Tesla’s Model S sedan was the first mass-market car to prove that electric vehicles could be fun-to-drive, eco-friendly, viable as everyday transportation, and even useable for long trips. The Model S, which earns a spot on our Editors’ Choice list, does all that even better for 2021. Depending on which trim you choose, the Model S can travel between 390 and 520 miles on just one charge and deliver blistering acceleration performance that rivals some of the world’s best supercars. Tesla now sells more practical and more affordable models such as the Model Y SUV and the Model 3 sedan, but the Model S remains the flagship of the brand. Its interior is spacious for four adults but doesn’t live up to the luxury price tag. With increased pressure from rivals such as the Porsche Taycan and the upcoming Lucid Air, the Model S is no longer in a class of one, but for some buyers, the car’s athletic chassis, Ludicrous driving mode, and exceptional range are enough to sell them on the Tesla EV lifestyle.
What’s New for 2021?
For 2021, Tesla is adding even more performance to the Model S. The two top-spec models will be called Plaid and Plaid+ will boast 1020 horsepower from three onboard electric motors, and are said to be capable of a zero-to-60-mph time of fewer than two seconds. In addition to its impressive power and speed credentials, Tesla also says the Plaid+ is capable of providing up to 520 miles of driving range. The rest of the lineup benefits from an exterior styling refresh and an upgraded interior, complete with a yoke-type steering wheel that looks inspired by F1 racing cars.
Engine, Transmission, and Performance
With an electric motor dedicated to each of the fronts and rear axles, the Model S offers a full-time all-wheel drive no matter which version you choose. Acceleration of the various models ranges from outstanding to ferocious. We haven’t tested the Model S Long Range or Plaid yet, but our 2020 Model S test vehicle delivered a blistering 2.4-second zero-to-60-mph time and proved endlessly entertaining thanks to its immediate power delivery. The Plaid and Plaid+ models boast a third electric motor, which boosts combined output to 1020 horsepower. Tesla hasn’t released those beasts into the wild yet but claims they’re capable of a zero-to-60-mph time of fewer than two seconds. That would make them the quickest cars to 60 mph we’ve ever tested, so we’ll obviously have to take them to the track to see if their performance matches the hype. The standard Model S has proven itself an agile sports sedan with well-controlled body motions and direct steering. Two different settings allow drivers to choose heavy or light steering effort, but neither of them enables more feedback from the road. Ride comfort is good, the handling is crisp, and it’s confident and almost tranquil on the highway.
Interior, Comfort, and Cargo
With Model S prices starting at close to $80,000, buyers would be reasonable to expect a certain amount of luxury inside the car. The cabin’s atmosphere is nice enough, but it’s not nearly as plush as those of our favorites such as the Mercedes-Benz E-class and the Volvo S90. The Model S’s sloped roofline cleverly hides a rear liftgate that opens up to reveal a huge 26-cubic-foot trunk. We managed to stash eight of our carry-on-size cases without folding down the rear seats. Paltry small-item cubby stowage throughout the interior—especially in the back seat—is offset by a large underfloor bin in the rear cargo area.