- Tesla’s vehicles are commonly lauded for their technology and environmentally-friendly credentials, but the company’s fleet offers an interesting range of performance characteristics.
- The Model S, Model X, Model 3, and even the Original Roadster each have a unique performance personality.
- I’ve driven them all, and in the process I’ve gotten to know how they handle the road.
- My favourite remains the Roadster – but the Model 3 is a close second.
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Tesla offers the best combination of technology, futurism, environmental friendliness – and yes, even performance in the auto market.
Most owners and interesting potential customers know that Tesla’s are quick. But what they might not know is that each of Tesla’s vehicle, past and present, has a unique performance personality.
Over the past decade, I driven everything Tesla makes or has made, and for each car, I’ve tried to figure out what its go-fast mojo actually is.
Here’s what I’ve come up with:
Let’s start with the best-performing Tesla yet — the original Roadster.
The Roadster, which had been discontinued, was based on a Lotus design. So its performance capabilities weren’t surprising, given that electric cars can be very quick and Lotuses are noted for their point-and-shoot handling.
The Roadster put Tesla on the map and changed forever the once-widespread view that EVs were little more than glorified golf carts.
Unlike its high-performance predecessors, the Roadster burned no gas — its precursors often burned a lot — and generated no tailpipe emissions.
For what its worth, the Roadster is also the only sports car — and traditional car, period — that’s been sent to space. Tesla CEO Elon Musk used his personal red Roadster as an experimental payload for the launch of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket in 2018 (Musk is also CEO of SpaceX).
The Roadster isn’t anywhere near as fast as later Teslas — the 0-60 mph time is 3.7 seconds, for the Roadster Sport, while a Performance Model S covers the sprint in 2.3 seconds. But it doesn’t matter. You feel the the speed in the Roadster in a more connected way, and around corners, it’s a marvel.
Tesla unveiled a New Roadster in 2017 — and it has some astounding performance numbers. The 0-60 mph time could be 1.9 seconds, making it the fastest production car in the world.
The Model S was Tesla’s first “clean sheet” design, and although it’s ostensibly a family sedan, it can offer performance that’s on par with the world’s fastest supercars.
I experienced this firsthand when I took a spin in a top-spec Model S P100D on Tesla’s test track at the company’s factory in California.
But I’ve also gotten behind the wheel on public roads. On balance, I prefer the single-motor Model S — I think the vehicle’s dynamics are a bit more unstable and thus more fun — but for straight-ahead speed, the dual-motor choice is better.
The Performance trim level of the current Model S lineup delivers a 0-60 mph time of 2.3 seconds, which is blistering.
So-called “Ludicrous Mode” is actually somewhat uncomfortable in practice. The Model S, after all, is a sedan, not a supercar, and nothing about the vehicle is really optimised inside for staggering acceleration.
Overall, the Model S (shown here with the old nose-cone front end) is a bit too large, roomy, and versatile to be an ideal go-around-corners car. But for drag racing, it quite literally can’t be beat.
The most futuristic Tesla is the Model X SUV, with its exotic, upswinging, falcon-wing doors.
I took a Model X P100D — the top-of-the-line SUV back in 2017, when I embarked on a family road trip in the vehicle.
Open up all the doors and the Model X shows its true colours — this seven-passenger luxury SUV (with an optional third row) can swallow a huge amount of luggage and still have room for passengers to travel in comfort.
Like all Teslas, the Model X has access to the company’s extensive Supercharger network. And although the Model X can plot a course to minimise recharging time, my kids still didn’t like the waits.
But for receptive travellers, this is where the Model X truly shines, performance-wise. It’s a real SUV.
While the Performance trim level of the Model X has impressive straight-line specs — 0-60 mph in 2.6 seconds — I prefer it as a plush, all-electric freeway cruiser with lots and lots of space for kids and gear. It’s certainly stable in the curves, but not exactly thrilling.
On to the Model 3, which I’ve driven in both the rear-wheel-drive, single motor configuration and an all-wheel-drive, dual-motor Performance variant.
The Model 3 is the best-driving Tesla since the original Roadster. Credit the smaller platform for giving it the edge over the Model S and the Model X.
The Model 3 achieves this without sacrificing SUV-like versatility, thanks to a decent-size trunk and extra space in the “frunk.”
The Supercharger network allows for quick “fill-ups” as well as an easement for range anxiety on longer trips.
The Model 3 has my favourite Tesla interior, with most vehicle functions moved to the central touchscreen. The ultra-minimalist approach makes for a unique driving experience — nothing interferes with one’s view of the road.
The Model 3 puts it all together. The car is fun to drive slow and fun to drive fast. It’s a great freeway cruiser and a joy in the curves.
The Performance version I (briefly) tested was easily my favourite.
It was almost $US80,000 at the time (it’s about $US58,000 now, fully loaded and tops out at nearly $US65,000 if you add the full self-driving option). The white interior is highly desired by Tesla owners — and $US1,000 extra.
The car can dash from 0-60 mph in 3.2 seconds, with a top speed of 162 mph. A “Track Mode” is also on offer, which brings some tail-happiness to the usually rock-stable all-wheel-drive platform.
Driving the Performance trim of the Model 3 engages both the body and the mind.
It’s also the best electric car on the market.
Believe it or not, performance is relative. The fastest Tesla isn’t the Model 3 — but the Model 3 Performance is the most exhilarating to drive, in my book. It feels like a proper all-electric sport sedan.
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