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Tesla Model S refresh features radical steering yoke, 520-mile range

Elon's electric sedan gets a much-needed interior redo, including a controversial Knight-Rider-like wheel. A high-power Plaid model has bowed, too.

About that steering wheel...

Tesla

During its fourth-quarter earnings announcement on Wednesday, Tesla surprised everyone by unveiling the long-rumored refresh for its Model S sedan. (The Model X SUV received major updates as well.) On the outside, the Model S has features a new front bumper with slightly different air intakes, a tweaked rear diffuser and new 19- and 21-inch wheel designs. All of the exterior trim is now finished in black to match the Model Y, but the paint color palette remains the same, with white being the only no-cost option.

The overhauled interior is the star of the show, though. It's been completely redesigned, marking the Model S' first major update since its debut way back in 2012. There's a large 17-inch central screen much like that of the Model 3 and Model Y, but the orientation has changed -- it's horizontal instead of portrait. The S retains a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster in front of the driver, as well. Tesla says the new center screen is basically a gaming computer with 10 teraflops of processing power, and the released images show it running the popular fantasy RPG game Witcher 3.

Exterior updates were kept to a minimum.

Tesla

Most radical is the new steering wheel. It isn't exactly a wheel anymore, instead looking like a yoke right out of Star Wars or Knight Rider. There are no stalks, either, meaning the turn signals, lights, horn, and other typical features are now controlled by touch buttons on the "wheel." There's also no PRNDL to be found, with Musk saying that the Model S will shift itself by "guessing." There's a manual override in the touchscreen, at least.

There's more carbon fiber or wood trim covering parts of the dashboard and door panels, and the door cards have been redesigned and appear to feature much-needed additional storage space. The new center console also has more storage space and looks a lot nicer, and it has wireless charging for multiple devices. The rear seats look more sculpted and feature a new fold-down armrest with cupholders. Rear-seat passengers get an 8-inch screen that offers the same infotainment and gaming functions as the main screen, and it even works with wireless gaming controllers. The Model S has three-zone climate control, a 22-speaker audio system, heated seats all around (and ventilated front seats), ambient lighting and a glass roof as standard. White, black and beige remain the only interior color options.

Rear-seat passengers get a screen for gaming, too.

Tesla

The Model S is now available in three different specs. The $79,990 Long Range version has two motors and all-wheel drive, with Tesla quoting a 3.1-second 0-to-60-mph time, a 155-mph top speed and a range of 412 miles. The $119,990 Plaid gains a third motor, "carbon-sleeved rotors" and torque vectoring. The Plaid has 1,020 horsepower boasts a 2.0-second 0-to-60 time (Tesla technically says 1.99 seconds), a 200-mph top speed and a 390-mile range.

Then there's the $139,990 Plaid Plus, which is the real big deal. Tesla says it has over 1,100 hp and will hit 60 mph in under 2 seconds. It also boats a sub-9-second quarter-mile time, a top speed of 200 mph and a range of over 520 miles. Tesla also says the Model S is now the most aerodynamic production car in the world, a claim likely achieved by the Plaid Plus model

The only option besides color, trim and wheels is Tesla's Full Self-Driving suite of driver-assist systems, which costs $10,000. (Tesla's basic Autopilot setup is standard.) The updated Model S is available to order now, with Tesla saying that estimated deliveries for the Long Range and Plaid models will begin in March. If you want the Plaid Plus model, you'll be waiting until late 2021.