Which brings us to one of the advantages of having a 75kWh battery pack but only being able to use 60kWh of it. Usually when a battery pack is full regen is limited or even unavailable as the car has nowhere to put the power. With the Model S 60 this isn’t the case and it was my experience that regen braking at the top of the pack was just as aggressive as at the bottom.
The second advantage of the battery pack being larger than what is available comes when charging. A higher charging rate can be employed right up to when the car is ‘full’ due to the fact that its 100% is really only 79% of the battery. Indeed, overnight charging on a UK 32A supply (7kW) seemed to be able to maintain the full power right up until the end – or at least as near the end as I was awake enough to check.
This was also mirrored at superchargers where one charge from 18% up to full completed before I was able to finish talking to other Tesla drivers (a must at SuperChargers), pee and grab and eat some food.
I’ve read the arguments against software limiting the car’s pack but I have to say I think I am a convert to this system. Indeed, when I think about it, all electric car batteries have this to an extent as the usable pack size is never the same as the total pack size to avoid excessive damage to the batteries through true 100% charging or full-pack depletion. Tesla has just taken this to the next step which introduces benefits like those listed above plus the ability to unlock the addition storage if needed in future. Now, if only this could be done on an ad hoc basis; unlocked for a two week period for a road trip then locked again.
It isn’t all praise for the car though. It seems that Tesla still has some issues with fit and finish of the car. Sealant could be found around the sun roof somewhat ruining the pleasure in showing it off to people. Also, when opening the froot (the ‘front boot’?) cables running past the hinge were getting caught and scraping on the metal frame of the car.
The central console of the car is also showing its age. Whereas it was once responsive and impressive it now feels a little sluggish. Switching apps, dragging icons and general navigation suffers from some lag and the whole screen gets too hot. Almost to the point of too hot. This could just be the normal slowness introduced when running more sophisticated software on older equipment but it does distract from the feel of the car.
The interface itself now looks dated from a user interface point of view. The icons for each of the functions on the system still use a sudo-3D style that was replaced by most touch interface systems a while ago. It gives the interface a ‘cartoonish’ feel which now feels at odds with the car itself.
And my largest bugbear: Tesla’s routing system. On one occasion instead of taking us the shorter and faster route when coming off a motorway (off the motorway, onto an A-road and up one junction to our destination) it took us off the motorway, onto a single lane road that went through two villages and across the motorway twice before bringing us out opposite our destination and expecting us to drive across all four lanes of the A-road.
It also makes decisions without telling the driver – On more than one occasion it routed us around traffic but didn’t tell us it had changed the route. Sure, not the biggest of issues but one that leads to a lot of confusion and scrabbling around on the screen to understand what is going on.
It’s possible this is intentional as the system seems to ‘baby’ the driver. When plotting a journey the car will plan the supercharger stops itself. There is no way for me, as a driver, to make it use a specific charger while plotting a longer route. There is also no way to plot multi-destination routes which would by-pass this issue.
Sure, these issues can be fixed with an over-the-air update but at the moment these issues exist and can cause frustration.
But – and I stress this a lot – the issues I have with the car by far pale in comparison to the love I have for it. And I haven’t even gone into the range or the autopilot features here (both of which I will touch on in further articles).
My time with the (almost) base model Model S was a revelation. Halfway through the trip my other half and I were doing calculations to see if, though any sort of financial hijinks, we could afford it ourselves. The answer is “no – we can’t”. But I would recommend it to anyone who can.
My overall feeling when I handed it back was that this is all the Tesla anyone needs. Anything above this is just ‘want’.
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