Tesla has weirdly used a quarterly earnings call to drop blockbuster announcements about its extraordinary Model S, including some bizarre interior upgrades and a monster Plaid+ version that’s the fastest accelerating production car ever.
The three new models are already on sale; at the bottom end there’s a long-range dual motor starting at US$79,990, and in the middle there’s a 1,020 horsepower Plaid tri-motor at US$119,990. But the one that’s really got jaws on the floor is the new Plaid+.
Check out the raw specs on this thing. For US$139,990, you get yourself a conservative-looking 4-door family hyper-sedan with more than 1,100 horsepower. That accelerates from 0-60 mph (0-96 km/h) in less than 1.99 seconds. That rips out sub-9 second quarter miles in smirking silence, leaving Koenigseggs, Bugattis, LaFerraris and Dodge Demons fighting over your scraps. That tops out at a supercar-level 200 mph (322 km/h). And that delivers these unbelievable performance figures while carrying enough battery for a massive range over 520 miles (837 km).
You can bet that range figure is no accident; the Lucid Air one-upped the Tesla last year by promising 517 miles (832 km) of range with a 2.5-second 0-60. Elon Musk loves these kinds of challenges – especially, one imagines, from competitors who are yet to deliver a car.
As well as this shot of steroids for the powertrain, there are some minor exterior updates, and a complete interior overhaul for both the Model S and Model X, which cleans things up considerably to match the sparse design language of the Model 3.
Thus, there’s now a massive 17-inch horizontal infotainment touchscreen to go with the 12-inch dash display and an 8-inch display in the back of the center console for the kids to enjoy. The front and rear infotainment screens are now driven by a built-in gaming computer with enough processing power, Tesla says, to rival a latest-gen console like the Playstation 5.
And that’s not an empty comparison; you can literally connect wireless controllers and play high-end games like The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt from any seat, with 960 watts of stereo completing the experience through a new 22-speaker sound system with active noise cancelling. Hell, if you don’t mind the risk of your car blue-screening and crashing in more ways than one, you can even boot up Cyberpunk 2077.
And then there’s the steering … thing. Despite the monster performance these cars offer, the act of driving is becoming less and less important to many Tesla owners as Autopilot continues to evolve and more and more miles are driven autonomously. Perhaps as a reflection of this, Tesla is starting to let the steering wheel melt away. With the latest cars, it’s half gone, and there’s even a little pillow on it so you can catch some Zs on the highway. I jest, and yet I do not jest.
What remains of the wheel is a squared-off yoke of a thing with no stalks sticking out the back for indicators or wipers. Heck, there’s not even a physical gear selector any more. The wipers are automatic, or can be triggered through the touchscreen. Other functions are relegated to a pair of scrolly digital thumb-balls, and the gearshift, says Elon Musk, will … make up its own mind about whether you want to go forwards or backwards? No, really …
No more stalks. Car guesses drive direction based on what obstacles it sees, context & nav map. You can override on touchscreen.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 28, 2021
Is that even allowed? It’ll certainly cause a commotion in some markets, but this now becomes far and away the most futuristic production car cabin we’ve seen, with a center strip solely dedicated to holding beverages and buckets of chicken.
There’s more: your phone is now a car key, for example, linking to your own custom driver profile. The front seats are ventilated, and the brakes get carbon-sleeved rotors. Everyone in the car gets both a wireless phone charger and a USB-C charge point.
It’s fair to say there’s never been a car company in history that pushed limits the way Tesla does; you have to be careful you don’t raise your eyebrows too high at the start of a Tesla announcement, because they’ll have nowhere to go by the end. This new Model S continues that proud tradition. It still looks buttoned-down and conservative on the outside, but the performance is more outrageous than ever, and things inside are pretty much as wacky and sci-fi as they get in 2021. What fun!