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2015 Tesla Model S REVIEW

Edmunds.com logo Edmunds.com 4/5/2017

Con: Lacks the convenience, familiarity and luxury polish of similarly priced sedans; potential reliability issues.

Interior: If you like the sensation of using a touchscreen tablet, you'll almost certainly love the Tesla's massive center control screen. There are very few buttons or knobs along the dashboard, 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. If you have a soft spot for classic station wagons and you opt for the optional rear-facing jump seats, you'll have seating space back there for two small children. The seats have multipoint safety belts, so no added safety seat is necessary, but they're also comically small.

Those 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 space, but the front trunk on a dual-motor Model S has about half the space.

While the cabin materials are nice looking, they don't quite match those found in luxury cars in the Model S's same price range. In extensive testing, we've found the leather upholstery holds up well over time, but the leather seen in premium luxury brands feels a bit more supple and high-end. Elsewhere, the typical window switches and driver controls have been sourced from Mercedes-Benz, making them hard to fault by any measure.

Body: The 2015 Tesla Model S is a large, four-to-seven-passenger luxury sedan. It's available in four trim levels: 60, 70D, 85, 85D, P85D, 90, 90D and P90D. The numbers in each trim level refer to the kilowatt-hour (kWh) capacity (and thus battery capacity and output) of the sedan, while the "D" denotes the dual-motor, all-wheel-drive models. Note that Tesla has been known to update the Model S throughout each model year, so what follows may not necessarily reflect the absolute latest offerings.

The Model S 60 comes with 19-inch wheels, all-season tires, automatic xenon headlights, LED taillights, 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 also included, as are a universal mobile connector (with 110-volt, 240-volt and J1772 adapters).

Options for the Model S 60 include the Supercharger Enabled package that provides rapid charging (about half of a charge in as little as 20 minutes) at Tesla's growing network of Supercharger stations around the country. Once you've paid to access the Supercharger network, getting a charge there is free. 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 with Autopilot includes LED running and cornering lights, automatic high-beam control, lighted door handles, auto-dimming mirrors, power-folding and heated exterior mirrors, a power hatchback, keyless entry and ignition, driver memory functions and a navigation system. In October 2015, Tesla provided an over-the-air update that unlocked the "Autopilot" function on models equipped with the required features. It  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. A Premium Interior package (requires leather seats) covers the lower instrument panel, armrests and driver airbag in leather and adds LED interior lighting. The Ultra High Fidelity Sound package adds a 12-speaker sound system and also includes satellite radio. A Subzero Weather package adds a full row of heated rear seats, heated steering wheel, wiper blade defrosters and washer nozzle heaters.

Optional fold-flat, rear-facing jump seats (for small children) increase total passenger capacity to seven, while an Executive rear seat package replaces the rear bench seat with two captain's chairs, thus reducing overall capacity to four passengers. The Executive rear seats and rear-facing jump seats cannot be simultaneously equipped.

The Model S 70D adds an additional motor that powers the front wheels, and provides access to the Supercharger network. Otherwise, all of the above features and options apply.

Besides an increase in battery capacity and motor output, the Model S 85 comes with the range-enhancing tires. The 85D and P85D provide some additional power, plus red Brembo brake calipers. Later in the year, these vehicles were renamed the 90, 90D and P90D to reflect a larger 90 kWh battery pack, which Tesla says increases maximum range by 6 percent. Existing 85 owners are able to upgrade to the larger pack at additional cost.  Other options include a carbon-fiber rear spoiler, 21-inch wheels with high-performance summer tires, the Technology and Smart Air suspension packages, and revised suspension tuning.

Driving: The 2015 Tesla Model S is unlike every other electric car on the road. You may have experience with quirky podlike electric cars, electric golf carts or even economy car-based EVs, but the Tesla doesn't drive like any of those. Acceleration is both quick and eerily quiet. With all the torque being immediately available, under full acceleration it's like being shot out of a gun barrel -- with a silencer. The P85D model, in particular, provides supercar acceleration with a 0-60 time of just 3.5 seconds and nearly 700 hp on tap. Energy use will suffer quite a bit if you're using "Insane" mode and lead-footing it away from every stoplight, but getting up to speed quickly in the Model S is one of the most exhilarating experiences you'll ever have in a car.

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. This big luxury sport sedan is good around corners, too, with the low-slung weight of the batteries keeping it balanced and the sharp steering giving the driver lots of feedback. Notably, Tesla also has one of the best adaptive cruise control systems we've ever sampled. It reacts extremely well to traffic conditions and inspires an eerily high level of confidence to let the car control the accelerator.

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 propulsion 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 are noticeable, and the big sedan becomes merely average in terms of overall cabin quietness. Attentive drivers will also notice the whine from the electric motor up front in dual-motor models. Put the stereo on at any decent volume, though, and the road noise drowns out pretty quickly.

What’s New: Instead of typical yearly changes like other automakers, Tesla runs updates throughout the year, especially when it comes to software and electronics. The biggest non-software addition however, is the new P85D. Released late in the 2014 model year, the P85D (P stands for performance, D for dual-motor, all-wheel drive) replaced the standard P85. Also available is the 85D which also comes with all-wheel drive, but less power. Later in the 2015 model year, Tesla adjusted the Model S's lineup, adding an all-wheel-drive 70D to the mix and replacing the Model S 85 models with new "90" variants boasting slightly improved battery capacity.

The 2015 Tesla Model S is propelled by water-cooled electric motors (one motor in 60, 85 and 90 models, dual motors in 70D, 85D, P85D, 90D and P90D models) that route power directly to the wheels through a single-speed, direct-drive transmission. Single-motor models are rear-wheel drive only, while dual-motor models power all four wheels. Lithium-ion battery packs are also utilized throughout the lineup.

The Model S 60's motor output is rated at 380 horsepower and Tesla estimates it can reach 60 mph in 5.9 seconds. The EPA estimates energy consumption at 35 kWh per 100 miles and a range of 208 miles. The 208-mile range is a realistic number, but as with all EVs, driving style greatly influences actual range. According to Tesla, the range also decreases by 3 percent if a Model S 60 is equipped with the 21-inch wheels. The dual-motor Model S 70D is rated at 259 hp from each of its motors and 387 lb-ft of torque, and Tesla claims it will hit 60 mph from a standstill in 5.2 seconds. EPA-estimated energy consumption stands at 33 kWh per 100 miles, and a range of 240 miles.

The Model S 85 is available with either one or two motors. The single-motor, rear-wheel-drive model is rated at 380 hp (same as the 60, but with a more capable power inverter) and is able to deliver an estimated 0-60-mph time of 5.4 seconds along with a higher top speed. Energy consumption increases with the 85 to an EPA-estimated 38 kWh per 100 miles, with an estimated range of 265 miles. The 85D gets an additional front motor and overall horsepower drops to 376 hp. Despite that decrease in power, the 85D also gets an even higher top speed, a quicker 0-60 mph time of 5.2 seconds, an energy consumption rate of 34 kWh per 100 miles and 270 total miles of range.

Tesla says the high-performance P85D boosts output to 691 hp (221 hp through the front wheels and 470 hp to the rear). During Edmunds performance testing, a P85D accelerated from zero to 60 mph in just 3.5 seconds and the EPA rates the P85D's range at 253 miles with an energy consumption rate of 36 kWh per 100 miles.

Later in the model year, 90 kWh batteries replaced the 85 kWh packs. Power output stays the same, but Tesla claims range increases by 6 percent.

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. For instance, an overnight charge of 8 hours on a 110-volt outlet would only net you 24 miles of range. In contrast, by 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 Model S 60's 60 kWh pack with the single onboard charger and about 8 hours for the 70D. The Model 85's 85 kWh pack 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 of range per hour, meaning a full recharge for the 60 kWh version takes about 3.5 hours, 4 hours for the 70D and about 4.5 hours for the 85 and 90 kWh versions.

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 170 miles of range in the 90 kWh batteries in about half an hour, enabling long-distance travel. Although an hour-long stop every 170 miles may not be the swiftest way to travel, it does enable Tesla owners to drive across the United States if they plan their journey carefully enough.

Safety: Standard safety features for all 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, the rear-facing seat option 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, a P85D with high-performance summer tires came to a stop from 60 mph in just 102 feet. To put that distance in perspective, most large luxury sedans take about 110 feet to stop, and even high-performance sports cars take about 106 feet. Considering the Tesla's significant mass, that is a truly impressive number.

Pro: Acceptable-to-excellent battery range; sleek styling; impressive performance from all models; lots of cargo space; available seven-passenger configuration; supported by Tesla's expanding Supercharger charging station infrastructure.

Edmunds Say: The 2015 Tesla Model S isn't just one of the most desirable electric cars available today, it's also one of the best luxury sedans, too.

Introduction: Take a look at a 2015 electric vehicle and you'll find a car focused on efficiency. That's true for the 2015 Tesla Model S as well, but what separates this car from all other EVs is how much more it offers. The Model S is an all-electric flagship luxury sedan that has a performance pedigree capable of thrilling the most seasoned auto enthusiasts, as well as plenty of high-tech gadgetry and luxury interior treatments that rival tenured players like Mercedes and BMW. If there were an eco-centric mold for all other electric cars out there, the Tesla Model S would certainly break it.

Regardless of how fast or luxurious a car is, though, all EVs are subject to the same two concerns: range and charging time. Both can severely limit an EV's appeal once it leaves the connectivity of a big city, but the Model S has seemingly addressed those problems. Typical range for EVs these days tops out at about 80-100 miles, but even the least expensive Tesla Model S more than doubles that potential range with an EPA-estimated range of 208 miles. The second concern, charging time, is addressed with a nationwide "Supercharger" network where Tesla owners can recharge their cars at a rapid rate. Supercharger stations are placed along major highways, and while the network doesn't exactly cover the entire country yet, the Model S is made a much more versatile electric vehicle because of it. You can truly drive it across the United States if you want to, and at about the same pace as a gasoline-powered car -- a feat that would be pretty much impossible with any other pure electric car.

The Model S offers much more than amazing range, though. For the dual-motor, all-wheel-drive P85D, we achieved a zero to 60 mph time of 3.5 seconds, making it the quickest full-size luxury sedan we've ever tested. Tesla claims that the P90D is even quicker, with 60 mph arriving in just 2.8 seconds with the "Ludicrous Speed" upgrade. The maximum amount of performance is available in the 90kWh models, but if you're looking for better-than-average range in an EV and you don't want to break the bank, you can still go with the 60kWh model. While that may seem like a hefty price tag, it's worth noting that there are still tax credits and fuel savings to be considered. The cost of owning a Model S can be significantly less expensive than some gasoline-powered luxury cars.

Other than the obvious limitations of any electric car, there isn't much to complain about with the 2015 Tesla Model S. When we tested an early Tesla Model S for 18 months, there were several issues with reliability and we still believe those are legitimate concerns, but it should be noted that Tesla offers excellent warranties and we found repairs to be swift. Aside from that, we also noted that the Tesla wasn't quite as upscale as some luxury sedans in the same price range.

Admittedly, the Edmunds "A" rated 2015 Tesla Model S is a unique automobile, so there isn't much that directly competes with it. Gasoline-powered luxury sedans that may provide a few more accoutrements include the 2015 Audi A7, the 2015 Mercedes Benz S-Class and the 2015 Porsche Panamera. Each excels in its own way and all three come in varying trim levels and with a choice of extremely powerful engines, plenty of luxury and similar thrills. Most other electric cars aren't even in the Model S's league, but the 2015 BMW i3 and 2015 Volkswagen e-Golf are top choices that are worth a look if you're just interested in the prospect of alternative power. The 2015 Tesla Model S is a one-of-a-kind automobile, though, and if you're in the market, you owe yourself a test-drive.

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