The car that started the EV revolution is starting to show its age. While the 2023 Tesla Model S falls behind newly developed rivals with more over-the-top features and longer driving ranges, the sedan-like hatchback remains competitive. After all, the Model S offers up to 405 miles of range on a single charge. Additionally, the 1020-hp tri-motor Plaid performance model leaps to 60 mph in just 2.1 seconds, which is as quick as a multimillion-dollar hypercar. However, cutting-edge rivals such as the BMW i7 and Lucid Air have taken much of the Tesla’s spotlight. The Model S also has a six-figure price tag that just doesn’t match its mid-luxury interior, especially compared to the Lucid and BMW’s luxury cabins. We think the Tesla’s weird yoke-style steering wheel also compromises the driving experience, but at least a regular wheel is available again. Still, the 2023 Model S remains the brand’s flagship, offering access to its most up-to-date software and Tesla’s advanced—though somewhat dubious—AutoPilot hands-free driving mode.
What’s new for 2023?
This year, the Model S adds a new key card that replaces the previously standard car-shaped key fob. A regular steering wheel also returns as a free option (a $700 retrofit is also available to current owners). Since Tesla is known for making changes to its cars throughout each model year, be prepared for more changes to the Model S coming down the line.
Prices and which one to buy
We’re sticking with the base model, which carries an estimated range of 405 miles per charge. The ultra-high-performance Plaid model sounds compelling, but its nearly $138k starting price represents diminishing value—unless you absolutely must have a car with the quickness reminiscent of a Top Fuel dragster.
EV motor, power and performance
With an electric motor dedicated to each of the front and rear axles, the Model S offers full-time four-wheel drive no matter which version you choose. The acceleration of the different models ranges from outstanding to incredible. Our 2020 Model S test vehicle delivered a blistering 2.4-second sprint to 60 mph and was endlessly entertaining thanks to its instant power delivery. The Plaid version boasts a third electric motor, boosting combined output to 1,020 horsepower—enough to send it to 60 mph in 2.1 seconds. The standard Model S proved itself to be an agile sports sedan with well-controlled body movements and direct steering. Two different settings allow drivers to choose heavy or light steering effort, but neither allows for more feedback from the road. Unfortunately, the available yoke-style steering wheel is poorly integrated and detracts from the driving experience; A regular steering wheel is a no-cost option. Ride comfort is good, handling is competent, and it’s confident and almost serene on the highway.
Range, charging and battery life
Underneath the Tesla’s floor is a battery pack that delivers a low center of gravity and evenly distributed weight from front to back. Range and acceleration performance vary by model, with the base version’s battery offering up to 405 miles of range while the Plaid model offers up to 396. The Lucid Air is the current high water mark with its estimate of 517 miles; the BMW i7’s maximum range is by far the shortest at 318 miles.
Fuel Economy and Real-World MPGe
While EVs like the Chevy Bolt and Polestar 2 delivering serviceable driving range, the Model S remains an impressive alternative to gas-powered vehicles when it comes to long-distance travel. The base model has the highest MPGe ratings at 124 city and 115 highway. In us 75 mph highway fuel economy test, A 2020 Model S showed a 222-mile result, which is still significantly shorter than its 326-mile EPA range rating at the time. The Plaid managed 280 miles of its claimed 390 miles of range. For more information on the Model S’s fuel economy, visit the EPA’s website.
Interior, comfort and cargo
With Model S prices starting over $100,000, it’s reasonable for buyers to expect a certain amount of luxury in the car. The cabin’s atmosphere is nice enough, but it is not nearly as classy as that of our favorites such as e.g. Mercedes-Benz E-Class and Volvo S90-Both cost significantly less. The Model S’s sloping roofline cleverly conceals a tailgate that opens to reveal a whopping 26 cubic feet of trunk. We managed to store eight of our carry-on bags without folding down the rear seats. Sharp small-item cubic storage throughout the interior—especially in the rear seat—is offset by a large underfloor bin in the rear cargo area.
Infotainment and connectivity
Fans of modern minimalism will adore the Model S’s cabin, which comes standard with a giant infotainment screen that controls nearly all of the vehicle’s functions. Technophiles will be in heaven, but we’re not quite sold. The display’s placement on the dashboard will require some drivers to lean forward in their seat to reach certain icons, particularly those near the top right of the display. Unlike the cheaper Model 3, the Model S offers a secondary display for the gauge cluster and a small touch panel in the back seat as well.
Safety and Driver Assistance Features
Although the Model S has sparked a nationwide conversation about the safety of partially autonomous vehicles and has reportedly caught fire after certain types of high-speed collisions, its safety credentials are bolstered by decent crash test results from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the knowledge that car fires are not uncommon, whether in electric or gas-powered vehicles. For more information on the Model S’s crash test results, visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) websites. Key safety features include:
- Standard automatic emergency braking
- Standard lane departure warning
- Available adaptive cruise control with a hands-free driving mode
Warranty and Maintenance Cover
Tesla offers a comprehensive warranty package to protect the Model S’s powertrain and hybrid components, but lacks the lengthy bumper-to-bumper coverage and complimentary scheduled maintenance packages of the Jaguar I-Pace.
- Limited warranty covers four years or 50,000 miles
- Powertrain warranty covers eight years and unlimited miles
- No complimentary scheduled maintenance
2021 Tesla Model S Plaid
Vehicle type: front and rear engine, four-wheel drive, 5-passenger, 4-door hatchback
Base/As Tested: $131,440/$137,440
3 permanent-magnet synchronous AC
Combined power: 1020 hp; Combined torque: 1050 lb-ft
Battery pack: liquid-cooled lithium-ion, 99.3 kWh
Transmissions, F/H: direct drive
Suspension, F/R: multilink/multilink
Brakes, F/R: 15.0-in ventilated disc/14.4-in ventilated disc
Tires: Michelin Pilot Sport 4S; F: 265/35R-21 (101Y) T1; R: 295/30R-21 (102Y) T1
Wheelbase: 116.5 inches
Length: 197.7 inches
Width: 78.2 inches
Height: 56.3 inches
Passenger volume: 100 feet3
Cargo volume: 28 feet3
Curb weight: 4828 lb
C/D TEST RESULTS
60 mph: 2.1 sec
100 mph: 4.3 sec
130 mph: 6.9 sec
1/4-mile: 9.4 sec @ 151 mph
160 mph: 10.8 sec
Results above show 1 foot deployment of 0.2 sec. away.
Roll start, 5–60 mph: 2.3 sec
Top speed (gov ltd): 162 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 150 ft
Road holding capacity, 300-foot skid road: 1.08 g
C/D FUEL ECONOMY
Observed: 71 MPGe
75 mph highway driving: 91 MPGe
Range: 280 miles
EPA FUEL ECONOMY
Comb./City/Hwy: 101/102/99 MPGe
Range: 348 miles
2020 Tesla Model S Performance
front and mid-engine, four-wheel drive, 5-passenger, 4-door hatchback
PRICE AS TESTED
$108,690 (base price: $96,190)
front: permanent-magnet synchronous AC, 275 hp, 310 lb-ft;
rear: induction AC, 503 hp, 531 lb-ft;
98.0-kWh lithium-ion battery pack
single speed direct drive
Suspension (F/R): multilink/multilink
Brakes (F/R): 14.0-in ventilated disc/14.4-in ventilated disc
Tyres: Michelin Pilot Sport 4S, F: 245/35R-21 96Y TO R: 265/35R-21 101Y TO
Wheelbase: 116.5 inches
Length: 195.7 inches
Width: 77.3 inches
Height: 56.9 inches
Passenger volume: 95 feet3
Cargo volume: 26 feet3
Curb weight: 4998 lb
C/D TEST RESULTS
60 mph: 2.4 sec
100 mph: 6.1 sec
130 mph: 11.4 sec
150 mph: 19.3 sec
1/4 mile: 10.6 sec @ 126 mph
Top speed (mfr’s claim): 163 mph
Stand-start access times allow 1-foot deployment of 0.3 sec. away.
EPA FUEL ECONOMY
Combined/city/highway: 97/98/96 MPGe
Range: 326 miles
C/D TEST EXPLAINED
More features and specifications