June 17, 2024

Worth Buying In The UK?

When the Tesla Model S Plaid claimed the quarter mile record back in 2021, the result seemed ridiculous for a four-door sedan with room for four adults and a huge amount of luggage space. That record was soon broken by the Rimac Nevera, but it didn’t detract from the achievement. Since then, the even more powerful Plaid+ was cancelled. But more important for those of us in the UK and other right-hand-drive markets was when we were informed that only left-hand-drive Model S and X cars would be sold. Despite petitions to overturn this decision, the Model S Plaid has now arrived in the UK in left-hand-drive-only form. I took it for a test drive.

There is no official word on exactly why this decision was made, other than it being for “mechanical and logistical complexities”. After all, the Model S had been available in right-hand-drive before, as had the Model X. What the problem is now has never been made clear, and customers in the UK and elsewhere, who have had deposits on the Plaid for a couple of years, have been unsurprisingly unhappy about the situation. But no amount of pressure could affect the decision, so now you can just buy the Model S and X left-hand-drive in the UK.

The process is a bit different to purchasing other Teslas, however. You can’t place a customized order. Instead, you must Explore the Inventory and choose from there. That means you can’t select a paint color or interior upholstery. Tesla has told me that you can choose to have a yoke steering wheel replaced with a normal one (or vice versa). It may also be possible to change the wheels from the basic 19in Tempest alloys to the upgrade 21in Arachnids. You can also choose Enhanced Autopilot or Full Self Driving, as these are software updates. But other than that, you can have any color as long as it’s already available in the Inventory.

Tesla Model S Plaid: Similar Exterior, Updated Interior

The Plaid I was lent came in a fetching grey called “Midnight Silver Metallic”, which offsets nicely with the black trim. Like the current Model 3 and Y, chrome has been banished from the new Model S. There are some subtle changes to the look of the car compared to the previous version, such as a slightly more aggressive front, with the number plate placed lower and a different splitter beneath. But otherwise, there is very little to show that this is a new Plaid, other than the Plaid logo on the rear and the rather attractive Arachnid wheels. There aren’t even any special Plaid paint colors to choose from.

If you don’t know the origin of the Plaid name, you clearly weren’t a fan of the Spaceballs movie. There’s a scene in that film with one spaceship chasing another, and the speed levels beyond lightspeed are called Ludicrous and Plaid. The previous Model S Performance had a Ludicrous option to get a sub-three-second sprint to 60mph. The Plaid has a Plaid mode you can enable all the time if you want that goes below two seconds. It’s geek humor, which if you’re in the tech industry you will be familiar with.

If the exterior is barely changed, the interior and technology have had much more attention. The first thing previous S drivers will notice is that the central 17in LCD panel is now in landscape rather than portrait orientation. This has a 2,200 by 1,300-pixel resolution, and can be slanted towards the driver or passenger, or faced straight down the middle. The fact that you also still have a conventional instrument panel (but no HUD) means that no part of the 17in panel is required for showing speed or the ADAS display.

The next thing you will notice, once you start driving the Plaid, is that there are no steering wheel stalks anymore. This is the case whether you have chosen the yoke or not. The Plaid I drove had a regular steering wheel. Once you’ve started the system up, by simply pressing the brake pedal (assuming you have your phone set up as the key), you choose drive and reverse using a strip down the left-hand side of the infotainment panel.

The indicators have been replaced by buttons, which takes a little getting used to, particularly if you need to indicate when the steering wheel is not straight on. The wheels remain to adjust multimedia and the cruise control on the right. There’s no stalk for the windscreen wipers, either, but this is less of a problem as pressing the button temporarily changes the left-hand wheel to a control for wiper speed. This is still easy to do without taking your eyes off the road for long, unlike the method employed with a Tesla Model 3 or Y.

There are three interior material options – white, black, and cream. The latter is the one I like best, and what was fitted in the car I drove. These are the same choices as before, but now the interior trim is carbon fiber rather than wood veneer, which fits the Plaid’s performance capabilities better. The interior is still not in the same league as Mercedes or BMW, but the seats are extremely comfortable and easy to adjust to your body type.

The rear is also comfortable for two adults. There’s a middle seat but only a child will be happy sitting there for extended periods. With no middle passenger, the seat back can be pulled down to make an armrest, which also incorporates two wireless phone chargers to go with the two in the front. Tesla was already almost unique in offering two wireless phone charging spots, and now there are four. But there aren’t so many USB ports, and all the ones I found were USB C only.

Rear passengers might not want to use their devices anyway, because another addition is the central rear screen. Alongside being able to control the third rear zone of the air conditioning and the heated back seats, this gives rear passengers access to multimedia, including music alongside Netflix, YouTube, Disney+ and Twitch video streaming. It’s not a huge screen, unlike the enormous 31in rear display in the BMW i7, but it could keep passengers happy on a long journey (assuming they don’t get car sick).

Another interior change (or exterior, although it’s not so noticeable from the outside) compared to older Tesla Model S versions is that the panoramic sunroof is now one piece with no bar in the middle. Rear luggage space is the same as before – and huge. There’s 745 liters with the rear seats up and 1,645 liters with them down, plus a 60-liter frunk. This is more than many station wagons.

Tesla Model S Plaid: Performance and Driving

So the Tesla Model S Plaid is a spacious, comfortable vehicle to ride in. But you don’t buy the Plaid primarily for comfort. There are many alternative options here. You buy it because it’s the fastest car around, short of a Rimac Nevera. And it really is. The Plaid has a ridiculous amount of power for a four-door sedan. It has three motors – one on the front, two on the rear – with a total of 1,020 hp and 1,420Nm of torque.

The headline result of this power is the claimed 0-60mph sprint of 1.99 seconds. This requires invocation of launch control, but unless you’re on a racetrack or airstrip, it’s probably not advisable to deploy this. There are umpteen drag race videos online showing the Plaid humiliating hypercars costing multiple millions. It has a 200mph top speed as well. Just using “normal” Plaid acceleration is borderline insane. There will be absolutely nothing else on the road that can beat this car off the line, and its ability to unleash this fury even when already travelling at 50-60mph is like nothing else I’ve driven – and my daily is a Tesla Model 3 Performance. That honestly felt slow when I got back into it after the Plaid loan was over.

The adaptive air suspension and steering have multiple modes, from comfort to sports. Even with the latter setting for the suspension, it handles terrible London road surfaces with ease, although not as well as Mercedes or Range Rover air suspension. The handling is also tight and confidence-inspiring, for such a big car that weighs 2.2 tons. However, while you could enjoy a track day in the Plaid, and it comes with a track setting as well as a pack option to enhance this, there are better-handing EVs. The Porsche Taycan still has the edge here, as does the BMW i4 M50. The Tesla Model 3 Performance, being around 350kg lighter and smaller, also feels a lot nimbler around the bends.

It should also be noted that while that fierce acceleration is exhilarating for the driver, it’s not so great for passengers. This is true of most really fast EVs, but particularly true of Teslas, as they are the fastest of all. In fact, when I sat as a passenger in this car for one acceleration run, I felt decidedly faint, as did one of my passengers when I was driving. My kids have forbidden me from accelerating fast in EVs. But there will be plenty of times when your passengers are more tolerant or you’re alone, and you don’t get this sensation so much when you’re in control of it. It’s exceptionally fun, but you do have to take care not to surprise other drivers or break the law, which is much too easy in the Plaid. I’m speaking theoretically here, I hope.

Tesla’s Autopilot hasn’t changed with the Plaid, other than using a press on the right-hand wheel to enable adaptive cruise, and a second push to turn on autosteering. Concerns about phantom braking aside, this is one of the best systems in its class. It’s great for boring stop-start traffic jams or average speed zones. You do have to jiggle the wheel occasionally, but it’s otherwise quite a restful way of travelling.

Tesla Model S Plaid: Range Supremacy

The Tesla Model S’s other party trick from previous versions remains – immense range. The battery is still 100kWh (95kWh usable), as the larger unit promised for the Plaid+ hasn’t materialized. But that will give the Plaid a WLTP range of 390 miles (or 405 for the non-Plaid car, which you can also buy in left-hand-drive form in the UK). The Model S has an amazing drag coefficient of 0.208Cd, making this one of the most aerodynamic cars around.

During my driving tests, which were on a variety of roads including 60mph dual carriageways but not so many 70mph motorways, I managed 2.9 miles per kWh, which would equate to around 275 miles of real range. With a bit more motorway, I’d estimate 250 miles. But the S can now DC charge at up to 250kW, so can take full advantage of V3 Tesla Superchargers. The charge port in Europe is now CCS rather than the NACS connector used in the USA and originally in the UK. With a V3 Supercharger or fast enough alternative such as IONITY, you can replenish from 10 to 80% in just 30 minutes. Long distance travel in the S will be fast, comfortable, and generally no hassle at all.

Tesla Model S Plaid: Is Left-Hand-Drive Worth It?

Now for the big elephant in the room with the Model S Plaid in the UK – is left-hand-drive a restriction worth tolerating? On the one hand, there are safety concerns when overtaking on an A-road, because it’s harder to see oncoming traffic. Visibility to the right at a junction or roundabout is also impaired, and there’s the issue of dealing with ticket-dispensing parking gates. Tesla is supplying a tool like a litter picker to alleviate this, but it’s not going to be much compensation. I found I got used to being on the left but had to take extra care not to pull out on overtaking motorcyclists on highways.

But on the other hand, this is an immense vehicle in every way. In the UK, it costs a lot more than the USA – starting at £113,480 ($146,000) compared to $110,000 in America, and no car when I checked online were under £115,630 ($149,000). This puts it in the same price bracket as the BMW i7 or Mercedes EQS. But it’s much, much faster than either and has more luggage practicality as well. The German alternatives have the edge on luxury but get a lot more expensive still if you want more performance and technology options.

The Tesla Model S Plaid is unlikely to sell in great numbers in the UK in left-hand-drive form. It was already a niche and now it’s even more so. But if you want a vehicle that is a true Jekyll and Hyde, there can be no better option. It can cart your family around plus all their stuff one day, and challenge supercars on another. Just be ready to compensate for the difficulties of sitting on the wrong side of the vehicle, and be careful not to lose your license.

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