Shortly before Christmas I published my much read “nail in the e-coffin” post, setting out why I’m convinced EV’s are not the only way mobility will develop going forward. At the same time, I made clear that I have no problem with EV’s as a concept, as long as their owners come down form their high horses and stop pretending they’re saving the world. As I said then, this settles the background debate for me (if I didn’t manage to convince you until now, you’ve probably stopped reading anyway). That doesn’t change the fact that EV’s are part of the car world now, and no brand has made more of an impact in this regard than Tesla. Earlier this week it so happened that I had the opportunity to drive the most impactful Tesla of them all – the Model S Plaid. I didn’t know it then, but life was about to enter another dimension…
I’ve driven the Model S before but it’s quite a few years ago, so it was nice to see that what was at the time a pretty low-quality cabin now with the introduction of what you could call the second series has been significantly upgraded. The overall layout is still the same but the materials are nicer. It’s no luxury car, but it’s certainly not worse than other EV’s around the same price point (Audi E-tron being an example) The screen is now horizontal across all models, and this Plaid was also equipped with the yolk in place of a steering wheel. This is apparently something that varies by market but at least here in Switzerland, you can choose between a normal steering wheel and the yolk both on the normal S and the Plaid. More on the yolk later, but a clear benefit is that it opens up your vision of the instruments and towards the front of the car.
I chatted about charging, batteries and the new sound system (which is not as good as other high end systems, whatever Tesla says) with a very nice salesman who also showed me some parts of the system. This is of course where any Tesla shines and you have to give it to them, what they do on the tech side is still pretty far ahead of everyone else. An example would be how in other cars, you’re still lucky to find someone offering wireless Apple Car Play, when in a Tesla you don’t need it at all as you have direct access to your Spotify account. Or how I was thinking that it was crap that there was no memory buttons on the electric seats, only to be reminded that you can set up to 10 profiles in the system under which all your seat, mirror and steering wheel adjustments are saved. I may have doubts on our EV future, but such developments will hopefully be part of it more broadly.
The sales guy then spontaneously offered me to take the car for a ride straight away, which I did. Alone. I followed his recommendation for a route that included both city, motorway and a nice, curvy road over a lower mountain pass, all within 30 minutes of the city (Switzerland is a mountainous country…). I was reminded of two things straight away from previous drives in the Model S, namely to treat the accelerator with some caution (especially in this version…) and also that the recuperation is very strong and as I understand it, no longer adjustable. That really isn’t a problem at all though. It takes you a few minutes to get used to it but not more, and after that you basically drive the car with one foot. I really don’t understand car journalists and vloggers who have a problem with this, however it probably means that you need to actively think of using the breaks from time to time, or your discs risk rusting.
Another very special thing is of course the yolk. I’d like to think that you get used to it and in most situations, meaning everything except roundabouts and sharp turns, you can basically treat it like a wheel. In those situations though, unless you want to cross your arms you’ll need to move your hands without an obvious place to put them. You also need to be careful such as not to hit the small buttons on both sides of the wheel for notably indicators, horn etc. And when you do need the horn, you usually don’t have time to search for a small fiddly button rather than just smash the center of the steering wheel. It is indeed pretty cool not to have the steering wheel blocking your view forward but on balance, the disadvantages with the yolk outweigh the benefits.
The ride is good, as it’s always been with the Model S. I’ve never driven, but ridden in a new Model Y which is a terrible experience, with a suspension that is much to hard. The S is far better, clearly on par with normal cars. Handling is excellent, the car feels planted and neutral. It’s too heavy to dance around the corner but it’s very neutral in its behavior. The steering is precise and can be set with different levels of resistance, but none of them will communicate much of what happens below the car. It’s a different experience driving on a curvy road as you’re not using the break and it takes some getting used to, but I don’t doubt you would get used to it. In summary, I guess you could call it a somewhat synthetic experience. It’s different, but it’s not bad.
And then there’s of course the acceleration. Which is completely freakin’ bonkers. I’ve driven many fast cars, none of which come even close, and I strongly doubt anything does this side of a dragster or a fighter plane. It’s not only about the sheer power though, there’s also the EV immediacy, i.e. the power being delivered without any delay at any point. You hit the pedal (no, you don’t floor it in this car on a public road unless you’re tired of life) and in return you’re pushed back against your seat at the same time as your knuckles whiten. It’s completely and utterly crazy. It’s also completely unusable in anything except a straight line or a drag race. Trust me, I know how to drive on a curvy road and at no point was it possible to use anywhere near the full power of the Plaid.
The new “normal” Model S does the sprint to 100 km/h in 3.2 seconds and has a longer range than the Plaid which is one second quicker to 100 km/h. Except for a carbon fibre spoiler lip on the trunk and the Plaid logo (which looks like the symbol of some religious sect) the cars are identical, and the normal S is 20-30% cheaper. The Plaid is of course nothing more than a prestige object but given that, Tesla should perhaps have worked a bit more on the styling to set it apart? Even putting that aside though, there’s really no reason to go for anything more than a normal Model S, especially since there’s quite a few reports of the brakes overheating quite quickly when the 1000 hp Plaid is driven with some ambition…
For a petrol head deciding to take the – big – step of switching to an EV, at around 100′ CHF in this country, the Model S is probably the best EV you can buy. It’s also the best car in the Tesla range. The Models Y and 3 are both simpler and cheaper in ride and materials, and even though the Model X has had the same interior updates, I’ve never met an X owner who hasn’t had problems with his gull wing doors. The Model S is however not only that, for me it also beats EV’s at a similar price point (think Audi E-tron, Mercedes EQE etc.). It’s better in areas such as range, infotainment and charging infrastructure, and is now also on par in terms of materials. All the others are far less powerful though, meaning they’re less fun. That last part is what makes it worth a consideration for anyone interested in more than the sheer transport from A to B. This petrol head is however not there yet!