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Tesla Model S 85D vs British roads: who wins?

Published: 14 March 2018

 CAR lives with a used Tesla
 Model S long-term test review
 Comment below if you own one! 

Diary update: what's the Tesla Model S like to drive?

We've lived with our Tesla Model S 85D for a few weeks now and really got under the skin of the car. I first drove one back in 2014, when I boldly concluded: 'The Model S changes everything.' Four years later, as Europe inches towards catching up with California's ground-breaker, is it still a stellar drive?

I'd argue on many levels, it is - but Tesla's leadership is definitely being eroded by a tardy traditional car industry. Only last week at the 2018 Geneva motor show, we drove the new Jaguar i-Pace, for instance. Editor-in-chief Phil McNamara was impressed by the handling agility of Jag's EV - as well as the sharp throttle response and roomy packaging. All epithets you could throw at the Model S, too.

Below we chronicle how the four-door behaves in the snow (admirably well, actually), but now that one of the harshest winters in recent memory is slowly withdrawing, we're getting a chance to see how it performs in more clement weather.

How the Tesla Model S copes in winter snow

First impressions are still striking - the ogle factor is high when new recruits are introduced to our 85D. Keyless entry means the flush chromed door handles pop out seamlessly upon approach, key firmly in pocket (this four years before the Velar repeated the trick, remember!). Slide past the frameless doors, nestle into the rather flat leather chairs and you simply select D on the Merc-sourced column-mounted gearlever and drive off. No handbrake. No key. No buttons. It's an impressively smooth and hassle-free departure lounge.

Tesla Model S interior: cabin dominated by huge 17-inch touchscreen

There's the usual silent EV motion (obvs) and the controls are impressively light, lending a laidback, easy vibe to proceedings. I've been toying with the steering weight between Comfort, Normal and Sport (selected via the omnipresent giant touchscreen), adding increasing levels of power assistance. It's perhaps at its best in the lightest setting, for fingertip control.

One of the abiding impressions is of a surprisingly comfortable ride, despite the giant 21-inch Continental tyres upon which it rides. You're always aware of the Model S's weight (this is a 2+ tonne car, remember), but the heft of those batteries actually helps the ride smother road corrugations, I reckon. 

Up the pace and it's no 5-series in the twisties, but you can hustle the Tesla Model S if you're in a rush. The dual motor all-wheel drive really helps here and living in the rural Midlands I value the extra traction this affords. Slingshotting out of junctions is much easier and it never feels overwhelmed by the dizzy torque and power outputs, even on slippery roads. Only once have I seen the traction control light flicker this winter. 

One beef I have noticed though, after a few days in another test car, is the compromised forward visibility. Those windscreen A-pillars are THICK, obscuring quite a lot of the road ahead and to the side when you come to T-junctions or roundabouts. And the rest of the interior? We'll report back on that in a future update. With a minimalist interior and nearly everything controlled by that 17in touchscreen, there's a lot to talk about...

By Tim Pollard

Browse used Teslas for sale

Diary udpate: how does the Tesla Model S perform in winter?

Tesla Model S in winter: how it performs in the snow

Electric cars aren't supposed to be much fun in winter: they run out of range and all that electric grunt can prove treacherous in snowy conditions. And yet our new Tesla daily driver has been pressed into daily action throughout what has proved to be one of the coldest, iciest winters of recent years.

Bedecked, appropriately enough, in a solid white paint job, our 85D has the benefit of all-wheel drive from the dual motors and the added traction this delivers has been welcome. Ours is shod with summer Continental ContiSportContacts and despite the lack of winter tyres, it has felt surprisingly surefooted when driving in icy conditions, and even on compacted snow. I've been impressed: the traction control and ESP lights haven't flickered on once, even on the slipperiest of conditions.

We had quite a skiddy moment last winter when CAR was running a (rear-wheel drive) electrified BMW i3 REX, but the chunky 21-inch, conventional rubber on our Tesla has provided more grip and reassurance, even when the mercury drops below zero.  

In other respects, our Tesla has proved decent winter transport, too. It's quite a bonus having all five seats heated - the kids are enjoying the three-stage warmth adjustment on all three rear pews, and the steering wheel is toasty too. All are operated via the Cold Weather menu on the main touchscreen, using the control above (though the two front seats have a handy short-cut on the homescreen).

And as for range? We only picked our car up a few weeks ago, so we cannot yet compare summer with winter EV range. Suffice to say, we are able to squeeze just over an indicated 250 miles into our 85kWh battery on cold days; on the odd warmer afternoon, that might climb up to 265 miles. 

Tesla claimed a 270-mile range when new, so it seems our battery is performing as intended after two years of use (ours is an approved used Tesla, remember). 

CAR has a Podpoint charging socket at work (wintry scene above) as well as some regular three-point plugs in the car park. The latter are risibly slow, taking over 24 hours to top up our Model S's capacious battery, but the Podpoint is excellent, filling even a nearly-empty battery in around six hours.

We'll be investigating the range and charging topics in more detail in the weeks ahead. Suffice to say, for now we're seeing a realistic range of just under 200 miles on our 85D; this is mostly tested on longer journeys - which means juicy, high-speed motorway jaunts - and then we're struggling to make 180 miles without recourse to a Supercharger or other plug en-route.

Bring on a warmer spring, so we can see just how far the Tesla Model S will go on a full charge in optimum conditions. For now, we've been impressed with just how well it's shirked off the strains of winter. 

By Tim Pollard

Diary update: it’s arrived! Time to collect our Tesla Model S

After the build-up, the research, the endless questions from mates and mums, the time has finally come. CAR magazine has collected our approved used Model S from Tesla’s UK headquarters and has become a fully signed-up member of the Tesla fraternity.

The HQ in west London doubles up as the London Heathrow dealership and we sat alongside a handful of owners popping in to collect their own purchases and service their electric vehicles. There’s a cool, calm, premium vibe percolating the showroom, which is sparsely furnished with minimalist furniture, Apple Macs and displays showcasing the various charging solutions available to private customers.

So far, so typical of any premium garage - but one distinguishing feature is the clientele. Tesla seemingly has a broad appeal, but there’s a strong interest from older, wiser, wealthier motorists, it seems. I guess the big-ticket prices make that inevitable, but perhaps it’s the spirit of early adoption and interest in high tech and ecology that binds Tesla customers together more. We’ll be talking to plenty of owners in the weeks ahead.

Tesla London Heathrow showroom

The handover was simple enough. Our car was plugged into a Supercharger to provide enough battery range to get back to CAR magazine’s Peterborough HQ 94 miles away, so we had a guided tour of the Model S 85D while we waited 20 minutes for sufficient charge to top up the batteries.

I’ve driven several Model S and Model X electric cars before, so it was more of a refresher guide to important functions and a whistle-stop tour through the huge touchscreen’s menus and tricks within.

Read our guide to the best electric cars and EVs on sale in the UK

Our car wears its mileage well: the bodywork and paint appear of good quality, although I’m not so sure of the wisdom of the polar white wardrobe of our test model; it’s going to be a pain to keep clean in these mucky winter months.

London-registered LB65 BUO came with a regular Type 2 cable and a three-point plug lead for emergency domestic recharging (warning: takes 24+ hours) - plus a CHAdeMO adaptor for connecting to the emerging fast-charge DC bays. Learning the lexicon of recharging is an inevitable part of EV ownership and we’ll be reporting on everything we learn on these pages. 

We're running a Tesla Model S 85D, as proudly proclaimed by badge

Battery topped up, we unplugged the cable, stowed it in the large boot and settled in to the wide leather seats. This is a large car at 4970mm long, but there’s a wide range of adjustment to the seats and mirrors, so the view out is decent in all directions (bar some surprisingly thick A-pillars you have to peer around at mini roundabouts).

Setting off in a Tesla Model S is something of an event. With keyless entry and ignition, you never need touch the key: simply approach the car, watch the door handles pop out (this car launched four years before the Range Rover Velar, remember), slide in, select Drive and disappear silently down the road. The lack of rigmarole and start-up procedure is an enduring joy.

Engaging D on the Merc-derived stalk gearlever, we crept out of the Tesla compound and headed on to the M25 and A1, heading north to Bauer Towers. It was a memorable journey for its very lack of drama - the 85D is rapid, silent and very stress-free to drive on an M-way journey.

We’ll save our driving impressions and more detailed observations for coming reports. Suffice to say, Tesla motoring is very different, even from other electric cars such as the Nissan Leaf or Renault Zoe. Stay tuned for much, much more. 

You can soon read the full reports in CAR magazine, too, but we’ve started this Tesla long-term test review online earlier. We’re certainly not going to be light on talking points.

By Tim Pollard

Introduction: CAR is running a Tesla Model S long-term test review in 2018

Well, this is shaping up to be one of the most intriguing long-term tests we've ever conducted. We're fortunate that our daily driver fleet has numbered McLaren supercars, Aston Martin coupes and a pukka Porsche 911 in its number, but never - until now - have we run a Tesla electric car.

That is being put right in 2018, as we've persuaded Tesla to lend us a Model S. The car you see here in our configurator spec will soon be appearing in the pages of CAR magazine with regular monthly updates and we'll be reporting fully on the approved-used Tesla Model S 85D online too. Stay tuned for regular coverage as we reveal what it's like to live with every day. 

The specs of our Tesla Model S 85D

Why are we testing a Certified Pre-Owned Model S? Because Tesla was keen for us to try a secondhand model and as a fledgling player it doesn't have airfields of unsold stock lying around. And besides, this is a great chance for us to test the reliability and quality of a two-year-old Tesla and to see if fears over battery degradation are unfounded or a real problem to used EV ownership. 

Specifically, we'll be looking to answer these questions:

  • Is a secondhand Tesla a good idea?
  • Do batteries degrade over time?
  • Does a two-year-old Model S feel like new?
  • Is an electric car a viable everyday proposition in 2018?
  • How much does a Tesla Model S cost to run?
  • Should you buy a used Tesla or are you better leasing one?
  • Which Model S should you buy?

Ours is a 65-registered 85D in solid white paint, depicted in the stock list pictured here. You can read its spec in the photo below. We'll soon be updating this page with real pictures, once the car lands on our test fleet and starts to be tested by the whole CAR magazine team day-in, day-out.

Should you spend nearly £60,000 on a secondhand electric Tesla? Do you run a Model S, or have you invested in a rival electric car? Do let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

By Tim Pollard

Read all our Tesla reviews here


Tesla Model S long-term test review by CAR magazine UK

By Tim Pollard

Editorial director of CAR's digital publishing arm. Motoring news magnet