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The Model S is more than a familiar face at this point. The early concept version rolled out way back in 2009, while the production car first hit the road in 2012. Since then, other than a little nip and tuck in 2016, the car has remained visually unchanged. That's a long time for any car to stand still, but in the luxury sedan market, where the prevalence of short-term leases reflects the constant desire for something fresh, seven years is an absolute eternity.
But you know what they say about judging a book by its cover. The 2019 Tesla Model S Long Range you see here rolled into my life with some significant changes under the familiar skin, including new suspension, a new motor and all sorts of wonderful new software updates to bring it all together. The net result is a car with an amazing 370 miles of range, but that's just the beginning.
The hallmark feature of the new Tesla Model S Long Range is, of course, its range. 370 miles puts it well ahead of the competition, going nearly twice as far as some of the new crop of luxo-EVs from Audi and Mercedes-Benz and the like. I won't get into a debate about how much range people need, because that's a complicated question, but suffice to say that 370 miles is enough to banish range fears from the minds of even the most anxious of drivers.
The truly fascinating thing is that 370 miles -- 35 more than before -- is delivered by exactly the same 100 kilowatt-hour battery pack. Where'd Tesla find that extra range, then? It required a series of tweaks, some subtle, some more substantial.
Far and away the biggest contributors are the new motor and inverter. Well, new to the Model S anyway. Both are actually a transplant from the Model 3, but where the motor sits in the rear of Tesla's newer sedan, in the Model S that motor sits up front. Interestingly, this motor is of the permanent magnet variety, whereas the older motor at the rear is still of the induction type.
There's a lot of nuance in comparing permanent magnet motors to induction types, as individual motor design and construction can counter general performance concepts, but suffice to say that those of the former variety tend to be smaller and more efficient, but more expensive. The greater efficiency here means more effective regeneration (more important at the front than the rear of the car due to the weight shift forward), but it also means a boost in power at the front relative to the previous Model S. More on that later, but the net result is a 0-to-60 sprint in just 3.7 seconds. Yes, that's fast, and this isn't even the Performance.
Suspension is also new, revised dampers at each corner that can dynamically adjust both compression and rebound in just 10 milliseconds. That means when you toggle into the new sport driving mode it happens really quickly, but more importantly it means the car can dynamically react to your inputs, adjusting stiffness from side-to-side to, for example, mitigate body roll.
This has led to a host of other suspension tweaks, including revised spring rates, smaller anti-roll bars and a raft of new software to tie it all together. As a part of this change, the Model S has a new location-based highway mode, where the car will automatically lower itself (and its aerodynamic resistance) when entering a highway. Previously, this was purely based on speed. Now, even if you hit traffic and have to slow down, the car will stay low.
Finally, new sets of tires for both the 19- and 21-inch wheel sizes offer both lower rolling resistance but, conversely, higher ultimate grip. Those going for all-seasons will get Tesla-specific revisions of the Goodyear Eagle Touring, while summer rubber is either Michelin Pilot Sport 4 or 4S.
It's a good thing the original Model S was awful pretty because it's still here, more or less visually unchanged. That 2016 nip and tuck really did wonders to tidy up an otherwise too-busy nose, but elsewhere it's all very much the same car.
That continues on the interior. Some new trim and color choices added over the years have kept things from getting too stale, but for a car that starts at $85,000, the interior on the Model S Long Range is sadly deficient. Materials are generally decent and I appreciate the choice to go with vegan leather, though many would prefer the real thing. The overall look and refinement here pales in comparison with even something like the Volvo V60, which is available for less than $40,000. In a more apples-to-apples comparison, Audi's (admittedly shorter-range) E-Tron offers far better accommodations for a $74,800 starting price.
And it's not just the look and feel that's lacking. Tesla still doesn't offer ventilated seats and that infotainment system, so striking back in 2012, now feels dated. Worse, it still lacks support for both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. A 360, bird's eye parking view is also missing, which is extra perplexing given the dizzying number of cameras on seemingly every surface of the car.
So, seven years on, the Model S is still lacking some pretty key functionality, but that's offset by other, often novel features added to the car over the years -- many even delivered retroactively to older cars via Tesla's famous over-the-air updates.
Autopilot is the most notable and easily the most controversial. Encompassing a suite of various safety and convenience features, Autopilot has evolved radically since its introduction in 2014. The system has had its ups and downs, and certainly a few PR blackeyes, but as it stands today it's remarkably good, debatably the most comprehensive system of its kind available in the US.
While it lacks the hands-off capability of Cadillac's Super Cruise, Autopilot is more useful on more roads and, with Navigate on Autopilot, can now automatically change lanes and even take exits. It's so good you'll be tempted to take your hands off the wheel, which is why so many people do, but please don't. I will yet again remind you that this is not a self-driving car. Keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road, folks.
There are many more little features tucked away in the infotainment screens, many of which you'd never find unless you know where to look for them. Dog mode is a personal favorite, since my pups love little more than to go for rides, but have to stay home in the warmer months. With dog mode, you pick a temperature and the car holds it there even after you've locked the doors. Crucially, the car also displays a big, friendly message on display, hopefully preventing breaking-and-entering by a well-meaning passer-by.
That builds on the remote preconditioning features the Model S has always offered, and some new goodies like sentry mode, which will use all those cameras to film anything nefarious going on around your parked car. There's even a new Tesla Arcade, a potential revenue stream the auto industry has never seen before.
OK, all that's great, but how does the thing drive? Remarkably well, I'm happy to report. The Model S has always been a bit of a rocketship and it still very much is. The scoot to 60 in 3.7 seconds is impressive, but as ever with EVs it doesn't tell the story of how quick the car feels. Being able to squirt your way up to speed at any time with just a flick of your right ankle is addictive -- though not good for your range.
So that aspect of the Model S hasn't changed, but the handling has, and for the better. The Model S was always a comfortable car and a reasonably capable handler, but it never really felt comfortable being pushed. It could hold a nice line through a corner at speed, but hit a bump or try to change directions quickly and things would start to fall apart.
That's not the case any longer. The new suspension and tires offer both substantially improved ride quality as well as more rewarding handling. It's a pretty remarkable transformation given the platform hasn't changed, just the components bolted to it, but those components conspire to make a car that, though big and heavy, is legitimately engaging.
But there's one fly in the ointment that I never noticed in previous iterations of the Model S, and that's torque steer. Though nowhere near as bad as, say, a Mazdaspeed 3 or Saab 9-3 Viggen or any forearm-testing, front-wheel-drive car of yore, I did have to keep a firm grip on the wheel when accelerating hard. This was especially true in the rain. I've driven many flavors of the Model S over the years and never noticed this foible before, so I'm inclined to point the finger at the increased torque from that new motor. However, it could just as easily be due to a change in wheel offset or some other geometry change. Either way, I wouldn't be surprised if Tesla finds some way to fix this via software update. It wouldn't be the first time.
And what about that fabled range? For my testing I covered 379 miles and "burned" 109.6 kWh of charge. Given the 100 kWh pack, that gives a theoretical maximum range of 348 miles -- which of course is impossible given you don't actually have access to the full pack. Regardless, my testing included numerous acceleration tests and a fair bit of… well, let's call it brisk driving.
For the last 180 of those miles I just drove the car in a normal way, not hypermiling and not avoiding the highway, but not launching at every traffic light, either. Given the consumption over that period the car indicated a theoretical maximum range of 382 miles. In other words, I have no doubt that 370 mile EPA rating is realistic. And, of course, impressive.
The Model S's stiffest competition comes from in-house, in the form of its sibling the Model 3 Long Range. For $49,900, plus $1,125 delivery, you get a smaller but still comfortable sedan that'll do 310 miles on a charge and get to 60 in 4.4 seconds. But if performance is what you want, another $10,000 gets you into the Performance trim, dropping that down to 3.2 seconds. If you need help deciding on whats right for you, our handy Tesla buyers guide is just the ticket.
Even the Model 3 Performance is still a fair bit cheaper than the $85,000 starting price of the Model S Long Range. For that you're getting a very well-equipped car with Autopilot and all-wheel drive. Any color other than black will cost you at least $1,500, the white you see here costing $2,000. 19-inch wheels are standard, and would be my pick, but 21s are $4,500 if you're so inclined. The all-black, Atari 2600-themed interior is included in the base price, but I'd cough up another $1,500 to get pretty much anything else.
And then there's the $6,000 "self-driving" upgrade, which until recently I strongly advised against. Now, with the extra Autopilot functionality and Enhanced Summon, I'd actually consider it. Total price? $94,500, plus $1,125 delivery.
The luxury sedan segment has moved on quite a ways since 2012, and the Model S still feels thoroughly impressive in 2019. The range, already best-in-class, is now even further down the road from the competition. The acceleration continues to be superb and, thanks to the new suspension, the car finally has the handling to match. Autopilot just keeps getting better and new features such as dog mode and Tesla Arcade show that there's a lot more life to come.
However, as futuristic as all that is, the car is still in desperate need of some updates. The interior doesn't hold a candle to the competition and those few, key missing features like ventilated seats just seem more and more curious the longer the car goes without them.
The new Tesla Model S Long Range is not the complete refresh that many have been hoping for, but maybe that's OK. This is a big step forward for what was already the most capable electric luxury sedan on the market.