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.
Single Speed Automatic
The Model S has simple, sleek lines and they're a big part of the reason that this doesn't appear to be an eight-year-old design. And "sleek" doesn't just apply to the visual impression because the Model S has an ultra-slippery drag coefficient figure of 0.23 cd. As standard, the Model S Performance is fitted with a tinted glass roof (contributing to the expansive, airy feel of the cabin), LED fog lamps, power-folding wing mirrors, 19-inch alloy wheels, retractable door handles, wiper blade defrosters, and a power liftgate. The Model S Performance is unique in getting a carbon fiber spoiler, while 21-inch wheels can be equipped, although these do hamper overall range.
The Model S Performance is sized roughly between a Mercedes E-Class and S-Class with a length of 196 inches, which is also a mere 0.6 inches longer than the Porsche Taycan. The Tesla's height works out to 56.9 inches, width is 86.2 inches (including the side mirrors), and the wheelbase measures 116.5 inches. Its curb weight is 4,941 pounds, around 58 lbs heavier than the less powerful Model S Long Range Plus.
A choice of five colors is available for Model S Performance buyers, starting with the default Pearl White Multi-Coat at no additional charge. Solid Black, Midnight Silver Metallic, and Deep Blue Metallic (easily the most striking shade within the available palette) cost $1,500 each, while Red Multi-Coat goes for $2,500.
For a large, heavy luxury sedan, the Model S Performance provides acceleration off the line that boggles the mind. Its 0-60 time is a mere 2.4 seconds, two tenths quicker than the much more expensive Porsche Taycan Turbo S. The dual-motor all-wheel-drive system's ability to transfer that electrified wave of power and torque to the asphalt always surprises, no matter how many times you experience it. A top speed of 163 mph can be achieved. It's all made possible by peak outputs (combining the front and rear motors) of around 778 horsepower and 841 lb-ft of torque and, being an electric car, you always have instant access to all that grunt - no waiting around for a turbo to spool up here. The aptly named Ludicrous mode allows the Model S Performance to achieve its supercar-aping acceleration. Towing is not recommended, as with the majority of other EVs, so here the Model S Performance loses out to gas-fed luxury sedans.
The Tesla Model S Performance derives its extreme power from two electric motors (one at the front and one at the back). The front motor is a permanent magnet synchronous unit while the more powerful one at the back is a liquid-cooled induction motor. Together, the motors generate a combined 778 hp and 841 lb-ft, transferred to all four wheels via a single-speed fixed-gear transmission. The mix of eerie silence and the breathtaking pace is as addictive in 2020 as it was when the Model S was first launched, and the transmission - with no gears to cycle through - just gets on with the task of delivering power to the wheels as dictated by your right foot. As you would expect, throttle response is shockingly sharp, and, initially it takes a while to make the transition from driving a gas-fed vehicle to this. Once you do adjust and find that you can leave all other cars flailing away from the traffic lights, it's hard to go back.
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.
With its 100 kWh battery pack, the Model S Performance manages an EPA-rated range of around 348 miles. This surpasses the Porsche Taycan but, as expected, isn't as good as the Model S Long Range, which Tesla claims has an updated range of 390 miles. According to the EPA, the Model S Performance carries MPGe estimates of 104/104/104 city/highway/combined, dropping to 98/96/97 MPGe if the optional 21-inch wheels are fitted. By comparison, the Porsche Taycan Turbo has an MPGe rating of 68/71/69 MPGe. Currently, Tesla offers free unlimited charging of the Model S Performance via its supercharging network, with over 16,000 superchargers globally. A 15-minute charge will yield a range of around 130 miles. With ongoing over-the-air updates, Model S owners will be able to take advantage of faster V3 supercharging - some owners have reported peak charging rates of 181 kW with the V3 Supercharger, up from the 150 kW maximum of the V2 Supercharger, offering a full charge of under an hour. Tesla offers an 11.5 kW onboard charger with the Model S. With a conventional 240-volt charger, a full charge is expected to take in the region of eight to ten hours.
The minimalist and clean design of the Model S cabin is in stark contrast to the typical luxury car's interior, which is often packed with posh trim, glitzy detailing, and an array of buttons. It's here that the Model S Performance falls short because some parts of the cabin simply don't feel as sturdy as German sedans at the same price. The dashboard is dominated by the huge 17-inch touchscreen which controls just about everything, from climate control to navigation. Standard features comprise automatic keyless entry, power-adjustable front seats with heating, rear seat heating, and eight airbags. Overall, the cabin still feels thoroughly modern, but could do with more substance to really compete with the best luxury sedans.
Five passengers can be comfortably accommodated in the airy Model S cabin. In front, 12-way power-adjustable seats make it easy for occupants of most sizes to get comfortable, while the seats offer good support. Seat heating isn't only reserved for those in front but extends to the second row too. At the back, even six-footers will appreciate the generous head- and legroom, while the middle rear passenger won't have to compete with a bulky center floor hump. Only space for feet beneath the front seats is a bit restrictive. Thanks to a generous glasshouse, visibility is excellent and the rearview camera is one of the best. With an adjustable ride height and door openings that are usefully large, ingress and egress are effortless.
Like the exterior, only one color/trim choice is standard (Black with Ash Wood Decor) - everything else will cost extra. Being a more environmentally friendly choice of transportation, leatherette rather than genuine leather covers the seats, but the material looks good and feels high-quality to the touch. For an additional $1,500, color/trim choices are Black and White with Dark Ash Wood, and Cream with Oak Wood. Slightly more affordable is a Black interior with Carbon Fiber trim at $500, while the priciest option is Black and White with Carbon Fiber trim for $2,000. However, it's a pity that build quality isn't perfect. Some trim (such as the finishing above the rear air vents) has sharp edges, visible sealant in some places looks shoddy, and the entire cowl above the instrument cluster can be moved around far too easily by tugging on it. At the Tesla's price, these issues are hard to ignore.
Tesla has made the most of the Model S' unique electrified architecture and packaging. As a result, the Model S Performance has far more cargo space than the average large sedan. The main trunk measures a vast 26.3 cubic feet, far larger than the space you'll find in the back of a Mercedes S-Class or BMW 7 Series. With the 60/40-split rear seats folded flat, a bicycle can be stowed without removing the wheels, with a total of 58.1 cubes freed up. As if that's not enough, there is also a frunk (where the engine would be in a typical non-electric sedan) that measures a further 2.1 cubes.
Interior storage isn't quite as outstanding as there are no door pockets. There is a reasonably well-sized center storage compartment and two cupholders in front, but besides those storage options and an average-sized glovebox, it's an average effort at best.
Straight from the factory, the Model S Performance gets 12-way power-adjustable seats in front, including seat heating both front and rear. As part of the sedan's cold weather features, there is also a heated steering wheel, washer nozzle heaters, and wiper blade defrosters. The high-definition backup camera makes parking a breeze and provides one of the best views thanks to the massive central screen. Further convenience items include dual-zone automatic climate control, power-folding and heated side mirrors, a power liftgate, wireless phone charging, retracting door handles, and automatic keyless entry. Along with eight airbags, Tesla's Autopilot suite comprises the likes of automatic emergency braking and blind-spot monitoring. The EV automaker will also be rolling out its Full Self-Driving Capability suite this year as a $7,000 option, adding features like Summon whereby your car drives to you in a parking lot.
The Tesla Model S Performance seems to have been built around the infotainment system, which doubles as the control center for just about all of the car's functions. A 17-inch capacitive touchscreen takes center stage and features beautifully clear graphics and ultra-fast responses. The downside to the system is that both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integrations aren't available, but you do get a Wi-Fi hotspot, voice recognition, Bluetooth connectivity, SiriusXM, and USB ports. Navigation with real-time traffic-based routing is included, as is mobile app remote control and a 12-volt power outlet. The 11-speaker audio system is said to have been tuned especially for the Model S cabin which, unlike regular sedans, doesn't suffer from the intrusion of engine noise.
The NHTSA has not issued any recalls for the Tesla Model S in 2020 or 2019, according to information available at the time of writing. However, older models up until the 2016 model year were recalled for faulty front passenger airbags. Sporadic reports of the Autopilot system causing accidents have not resulted in an official recall, and neither have numerous issues relating to the Tesla Summon feature.
Should anything go wrong, Tesla covers the Model S Performance with a four-year/50,000-mile basic warranty and an eight-year/150,000-mile warranty for the battery and drive unit.
The 2020 Tesla Model S is yet to be evaluated by the NHTSA, although last year's model did receive a five-star rating for the rollover resistance test. Prior to this, the NHTSA rated the 2016 Model S an overall five stars for safety but, with rapidly increasing safety standards, this result could be different should the car be re-evaluated in 2020. The IIHS, meanwhile, hasn't rated the Model S for crashworthiness yet, although the agency did rate the headlights as Poor. More promisingly, the car received a Superior rating for front crash prevention.
Tesla has loaded the Model S Performance with safety gear comprised of eight airbags (which include knee airbags for the driver and front passenger), daytime running lights, electronic stability control, and fog/cornering lights.
The Autopilot suite of driver aids comprises the likes of collision warning, blind-spot monitoring, emergency braking, a high-definition rearview camera, adaptive cruise control, and lane keep assist. Buyers can also equip their cars with full self-driving capability, adding features like automatic lane changing, autopark (for both perpendicular and parallel spaces), and the Summon feature, whereby your car will come find you in a busy parking lot. The upgrade costs $7,000, although it must be noted that despite its name, this more comprehensive suite is more an extension of Autopilot than fully-autonomous driving capability. Later in 2020, Tesla says that automatic city street driving and traffic light/stop sign recognition will be added.
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.
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.
The Model S Performance is a standalone model that sits atop the Model S range. The five-seater luxury sedan is powered by dual electric motors producing a combined 778 hp and 841 lb-ft of torque. AWD is standard, along with a single-speed fixed-gear transmission and an adaptive air suspension. A range of about 348 miles is achievable thanks to the 100 kWh battery pack mounted between the front and rear axles.
Similar in size to its arch-rival, the Porsche Taycan, the Model S Performance is fitted with LED headlights (with daytime running lamps), retractable door handles, a tinted glass roof, power-folding side mirrors, 19-inch alloy wheels, and windshield wiper defrosters. The airy cabin is highlighted by a 17-inch touchscreen mounted portrait-style, through which functions like navigation, the camera system, and the dual-zone climate control can be accessed. Other amenities include synthetic leather upholstery, front/rear seat heating, 12-way power-adjustable front seats, Bluetooth connectivity, an 11-speaker audio system, and a Wi-Fi hotspot. Tesla's Autopilot suite includes collision warning and blind-spot monitoring, while autopark and auto lane change functions are available.
Tesla's cars are sold pretty much as is, with only minimal choice for customization. The main upgrade is the misleadingly named Full Self-Driving Capability at a pricey $7,000, although this does transform the Model S Performance into a car that requires only minor driver intervention at times, and later in 2020 will allow semi-autonomous driving within cities. The standalone options include 19-inch Sonic Carbon Slipstream wheels ($1,500), 21-inch Sonic Carbon Twin Turbine Wheels ($4,500) and carbon fiber interior trim, paired with either Black ($500) or Black and White ($2,000) color schemes.
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.