by Karl Furlong
It's getting close to a decade since the Tesla Model S was introduced to the market as a gatecrasher to the traditional luxury sedan party. With its eye-popping acceleration and impressive range, tens of thousands of shoppers found it hard to resist. Sales have remained strong for years, until last year when Tesla moved 14,100 Model S units stateside, a drop of about 45 percent compared to the prior year. While the current Model S' appeal may be waning in some small ways, nothing about the Model S Performance's acceleration has aged in the slightest. The 0-60 mph time of 2.4 seconds for a luxury sedan still amazes, and it's paired with a practical (especially for an EV) range of nearly 350 miles. At $99,990, the Model S Performance has to do battle with the much newer Porsche Taycan. Despite the age difference, the Model S Performance still comfortably outperforms the price-comparable Taycan 4S, so for now, Tesla's largest sedan still has a lot going for it.
It seems like Tesla bucks industry trends wherever possible and that includes when the automaker chooses to update its models. Tesla doesn't adhere to model years, instead updating models whenever it sees fit. While no major changes have been made to the Model S Performance for 2020, Tesla did reintroduce free unlimited supercharging in the second half of last year. Further updates include tweaks to the front drive unit and motor, while software updates will make it possible for Model S owners to utilize the brand's V3 Superchargers. The new charging network reduces charging times by 25 percent.
World-class performance doesn't come cheaply. The Model S Performance carries an MSRP of $99,990, excluding a $100 order fee, tax, licensing, registration, and a destination charge of $1,200. The federal tax credit for Teslas (last valued at $1,875) expired at the end of 2019, so it no longer applies to 2020 models. Adding to the inferior value prospect of this year's Model S is that the vehicle no longer qualifies for California's Clean Air Rebate (effective December 3rd, 2019) due to the Model S' MSRP of over $60,000.
By comparison, the base Porsche Taycan 4S costs a similar $103,800, but its range extends all the way to the Taycan Turbo S at $185,000.
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Single Speed Automatic
The dual-motor all-wheel-drive system apportions power delivery between the front and the back based on road conditions. Along with a standard adaptive air suspension, the setup strikes a fine balance between calm cruising capability and composed cornering. The steering system is quite light, but makes it easy to control the large sedan around town while the sedan's weight is masked by excellent grip levels and well-contained body roll. At a high-speed cruise, the Tesla's absence of mechanical roar and the suspension's ability to smooth out surface changes and imperfections are admirable, although the optional 21-inch wheels do firm things up a bit more than is ideal. The Model S' superbly balanced weight distribution is also achieved by the placement of the battery in the floor between the front and rear axles.
Make no mistake, though, the driving experience is dominated by the intense power delivery. Hook up the aptly named Ludicrous mode, and the Model S Performance delivers accelerative runs that will leave you breathless - of course, these antics will deplete the battery's reserves a lot faster, with around three or so all-out blasts leading to increasingly slower launches. That said, even in normal driving modes, the instantly available power is enough to push you firmly back in your seat. The regenerative braking system works well, although it requires some familiarity - in certain traffic situations, the system slows down the car enough so that you don't need to use the brake pedal at all. Unless, of course, you require full stopping power.
It's safe to say that the Tesla Model S Performance has aged gracefully. Already way ahead of the pack when it was launched, the car's phenomenal performance remains class-leading - the combination of searing straight-line pace and a much more usable range than other EVs (the newer Porsche Taycan included) has kept the Model S competitive. In Performance guise, even Bugatti drivers will need to watch out for this luxury sedan. Tesla's over-the-air updates also ensure that new features can be added easily - much in the way an iPhone user would update his or her phone every year or so - just another way that the automaker has kept the Model S fresh. For buyers who don't only want EV power but the best luxury sedan they can get at the $100k mark, the Model S Performance loses its way just a bit. The cabin is modern but simply not as posh or well-made as other luxury sedans, and while the Model S Performance acquits itself well dynamically, there are more engaging sedans to drive. Those flaws aside, the Model S is still gamely holding on to many of the benchmarks it set for luxury sedans and EVs alike.
Although the optional 21-inch alloy wheels don't do the ride any favors, they look fantastic so that's the first option we'd pick, along with the gorgeous Cream interior with Oak Wood trim. Tesla's Autopilot suite is a technological marvel, so we'd add the full self-driving capability too for an all-in total of $112,990. Either way, that's a lot of money, made only more palatable by the fuel-saving costs that come with purchasing an EV.
The Model S has had to wait for a while for a true rival, but it's finally here in the form of the Porsche Taycan. The Taycan 4S starts within a few grand of the Model S Performance at $103,800. With overboost power of 563 hp and a 0-60 mph time of 3.8 seconds, the Model S easily outperforms this variant of the Taycan. The Taycan Turbo S is better-positioned to take on the Model S Performance - this range-topping Taycan produces 750 hp (overboost power with launch control) and surges to 60 in just 2.6 seconds. The catch? Its EPA-estimated range of 192 miles is a full 156 miles less than the Model S Performance's on the standard wheels. That's without mentioning that the Taycan Turbo S costs $185,000, close to double the outlay required for the Tesla. In Porsche's favor is a higher-quality cabin and, besides the distinct lack of a flat-six wail, a much more engaging driving experience than in the Tesla. At the price, though, the Model S Performance still looks hugely tempting.
Do you really need the extra performance of the Model S Performance? Logic says no, because the Long Range Plus model will not only manage an extra 42 miles of range, but it'll still hit 60 mph in a mere 3.7 seconds. It does all of this at a saving of $20,000 and yet mimics the Model S Performance's specification with the same standard 17-inch touchscreen, heated seats front and rear, the tinted glass roof, and the premium audio system. In fact, you can order the Long Range Plus and add on the extensive Full Self-Driving Capability of Autopilot and still come in at well under the Performance model's price. You do lose out on a few interior color choices that are exclusive to the Model S Performance, but really, that's about it. At the Long Range Plus model's price, the issues we have with interior quality are also (slightly) less of a concern. We'd go for the Long Range Plus.
The most popular competitors of 2020 Tesla Model S Performance: