The Tesla Model S took the world by storm when it was introduced in 2012, and it quickly became a darling of celebrities, EV aficionados, and even automotive journalists like us—we named it our 2013 Automobile of the Year. It’s fair to say that no company has done more to advance the EV in the eyes of the mainstream public than Tesla, and it’s equally fair to say that no Tesla has done more to help that cause than the Model S. The intervening years have seen changes to the car’s battery capacity and available models, as well as a facelift in 2016, but seven years on sale is a long time in car years, especially with no replacement car in sight. Better to keep it fresh, then.
To that end, Tesla has once again updated the Model S, with the biggest news being an increase in the Long Range version’s, uh, range: It can now travel up to 370 miles on a charge, up from 335. (Should you doubt that claim, our colleagues at MotorTrend verified the range by driving from the Bay Area to L.A.—359 miles—without charging, and with miles to spare.) The Model S was already the longest-range series-production EV currently on the market, but with companies like Rivian aiming to hit the 400-mile mark, it was clear Tesla needed to act.
The extended range was enabled by several things, first and foremost not by a new battery pack or cell type. Those are unchanged. Instead, the headline update is the adoption of the Model 3’s permanent-magnet electric motor to the Model S’s front axle in place of the induction motor that was there before; the inverter and gearbox are also new. The setup is more efficient in terms of energy generation and power production, and the inherent deficiency in a permanent-magnet motor—namely that it produces drag when not needed—isn’t much of an issue on the Model S, as, well, it’s needed pretty much all of the time. The Model S’s dual-motor all-wheel drive is primarily front-drive by default. The rear induction motor is a carry-over piece.
Additional efficiencies were gained through new lower-friction wheel bearings and new OEM-fitment tires, which are said to be lighter and grippier despite still being formed from a low-rolling-resistance compound. A new continuously adaptive air suspension fitted to all new Models S and X adjusts the damping rates in real time, which helps steering response and works to keep the car more level when cornering or while tracking straight over undulating road surfaces. It will also adjust the ride height based on speed-limit data rather than simply vehicle speed, as before.
Charging is now quicker, too, although not as quick as the Model 3 with its V3 250-kW Supercharging rates due to the Model S’s older electrical architecture. Instead, the larger sedan can now recharge at rates of 145–150 kW on existing V2 superchargers and 200 kW on V3 Superchargers, dropping charging times from 37 minutes to 26. It’s worth noting the changes mentioned also apply to the Model X crossover, with the Model X Long Range now getting 325 miles of range, up from 295.
The Model S (and X) still has a 100-kWh battery pack, and Standard and Long Range variants are said to have more horsepower and torque and be quicker to 60 mph, which means times of 4.0 and 3.7 seconds in the model S. Yes, the Standard Range version is back, once again offering a lower price of entry for the lineup and an estimated 285 miles of range. Orders for the updated cars start immediately at Tesla’s site, while production begins this week. The company also says all existing Model S and X customers who wish to upgrade will get Ludicrous Mode—normally a $20,000 option—tossed in for free.
Tesla also recently announced its intention to offer Level 5 autonomy by the end of this year in Model S and X variants built after February and Model 3s built starting this month, all of which have been fitted with a so-called Full Self-Driving Computer. The company also plans to offer Model 3 owners the ability to put their autonomous cars into service as robotaxis when not in use sometime in 2020.