"Sleek," "desirable," "luxurious," "powerful" and "inspiring" are all words that one typically uses to describe the latest European luxury sedan. But in this case, they also describe America's latest and best homegrown electric vehicle, the 2014 Tesla Model S. With its luxury sedan accommodations, pulse-quickening performance, world-class handling and unmatched range, the Model S is a huge departure from the typical electric car. Yet thanks to a thoroughly modern interpretation of interior design and a host of advanced technological features (including an all-wheel-drive model and a rapidly expanding Supercharger network), the Model S also serves as a new benchmark for all vehicles, electric or otherwise.
Despite these many virtues, the Tesla Model S is not exclusive to the ultra-wealthy. Pricing for the base model starts around $70,000 when new, and that's not including a federal tax credit. While this isn't exactly chump change, the base model's EPA-estimated range of 208 miles is more than double that of any other electric vehicle. To get the most out of your Model S ownership, though, we'd recommend the bigger (and more expensive) 85 kWh battery pack, which provides greater performance and an as much as 265 miles of range.
Considering the Model S is a new type of car coming from a new, relatively tiny automaker that has just one previous car under its belt (the Roadster), perhaps it doesn't come as a surprise that there are some inevitable bugs to work out. You can read about our year-long experience with our own Model S with the 85 kWh battery and third-row seating option. Reliability was subpar at least in comparison to other, more established cars, but we've been impressed with the Model S's overall versatility and Tesla's prompt warranty service repairs.
At the same time, it doesn't quite match the interior quality and refinement of more established luxury brands that benefit from decades of experience building the finest cars in the world. Among that group, the diesel-powered 2014 Audi A7 and hybrid 2014 Porsche Panamera similarly have one eye set on performance and the other on Mother Earth. Alternately, you might also consider the innovative 2014 BMW i8, a new two-door plug-in hybrid.
Yet there's literally nothing else like the all-electric Tesla Model S on the road today, and likely won't be for many years to come. Whether you're attracted to the affordable base model or go all-in for a fully loaded P85D version, you're assured of one of the most noteworthy cars since the introduction of the Ford Model T. Better yet, the Tesla is nearly sacrifice-free, as it rides and drives as well as some of the world's best luxury sedans.
The 2014 Tesla Model S is a large, four-to-seven-passenger luxury sedan. It's available in four trim levels: 60, 85, P85 and P85D. Late in the model year, Tesla updated P85 models to come standard with a more powerful, dual-motor setup (detailed later in the Powertrains and Performance section), and these models are known as P85D. Each trim level's name refers to the kilowatt-hour (kWh) capacity (and thus battery capacity and output) of the sedan.
The Model S 60 comes with 19-inch wheels, all-season tires, automatic xenon headlights, LED taillights, keyless entry and start, cruise control, dual-zone automatic climate control, a 17-inch touchscreen, a rearview camera, cloth and premium vinyl upholstery, heated eight-way power front seats (with four-way power lumbar), 60/40-split-folding rear seats, a power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity and a seven-speaker sound system with dual USB ports (media and charging) and HD radio. A cellular connection, Internet radio and WiFi connectivity are included. A universal mobile connector (with 110-volt, 240-volt and J1772 adapters) is included as well.
Options for the Model S 60 include the Supercharger Enabled package that provides free, rapid charging (about half the charge in as little as 20 minutes) at Tesla's growing network of Supercharger stations around the country. Outfit the Model S with a second onboard charger for up to twice the standard rate of charge (up to 58 miles of range per hour) when combined with the optional 80-amp at-home wall charger. Range-enhancing tires are also available.
The optional Tech package includes adaptive cruise control, frontal collision warning, LED running and cornering lights, automatic high-beam control, lighted door handles, auto-dimming mirrors, power-folding and heated exterior mirrors, a power hatchback, driver memory functions and a navigation system. (Depending on when your Model S was built, it may lack the adaptive cruise control, frontal collision warning and auto high beams.) Tesla says that future software updates for the Tech package will include an "Autopilot" function that allows for hands-free driving of the Model S, including automatically changing lanes by selecting the turn signal indicator, autonomous steering, a parking-spot detection system and hands-free parallel parking functions.
The Smart Air Suspension option (requires the Tech pack) adds self-adjusting (adjustable height) suspension. Optional front and rear parking sensors and foglamps also require the Technology package. The Ultra High Fidelity Sound option ups the speaker count to 12 and also includes satellite radio. A Subzero Weather package adds heated rear seats, wiper blade defrosters and washer nozzle heaters. Clear film paint protection is offered, as is Matching Yacht Floor trim that coordinates the center console tray to the rest of the interior trim; otherwise the trim is high-gloss black.
A Premium Interior package (requires leather seats) covers the lower instrument panel, armrests and driver airbag. Optional fold-flat rear-facing seats increase total passenger capacity to seven, while an Executive rear seat package eliminates the rear bench seat (replacing it with two captain's chairs) and reduces overall capacity to four passengers. The Executive rear seats and rear-facing seats cannot be simultaneously equipped. Finally, a simulated suede headliner, LED interior lighting and a parcel shelf round out the interior offerings.
Besides an increase in battery capacity and motor output, the Model S 85 is Supercharger-enabled and comes with the range-enhancing tires. Otherwise all the above options are available. The P85 and P85D provide some additional power, plus red Brembo brake calipers and simulated suede headliner. Other options include a carbon-fiber rear spoiler, 21-inch wheels with high-performance summer tires and the Technology and Smart Air suspension packages, along with revised suspension tuning.
The 2014 Tesla Model S features a cabin that one might imagine in a car of the future. Almost all knobs and buttons are absent, replaced by a sleek 17-inch vertical touchscreen that controls almost all onboard systems. Besides looking futuristic, the system actually functions well, too. Users can configure the placement of audio, climate and navigation controls to their liking. We'd opt for the Tech package's enhanced navigation system, though, as the standard system provides only maps and no turn-by-turn directions.
In terms of comfort, both front and rear seats offer ample legroom for adults, though taller rear-seat passengers may run out of headroom. The front seats are nice, but they do lack the multitude of adjustments (and, ultimately, comfort and support) found in other similarly priced luxury sedans. The optional rear-facing jump seats are comically small, and only small children are able to sit back there. That said, it's a unique option, and the seats have multipoint belts, so no added safety seat is needed.
These third-row seats fold flat into the footwell, allowing for a capacious 26.3 cubic feet of cargo space, which is significantly more than in other large luxury sedans. Folding the middle row flat expands that space to 58 cubes. There's also a secondary trunk under the hood that offers a few cubic feet of additional storage, but the front trunk on a dual-motor Model S has about half the space.
Materials throughout the cabin are acceptable for a luxury sedan, but those who purchase the range-topping models might expect more than the Model S delivers. The leather upholstery in particular doesn't live up to premium luxury standards. Elsewhere, the typical window switches and driver controls have been sourced from Mercedes-Benz, making them hard to fault by any measure.
The 2014 Tesla Model S is propelled by water-cooled electric motors (one motor in 60 and 85 models, dual motors in the P85D) that route power directly to the wheels through a single-speed direct drive. Lithium-ion battery packs are also utilized throughout the lineup.
The Model S 60's motor output is rated at 380 horsepower and Tesla expects it to reach 60 mph in 5.9 seconds. The EPA estimates a range of 208 miles. It's a realistic number, but as with all EVs, your driving style greatly influences actual range.
The Model S 85 model is also rated at 380 hp, but with a more capable power inverter it is able to deliver an estimated 0-60-mph time of 5.4 seconds and an EPA-estimated range of 265 miles. Depending on when you purchase a Model S, it's available in either the P85 or P85D trim. The P85 (rear-wheel drive) boosts output to 470 hp, still with a range of 265 miles. In Edmunds testing, the Tesla Model S Performance accelerated to 60 mph in a very quick 4.3 seconds.
Late in the model year, P85 models were updated with a second electric motor and an all-wheel-drive setup that boosts power to 691 hp (221 hp through the front wheels and 470 hp to the rear). Tesla claims a 0-60 mph time of 3.2 seconds, and the EPA rates the P85D's range at 242 miles.
All Teslas can be recharged from all standard 110- and 240-volt household outlets and from various public charging stations using the included Universal Mobile Connector and adapters. Charging with a 110-volt outlet is very slow -- you'll only be able to recharge about 3 miles worth of range per hour. (Translation: You'll be better off walking.) In contrast, utilizing a 240-volt outlet with a 50-amp circuit (referred to as a NEMA 14-50 outlet, and common at RV parks), you can recharge about 30 miles of range per hour, which works out to about 7 hours to completely recharge the 60 kWh pack with the single onboard charger. The 85 kWh would need about 9 hours.
The dual-charger system -- which needs a 100-amp circuit to operate at full capacity -- is an option. Using the optional wall connector doubles the recharge rate to about 60 miles worth of range per hour, meaning a full recharge for the 60 kWh takes about 3.5 hours, and the 85 kWh takes about 4.5 hours.
The Model S can also use a nationwide network of "superchargers" that Tesla continues to expand. Tesla says the industrial-grade, high-speed chargers can replenish up to 200 miles of range in the 85 kWh batteries in about an hour, enabling long-distance travel. We drove across the country in our long-term Model S thanks to the Supercharger network.
The 2014 Tesla Model S effectively crushes every preconceived notion you may have had about electric cars. Unlike the quirky pod cars, golf carts or even economy car-based EVs, the Tesla drives just like a conventional luxury sedan. Our experience is limited to the P85 and P85D models, but we've been utterly impressed by both models on a number of levels.
Acceleration is both quick and eerily quiet. With all torque being immediately available, it's like being shot out of a gun barrel -- with a silencer. Braking is also praiseworthy, not just because the pedal feels like one from a conventional car, but also because it gets the Model S stopped with authority. The well-tuned steering and suspension further add to the experience, with a sharpness and accuracy not typically found in an EV.
Fortunately, the Model S's sporty capabilities don't come at the expense of comfort and compliance, as the ride quality is smooth and agreeable. Through neighborhoods and around town, the electric nature of the Model S means it's super quiet. At freeway speeds, however (especially when the Model S is equipped with the wider high-performance tires), wind and road noise take over, and the big sedan becomes more average in terms of cabin quietness.
Standard safety features for all 2014 Tesla Model S variants include head, knee and pelvic airbags for the front passengers as well as front and rear side curtain airbags. All models have stability and traction control, crash sensors for high-voltage disconnect, antilock disc brakes and a rearview camera. Also, if ordered, the rear-facing seat option also augments the existing rear bumper with a second, high-strength aluminum framework.
In government crash tests, the Model S earned a top five-star rating for overall crash protection, with five stars for total frontal-impact safety and five stars for total side-impact safety. In Edmunds brake testing, the Model S with optional 21-inch wheels and performance tires came to a stop from 60 mph in an impressive 108 feet.
Tesla favors running changes throughout the year rather than annual updates so major changes may depend on the timing of your purchase. Most recently, the company released an all-wheel-drive, dual-motor model called the "D." Available on Model S's with the 85kW battery and known as the P85D, these trim levels add all-wheel drive along with several safety enhancements including a 360-degree sonar system and collision avoidance braking.