Tesla refreshes Model S with 520-mile range, goofy steering wheel

Tesla unveiled the first major refresh of its flagship Model S electric performance sedan on Wednesday, and it was not an over-the-air update. The interior gets a major overhaul with an airplane-inspired steering wheel and the powertrain adds a third motor in some versions. Top-performance versions will be capable of a 520-mile range and a 0-60 mph time in less than 2.0 seconds, Tesla announced on a quarterly call with shareholders and the media.

Launched for 2012, the Tesla Model S electric sedan supercharged the electric vehicle revolution with an 85-kwh battery pack that provided an EPA-confirmed 265 miles of range. At the time, the Nissan Leaf, which was its main competitor with nationwide availability, had a 73-mile range.

The Model S presaged the reality that blistering performance and high-tech luxury could be packaged in a vehicle with no tailpipe emissions. Tesla juiced performance and range capability along the way, and the 2020 Model S can accelerate to 60 mph in just 2.4 seconds.

Now, as traditional automakers play catch-up to Tesla with dozens of electric vehicles coming to market within the next year, Tesla has reset the bar once again.

Tesla showroom in Milton Keynes (Image: T. Larkum)

Tesla showroom in Milton Keynes (Image: T. Larkum)

The latest Model S range improves from a peak of 387 miles of range in the 2020 Model S Performance model to more than 520 miles in the Plaid+ version, but that estimate hasn’t been confirmed by the EPA. Tesla claims the range-topping Plaid and Plaid+ will have three motors, two on the rear axle and one on the front, generating more than 1,100 hp. That could rocket the Model S to 60 mph in less than 1.99 seconds and a quarter-mile in less than nine seconds, making it the quickest production sedan on the market.

Its estimated range of 520 miles would make the Model S the longest-range electric vehicle, narrowly edging out the 517-mile range on the forthcoming Lucid Air.

The Model S Plaid+ undercuts the Lucid Air’s top version at just below $140,000, and it won’t be available until late 2021. There are two less expensive options for the new model year expected in the first quarter of this year. The American-made electric vehicle maker has been characteristically reluctant to share key details such as the battery pack size and even the model year. The tamer 1,020-hp Plaid model, which itself follows the cheeky naming of hyperspeed modes from the Mel Brook’s spoof masterpiece, “Spaceballs,” has the same “Tri Motor” all-wheel drive setup with a 390-mile range, a 0-60 mph time in 1.99 seconds, and the same 200 mph top speed as the Plaid+. It costs just under $120,000.

The entry-level Model S Long Range is quicker than most other performance sedans out there, for a similar price. For under $80,000, it has a dual-motor setup with one motor on either axle for all-wheel drive that hits 60 mph in 3.1 seconds, and has an estimated 412-mile range and a top speed of 155 mph.

The Model X three-row SUV adopts the same changes as the Long Range and Plaid versions of the Model S.

The most jolting difference in the new Model S might come from inside the cabin, not the propulsion sources that bookend it. Tesla reoriented its large 17-inch touchscreen that serves as a hub for all vehicle functions, from navigation and climate settings to adjusting the side mirrors, from a portrait orientation to a landscape orientation same as in the Model 3 compact sedan.

Read more: The Car Connection

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