What are the driving characteristics you'd look for in a big luxury car? We'd be looking for hushed refinement, a smooth step-off the line, instant acceleration as soon as you prod the throttle and the handling ability of a smaller car. The Tesla Model S delivers all of these things and more. The 2.2-tonne kerb weight hints at a rather portly demeanour but the Model S handles a good deal more sharply than you might imagine. The steering can be switched between three settings - Comfort, Normal and Sport - changing the weight of feel but not markedly adjusting the level of feedback. Ride quality is better than you'd expect from a vehicle running on 21-inch wheels. Air suspension is optional and worth having. As you'd expect from an EV, there's no gearbox as such, so power transfer is even smoother than the best automatic transmissions.
That power comes courtesy of batteries developed by Panasonic which sit under the floor of the car, keeping the centre of gravity low, while the electric motor sits atop the rear axle. In the mainstream range, customers choose between 70kWh and 85kWh variants. Sixty is around 5.4s away from rest, so you'll be looking at very rapid progress. At 85kWh level, you get the option of Dual Motor All Wheel Drive in the '85D' model. Here, you move from the simple layout of the standard rear-driven variant - that of having a single 380bhp electric motor slung out over the rear axle driving the back wheels - to one that, as the terminology suggests, offers two electric motors, one sitting on the front axle, the other driving from the rear. Both of these develop 188bhp, so in total, you've got approximately the same sort of power as you would in an ordinary rear-driven 'Model S 85' variant. But, with the power spread around the drivetrain, you've of course got the perfect recipe for AWD traction.
The same AWD set-up is used by the insane flagship 'P85D' variant. 'Insane' is a word we feel we have to use because it designates the most frantic of this top Tesla's three driving modes - the others being 'Normal' and 'Sport'. Go 'Insane' and 60mph is just 3.2s away from rest, courtesy of a 221bhp electric motor driving the front wheels and a 470bhp unit powering those at the back. As advertised, there's nothing else with four or five seats that can get remotely close to this kind of pace.