Tesla officially unveiled their significantly updated $131,000 base price Model S last night, which it’s calling the Model S Plaid, and it’s an impressive machine. Elon Musk says it’s “faster than any Porsche, safer than any Volvo” and it even has an in-dash game-playing system that Tesla claims is equal to the power of a Sony Playstation 5. If you’re already a Tesla fan, you’ll want to pureé the car and inject it right into your brainstem, and even if you’re not, there’s lots to be impressed by here.
Of course, Tesla being Tesla, I think there’s some questionable aspects as well, and it’s worth noting that a lot of the significant specs that Tesla likes to shout have some significant caveats.
For example, the 0 to 60 mph in 1.99 seconds has a pretty big caveat that is explained very well in this Engineering Explained video (basically, they measure that not from a dead stop, so it’s really a bit over 2 seconds to 60, which is still plenty fast), and if you want to go their claimed top speed of 200 mph, you’ll need special wheels that are not available yet, though, to be fair, this barely matters, as there was just about no chance in hell you’re going to drive this thing — or, really, anything — 200 mph.
Also, when Elon said in the event that the Model S Plaid was available for delivery right now, he later clarified that was only true for 25 cars, which is kind of a joke. Having a measly 25 cars ready for delivery does not mean the car is ready for delivery right now, Elon. Come on.
That said, there’s still a ton of impressive specs to crow about, so let’s look at some of these key features in a little more detail.
Also, if you want to watch the whole reveal event, here you go:
Man, I always forget what an awkward speaker Elon is.
Okay, let’s look at some of the interesting stuff. Let’s start with some technical details of the new motor.
Tesla’s new electric motor is most notable because it’s the first production electric motor to be sleeved in carbon, which was required because the motor spins at an alarming 20,000 rpm, and at those speeds centrifugal force wants to tear the motor apart. The carbon sleeve keeps everything from flying apart, a great quality in a motor of any kind.
The drivetrain still uses a one-speed transmission, and the resulting power curve is impressive, maintaining 1000-ish horsepower from 80 mph on up to the limit:
Elon revealed almost no details on the new battery pack, which gives ranges of 390 miles for the triple-motor version, and 412 miles for the dual-motor. Up to 187 miles of charge can be had in 15 minutes at a Supercharger, as well.
The redesign of the Model S was more than just an aesthetic update; the aerodynamics have been significantly improved, going from a Cd of 0.24 to now, a Cd of 2.08.
Tesla claims this is the lowest drag coefficient of any production car, though Mercedes-Benz claims their EQS electric car has a Cd of 0.20, but it’s possible that thousandths place is a 9, so maybe the Tesla beats it by 0.01? I haven’t been able to confirm that so far.
Also, the Volkswagen XL1 had a Cd of 0.186 and GM’s EV1 had a Cd of 0.19, but both of those were two-seat, limited production cars, so maybe they don’t really count.
I think the real tech hero of the updated S is one that seems unlikely, but is a big deal: a new heat pump.
Tesla re-worked the heat pump and gave the car a radiator about twice as large as before, which means that the heat issues that prevented previous Model S cars from doing multiple fast runs in a row and consumed a lot of battery power to heat the car have been significantly improved.
The new heat pump and HVAC system improves cold weather range by 30 percent, and needs half as much energy for cabin heating in cold weather conditions. That’s a good update.
The new Model S Plaid comes with Tesla’s yoke-style steering wheel, which I still think is less than ideal when it comes to actually, you know, driving, and I think Tesla sort of corroborates this with how they describe it.
Look at the screengrab above there: they’re saying the new steering yoke is “Optimized for Autopilot,” which means they’ve developed a steering wheel that’s optimized for not really using a steering wheel. I think they made my point for me.
Tesla has updated the interior of the S, dramatically simplifying it visually, rotating the center screen to landscape mode, and adding a screen for the rear seat passengers, which is a nice touch, and should be useful for people in the back seat who want to play video games, and would rather play them on the car itself instead of on a Nintendo Switch or something handheld, because the Model S Plaid can do that.
Tesla’s internal infotainment computer utilizes an AMD Ryzen CPU and a AMD RDNA 2 GPU which gives it “PS-5 level performance” according to Elon, and it can play games like Cyberpunk 2077 at 60 FPS.
So, if you’ve really been wanting a Playstation but were waiting until you could spend $130,000 more to get it and be able to use it to go get groceries and take you to work as well, I think your search is over.
There’s no question that the Model S Plaid is an incredibly impressive car, even if it doesn’t quite get to 60 in 1.99 seconds or hit 200 mph. That doesn’t really matter.
It’s a sleek, fast, EV with a plenty of range and all kinds of tech crammed inside. If Tesla can maintain quality control and not fuck things up with more bad decisions about Autopilot, I’m sure it’ll be a huge hit.