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Test Tesla Model S Plaid: everyone go to bed!

With three engines developing 1,020 hp, Elon Musk’s stunning 100% electric American sedan beats the competition. But before signing, make sure you have good insurance coverage!

Why Plaid? And much like the cover. Musk pays homage here to the 1987 movie Spaceballs, a Star Wars parody in which a spaceship reaches breakneck speed and its trail forms the shape of an orange plaid. Fun, but no question of falling asleep at the wheel.

The Model S Plaid with which we move on the boulevards of Hollywood is a rental model found in three clicks on the Turo application without having gone through the legal conditions for more than ten seconds. So let’s be careful to try the fastest family sedan in the world in the land of Uncle Sam!

10 years old and all his teeth

Appearing in 2012, the Tesla Model S allowed Tesla to prove the relevance of electric motorization before converting the world market.

Coming from the world of computing, the very innovative architecture of this car is similar to that of a rolling smartphone with a battery integrated into the floor and a large touch screen that is continuously updated. This architecture also gives it excellent family features with three spacious rear seats and two huge lockers.

Since its launch, this imposing 5-door sedan, 5 meters long, has benefited from numerous technical developments. Improvements which are however more “software” than “hardware”. Tesla has indeed focused on the software part of this first low-volume model to optimize the computer interface and battery management. During its restyling in 2016, the Model S displayed ever more dazzling performance (2.7 s on the 0-100 km/h) and more than 600 km of autonomy.

Cooled and well widened

The latest development launched at the start of 2021 on the American market has changed little in terms of exterior design. Fans will however notice the presence of enlarged rear fenders on the Plaid version which bring a fine touch of bestiality. Beneath this discreet coat hides a major modification to the chassis, which includes two new axles in reinforced aluminum incorporating new motors.

In the technical chapter, the Plaid version is equipped with three permanent magnet synchronous units equipped with a variable reluctance system which optimizes their performance. The two rear motors are adorned with a thin layer of carbon allowing them to withstand very high rotational speeds. The rims, tires and suspensions have also been revised to withstand higher stresses. Added to this is a heat pump, an additional cooling system and a lithium-ion accessory battery (12V).

Accumulating 95 kWh of capacity, the lithium-ion battery pack is still made up of Panasonic cells of the Nickel Aluminum Cobalt type, but their integration has been optimized and the voltage increased (350 to 450 V) in order to deliver more power and in receive more when recharging.

A walking PS5

The latest generation of Tesla Model S is distinguished above all by its completely redesigned interior layout. The completely redesigned dashboard now consists of a large touch screen in a horizontal position with a redesigned digital counter and a steering wheel without an aviation-type upper spoke called Yoke.

The multimedia set uses a new AMD Ryzen processor (similar to that of the PlayStation 5) and the latest V11 version of the in-house operating system. Enough to offer new video games while improving fluidity and display speed.

At the rear, the bench seat offers three real heated seats with ample elbow room as well as a second central screen allowing passengers to surf the internet or consult Netflix, TikTok or Twich while driving. There are also two USB C sockets and two induction phone chargers in the central armrest in addition to the other two located at the front.

A family-friendly, smoke-free Ferrari

But let’s get back to the wheel of this battery-powered rocket that holds the lap record on the mythical Nürburgring circuit (in 7:30.909 s) with nearly 12 s ahead of the Porsche Taycan. Suffice to say a humiliation. Our rental model also held the local circuit lap record.

With 1,020 HP (or 1,034 hp) and a torque estimated at more than 1,400 Nm, the American accelerates faster than the Ferrari SF90 Stradale (0-100 km/h in 2.1 s against 2.5 s) with children and dogs without emitting the slightest emission of polluting gas. A real revolution!

With 2,162 kg on the scale, the imposing Tesla Model S Plaid obviously cannot offer the agility of an Alpine A110. But thanks to its four-wheel drive and its low center of gravity (thanks to the location of the battery in the floor), it provides high-flying stability and does not slip one iota when you push the mushroom. A Track mode also improves its agility thanks to the Torque Vectoring function which more precisely adjusts the distribution of torque between the two rear wheels. However, we will not have the opportunity to exploit the full potential of this rocket with our rental car. You will have to be content with a day trip in the streets of Los Angeles where traffic is abundant and the legal speed limit does not exceed 70 mph (or 112 km/h).

The young owner of the car still granted us an acceleration in Dragster mode to discover the Plaid mode in a deserted street near his home. Once is enough… especially if you are a passenger and have just swallowed a hamburger and a donut. The already phenomenal acceleration power of the old Model S with 700 hp becomes even more impressive here and above all lasts much longer. Past the 100 km/h mark, the Plaid continues to tackle you in the seat and lift your heart like “Hyperspace Mountain”. This private sensation carousel that ridicules the best sports cars during drag races nevertheless remains perfectly usable on a daily basis… provided you keep your feet light.

A lack of care and brakes

In town, the Tesla Model S Plaid is a little firm at low speeds, but provides an excellent level of comfort thanks to its thick and soft upholstery. The air suspensions allow three heights of ground clearance (11.7 cm, 12.6 cm or 15.8 cm) in order to avoid clenching your teeth when approaching a large speed bump or a curb.

The substantial width of the car and the shape of the steering wheel, on the other hand, prove to be very penalizing for carrying out maneuvers or moving on the steep roads of Mulholland Drive lined with residences. The substantial weight of the American sedan (2,162 kg) is also felt when braking, even if the regenerative braking has been reinforced. The pedal lacks bite at the start of the race and the four front pistons do not seem to be enough to offer a capacity of deceleration at the height of the delirious acceleration capacity of this rocket on four wheels which can reach 322 km/h. The ABS also gets going quickly when you push the mushroom. It is therefore strongly advised to wait for Tesla to offer a reinforced braking system with carbon ceramic discs before signing the order form.

Once launched on the wide freeways of Los Angeles, the Tesla Model S Plaid seems untouchable. The slightest pressure on the accelerator leaves the other cars in place. If the damping absorbs the many pavement connections of the degraded Highways well, the rolling noises are very marked. Despite double glazing and a very favorable air penetration coefficient (0.208), air hissing at the door pillars can be heard and may be accompanied by noise from furniture. Despite excellent suspensions, comfort on long journeys is therefore less good than in a Tesla Model 3 or a Model Y whose assembly rigor at the Shanghai factory is significantly higher than that of the old Fremont factory in San Francisco.

To hide its perfectible soundproofing, the Model S relies on its 22-speaker 960W audio system with noise reduction and ultra-powerful subwoofer. Unfortunately, this is not enough. Despite everything, this flagship remains fantastic to drive and retains the best fuel efficiency on the market.

Surprising sobriety and a well-placed price

During our test day, the on-board computer indicated an average consumption of 17.2 kWh/100 km, which allows more than 500 km of autonomy in conventional mixed use.

On the fast track, it is rather necessary to count on 24.5 kWh / 100 km, which still leaves 380 km of autonomy. In sporty driving, count rather 33.5 kWh, or 280 km of range. Thermal super sports cars do less well.

For recharging, the Model S now accepts up to 250 kW, which makes it possible to fill 80% of the 95 kWh of the battery in just 30 minutes in the Tesla Supercharger network.

Such a gem of technology is trading for $134,490 in the USA, which should represent around €135,000 in our market when the car is finally delivered. A high price in absolute terms, but which remains very competitive with regard to the level of performance of this extraordinary car. The Long Range version at $99,490 nevertheless seems more reasonable. Capable of covering an additional forty kilometres, it retains lightning performance (0-100 km/h in 3.1 s).

Despite its advanced age and the arrival of new, better-made German competitors, the oldest premium electric sedan remains the undisputed benchmark in its segment.

Read also
Tesla Model Y test: even better than the Model 3?

Test Tesla Model S Plaid: the results

  • Spatial performances
  • Reasonable consumption and great autonomy
  • Space on board and spacious trunk
  • Top-notch connectivity!

  • Width and heaviness (2,162 kg)
  • Insufficient braking
  • Perfectible manufacturing quality and soundproofing


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