The Model S is still Tesla's best car - here's why

The Model S is still Tesla's best car - here's why

Tesla Model S


So good.

  • The Model S has been around five years and has only gotten better.
  • It's the most important electric car ever made.
  • It might be overshadowed by the Model 3, but it shouldn't be forgotten.

The Model S was Tesla's first "real" car, designed and engineered from scratch and launched in 2012, just three years after the carmaker's brush with bankruptcy.

For the first new American auto company in decades, it was a home run. It was named Motor Trend's Car of the Year for 2013, and it gave Tesla two things it urgently needed back then: revenue from a vehicle selling for around $100,000 on average; and an all-electric luxury car that was rapidly adopted by the well-heeled tech crowd of Silicon Valley.

Since 2012, Tesla has steadily improved the Model S, adding all-wheel-drive (the "dual motor" option), better range with larger battery packs, and not incidentally supercar-beating 0-60 mph acceleration, via Ludicrous Mode. The Model S of 2017 is fast, comfortable, and technologically advanced thanks to frequent over-the-air software updates, and capable of driving itself under some circumstances thanks to Autopilot.

It's a wonderful car, but it's been overshadowed by the arrival of Tesla's play for the mass-market: the Model 3 sedan, which will eventually be available for $35,000 (the $44,000 version is being delivered now).


All about the Model 3

model 3 event


The Model 3 arrives.

Tesla revealed the Model 3 in early 2016 and semi-officially launched the car this past July. Something on the order of half a million pre-orders for the vehicle have rolled in. I attended the handover at Tesla's factory in Fremont, CA, and got to drive the car for about 15 minutes. Initial impressions were better than fabulous, as I wrote at the time.

Making good on the hype has meant that the Model S has been completely overshadowed by the Model 3. This isn't really a huge positive for Tesla; the company would like to sell a lot more Model S vehicles between now and the advent of full Model 3 production, which won't arrive until mid-to-late 2018.

According to CEO Elon Musk, Tesla is organized to produce a combined 100,000 Model S and Model X SUVs annually, and the carmaker doesn't want to see that number slide, particularly on a $35,000 vehicle that likely won't throw off as much profit.

Beyond that, the frenzy around the Model 3 has made us forget just how great the Model S is. The S remains Tesla's best car, in my view, better than the somewhat gimmicky Model X, with its "falcon wing" doors. The design alone - the car was penned by Franz von Holzhausen, who also created the Model 3 - has held up remarkably well. The S continues to be a suave, rolling advertisement for Tesla. In the five years since its launch, the vehicle has been only lightly refreshed.

Tesla's masterpiece

In Fremont, after taking the Model 3 out for a spin, I was invited to take a couple of laps around Tesla's compact test track. The Model S P100D was our chariot. And what a chariot! Tesla has upped the interior luxury quotient considerably; it's no longer possible to knock the S for having the price tag of a Mercedes S-Class and the seats of a Toyota Camry. The speed is literally neck-snapping. And for a car with a great big battery under the floorboards, it gets around the track quite niftily.


Tesla has no intention of discontinuing the Model S. As a result, the S has the opportunity to become one of those cars, a machine like the BMW 3- or 5-Series, or from an earlier era, the Lincoln Continental or Ford Mustang - a car that endures and mints new fans over successive generations. The Model S is also built to last. Two examples have rolled over 250,000 and 300,000 miles, and they're still going strong.

As versatile as an SUV, able to haul around as many as seven passengers (with a pair of optional jump seats), the Model S is a sedan and therefore not as traditionally collectible as a sexy sports car. But there's no denying its historical significance: it is without question the best and most important electric car ever made. It also transcends its powertrain. Simply as a car, it's marvelous.

As we prepare to see the highways and byways of the USA plastered in Model 3's, let's not forget the incredible Model S, Tesla's flagship vehicle.

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