Tesla Model S Ultimate Buyers Guide

Last updated 05-Jan-2024

Tesla are well known for continual change and innovation. Over time, as more cars have become available on the used car market there can be a bewildering choice of cars, all with features littered with acronyms. The promise of software updates suggests all cars are the same, which is not true, coupled with a lot of promises from Tesla which are yet to appear. We help navigate prospective buyers through the buying process with our definitive buyers guide to the Tesla Model S.

Why the Model S?

Tesla Worldwide Inventory Search

You're probably here because you're interested in the Model S, but it's worth quickly checking that it is the best model for you in the Tesla range. Firstly, if you want a new Model S then it is only available in LHD form, and therefore generally not available in RHD countries. We also have a guide to the Tesla model differences but can summarise the range as follows:

  • The Model 3 is the entry level 4 door saloon and offers more agility than the Model S. You would choose this if the driving experience was more important than straight line acceleration and interior space. You'd also get a much newer car for the same money.
  • The Model Y is the entry level mini SUV/Hatch and a great family car with lots of practicality. In many respects the Model Y is the more up to date car but does not look as good as the Model S, and is not as refined. The Model S is a more sedate car albeit with very fast straight-line performance. The interior space for occupants of the Model Y puts it into Model X territory and is the better car for carrying 4 or 5 adults.
  • The Model X is also a showcase of technology, and makes a statement wherever it goes. It has the most practical seating options carrying up to 7 adults in comfort. You'd pick this if maximum interior space was important especially if wanting to carry more than 4 adults regularly.

Open to other Tesla models?

If one of the other models appeals, check out our buyers guide for that model, this will cover what you need to know about each.

It is also worth browsing the inventory listings as you can easily compare models across the Tesla range within a given price bracket. Our Tesla Worldwide Inventory Search enables you to do just that, listing both new and used cars, and those sold by Tesla and through 3rd parties. We believe this is the only resource in the world that does this.

Other alternatives

The Model S had the top of the EV rung to itself for many years but it has now had some notable competition from Porsche and Audi. While the Model S is larger than both of those models, from a performance and driving pleasure perspective with a luxurious cabin and a depth of engineering both the Taycan and the e-tron GT are alternatives at the $100k+ price point. The Taycan is also available in a variety of form factors including one with mild off-road capability, and/or an estate or shooting brake layout. The preference really comes down to what you value in the car. The Tesla still generally wins on straight-line performance, access to the supercharging network and some quirky features like the yoke steering wheel, but as rewarding drivers cars go, especially in the corners, or the quality of the interior, the others have the edge in our assessment.

Model S naming convention

Tesla have adopted two basic naming conventions over the years for the model variants. The older system used a combination of letters and numbers:

  • if it starts with a P it’s a Performance model with a larger rear motor, i.e., P85, P90D or P100D
  • The digits are roughly the battery size although not strictly accurate. For instance, an 85 model had a roughly 82kwh battery and with a useable capacity under 80kwh.
  • If the designation ended in a D it was a dual motor/all-wheel drive car.
  • You may also see descriptions end in a + (e.g., P85+ or some rare P90+ which are extra performance models of the corresponding P85, or an L such as a P90DL. The L indicates Ludicrous, on the car it is indicated with an underline of the model variant, and many don't bother to show it at all.

The later convention is to simply quote range e.g., Standard Range (equivalent to the 75D), Long Range (100D) or Performance (P100D), although more typically they use "Dual Motor" for the long range and "Dual Motor" for the performance (note the underline). These changes coincided with the Raven models. All Model S under this naming convention are all wheel drive.

Which Model S?

Tesla adopt continual changes to the model, as recently as January 2023 they allowed the option of a round steering wheel and not the yoke on the Model S. We document these in our list of changes to the Model S each year. We feel however there are a number of significant phases of model and we have broken them down into 7 different Model S periods, each with a different range of batteries.

Tesla Model S pre facelift

Pre facelift Model S

Tesla Model S Facelift

Facelift Model S

Tesla Model S 2021

Model S from 2021

New or used?

This question gets asked in two ways:


Buying an older Model S is a better proposition now than it was before the MCU recall and option to upgrade. One of the main downsides to Model S cars priced similar to the Model 3 was the reliability and ageing of some of the technology. Owners can now pay for updates to the latest (prior to the 2021 facelift) media screen, and if the car has the Tesla autopilot, to the latest version of that.

The advantages of the Model 3 are largely down to being nimbler to drive, faster supercharging rates and longer warranty. We certainly would not be put off any more with the prospect of an older Model S compared to a newer Model 3 for the same money but we would still want a Model S with full warranty.

Buying new is not an option in a few countries, but with the outgoing version not being on sale since 2020, the used stock in those countries is getting increasingly old. We don't think the changes are substantial enough to justify the new model over the previous one on any other grounds than wanting a younger car or the slightly newer technology.

Battery size and range

After determining the model of car, the battery capacity and therefore range is the next main consideration (accepting exterior and interior colour is personal choice) when looking at older cars. Over the years Tesla have made cars with a wide range of batteries. Early Model S came with batteries as small as 40kwh, in more recent years they have been roughly 75kwh and 100kwh. The larger the battery, the further the car can go on a full charge.

On the Model S, the specification of the car in terms of upgraded HiFi or air suspension does not vary with battery size, although it has varied over time.

The range for a given battery has varies depending on a number of variables. Wheel size has always been a factor, but Tesla have also developed the electric motors to more efficient versions which have added some miles. A similar thing has happened with the performance. We would worry less about these factors other than the later the car, the greater the range is likely to be for a given battery size.

When choosing the battery, the larger the better would normally be our advice as range is king and the larger battery cars usually have better performance and better rapid charging performance. The exception to this is we would take a facelift 75 over a pre-facelift 85, in part because the 85 battery is smaller than the name plate suggests, and secondly the facelift car has a number of advantages. Since the Raven models came out, Tesla do not even offer a choice in battery size, the choice is purely down to Long Range or Performance (now Plaid).

One potential issue buyers need to be aware of in Europe and countries where the NEDC system was used to rate the car range is that the NEDC rating system was extremely optimistic. All EV's including Tesla struggle to meet their rated range except in good weather and steady driving, but the NEDC figures were virtually impossible to reproduce in any situation. When used these cars may still be listed with the rated range under the older NEDC standard, and so comparing them to cars with the more modern WLTP figures such as the Model 3 and Model Y can be very misleading. Plus, the older these cars are, the more battery degradation they may have experienced making the results worse again.

The actual range is subject to a lot of factors including temperature and the type of roads you are driving on. A steady 50mph will be more efficient than driving at 70mph, and also more efficient than a lot of stop-start journeys where the car may cool down or heat up in the sun while stationary, cold weather soak being the worse. You are also unlikely to want to start from 100% and end on 0% and therefore the working range is approximately 80% of the theoretical range.

Model years and Performance

There have been more variants of the Model S than any other Tesla model, with a variety of batteries each with different range and performance figure. Tesla use a hidden model iteration code to denote the differences.

For each variant we have listed the predominant years the cars were being sold. Occasionally Tesla have unsold models which they first register alongside newer models, we have ignored these when this is obvious. Some model codes may only be available in some parts of the world.

MT60R/MT60A Model S 60/60D

This was one of the early models which was available in both rear wheel and later in all wheel drive, or dual motor, form. The NEDC range was higher in the AWD car as the early cars started to make use of the front motor in an efficiency mode, something that is different today where the RWD cars are more efficient because of less eight and a different choice of battery.

MT70R/MT70A Model S 70/70D

This was one of the early models which was available in both rear wheel and all-wheel drive, or dual motor, form. The NEDC range was higher in the AWD car as the early cars started to make use of the front motor in an efficiency mode, something that is different today where the RWD cars are more efficient because of less eight and a different choice of battery.

MT75R/MT75A Model S 75/75D

This was the entry model for many years, although available in a software locked 60 form which many eventually paid to upgrade from. Only some of the 75D cars could be later "uncorked" for extra performance. Tesla initially said only a limited number of cars could be uncorked, although over time the limitations were slowly dropped and many 75Ds have been uncorked since, something Tesla did at the time for free.

MTS01 Model S Standard Range AWD

This took over from the 75D and was associated with the change to the naming convention to become the Standard Range. This was also around the time the Raven models were introduced.

MT85S Model S P85

This was one of the earliest Model S cars, all of which were in rear-wheel-drive form only. The P stood for performance, although there was also a P85+ model which had even better performance. These cars had the larger rear motor which was later used in the P85D, P90D and P100D.

MT85R/MT85A Model S 85/85D

This was one of the early Model S cars during its early growth phase. It was available in both rear wheel drive form, plus the first of the dual motor cars. A Performance model was also introduced which we list separately.

MT85P Model S P85D

This was the first Dual motor performance car. It later had the option for ludicrous although this was a retrofit as the model had evolved into the P90D by then.

MT90R/MT90A Model S 90/90D

This model was pretty much the 85 version but with a change to the battery cells which allowed for a slightly higher capacity. Initially it was a cost option upgrade to the 85 version which results in a period of time where both models were available, although eventually the 85 was dropped from the range. The model also spans the facelift in 2016. |Early batteries were said to have poor early degradation, although over time the batteries were tweaked and the issue was resolved, so be mindful when buying an early 90 unless the battery has been replaced under warranty.

MT90P/MT90L Model S P90D/P90DL

This was the successor to the P85D and had the option to have ludicrous, designated by an L at the end of the model name and an underline on the model name graphics on the car. The cost of ludicrous was quite steep and as a result there are many cars of both P90D and P90DL out there. Ludicrous was enabled by a change to the battery fuse which allowed higher current bursts, the cars were otherwise the same. The model was eventually superseded by the P100D

MT10A Model S 100D

This was the successor to the 90D and while the name suggests only a 10% increase in range over the 90D, in practice the 90D was a smaller battery with a useable capacity of circa 80kwh resulting in the difference being more like 20% more.

MTS03 Model S Long Range

Tesla bought in a number of changes with the switch to the Raven models including changes to more efficient motors.

MTS05 Model S Long Range+

Tesla introduced a LR+ model. There are overlapping build dates with MTS03 in most regions so it is difficult to determine exactly which car is which without looking at the battery code.

MTS07 Model S Long Range+

This is largely the same as MTS05 except for the change to the battery pack for the NA market. The capacity is the same on both the MTS05 and BTX9 but the cooling appears to have been improved allowing for higher charge speeds.

MTS10 Model S Long Range

This is 2021 facelift car which was initially only sold in the US before going to Europe in late 2022.

MTS13 Model S Long Range

This is 2023 production car

MTS18 Model S Long Range

This is the 2024 update car initially for the North American markets. The most notable change is the drop of the top speed from 155mph to 130mph. This may be a change like the Highland Model 3 and due to more efficient tyres being used which have a lower speed rating. At the same time the EPA ratings for Tesla are being adjusted in line with revisions to the standards, this seems to be reducing the official range. The change of tyre may help recover some of that.

MT10P Model S P100D (without ludicrous)

When the P100D took over from the P90D, ludicrous was still an option although many buyers took it. It became standard fit in most markets for most of the time, although has been made optional for short period to reduce prices, not that many took up the option. It is fairly rare to find a P100D car without ludicrous today.

MT10L Model S P100D with ludicrous

This is essentially the same car as MT10P only without Ludicrous been activated. Ludicrous became standard for most of the cars life. The performance gain over the non-ludicrous car was approximately half a second to 60 mph.

MTS04 Model S Performance

This is start of efficiency gains that Tesla made with the motors and the switch to the Raven suspension.

MTS06 Model S Performance

This is an iteration of the MS Performance which quickly changed to the BTX9 battery.

MTS08 Model S Performance

This is another iteration of the MS Performance which used the BTXA battery. This was the last of the pre 2021 facelift cars.

MTS11 Model S Plaid

This is the 2021 facelift car which started in North America and then became available in Europe and other countries from late 2022.

MTS14 Model S Plaid

This is the 2023 revision with only a few small changes made to the car.

MTS19 Model S Plaid

This is the 2024 revised car initially for North American markets. Only a few subtle changes have been seen so far including a change to the Yoke steeering wheel.


Except for very early Model S cars from before September 2014, all Tesla's have come with some form of Autopilot hardware. The main change between the 2 systems occurred in October 2016 when Tesla stopped using the Mobileye system and started using their own.

You can see the detailed autopilot differences here but in summary, the earlier Autopilot has reached the end of what it can do, whereas the Tesla system is still being developed and has the potential, according to Tesla, to develop into full self-driving capability.

Tesla AP1 side repeater

Side repeater of Teslas with AP1 hardware and before

Tesla AP2+ side repeater

Side repeater of Teslas with AP2 hardware and later

Historically much has been discussed about the features the different versions of hardware offer, but we believe it comes down to 2 separate questions.

When looking at used cars, if you want Full Self driving capability it may be better value to find a car with that level of option already purchased as used prices do not reflect the purchase price of the option. However, if you find an otherwise perfect car at the right price it may be an option to pay for the upgrade after purchase.

There is a simple visual way to tell if the car has the Tesla Autopilot system or not and that is looking at the side repeaters on the front wing. If they have a camera built in, they use the Tesla system, if they just show a Tesla logo, they are the older system.

If you have access to the car, or the seller has provided suitable screenshots then you can also refer to our guide to what options and hardware a Tesla has fitted..

Tesla Autopilot hardware versions

Tesla have release 4 different hardware configurations, excluding the removal of components. Each version has incrementally got better with better cameras, more powerful processing and changes to the radar. The later the version, the better is the general rule.

The build dates when these changed are as follows (note the build date is not the registration date, and there can be several months between build date and registration date, especially outside the US):

It should be noted that cars can be upgraded from HW2 and HW2.5 to HW3 so you may find cars built before the HW3 production dates which now have HW3. At present Tesla advise that cars cannot be updated to HW4.

When did Autopilot HW4 start being delivered?

Tesla changed the Model S and Model X autopilot hardware to HW4 at the end of 2022. The changes incldued higher definition cameras and a new radar although it is not clear how much of the new hardware was used by the autopilot hardware. Tesla have said that HW4 cars will be better than HW3 in the fullness of time, but that HW3 is still capable of achieving FSD.

On the Model S, the change over date is slightly different for North America and European build cars.

Options and upgrades

From when the model S was launched up until around 2018 there many options available on the Model S. Some of these options became standard fit over time, others were dropped all together. We highlight the main ones:

What features does the car have?

To find out autopilot hardware, suspension, premium audio, cold weather pack etc, you need access to the car and follow this guide to find out what hardware versions a Tesla has. Many dealers are now including the required pictures in their adverts and those that do, clearly understand the cars.

Free Supercharging

All Tesla's except a very small number of MS60s from 2014 had supercharging enabled. This was unlimited for the life of the car until the mid-April 2017 where it only the first owners had free supercharging and eventually the benefit being dropped altogether.

Matters changed again in July 2019 where cars which previously had supercharging for the life of the car have had the free supercharging benefit revoked when passing through Tesla’s hands, i.e., taken in as part exchange, or returned at the end of a finance agreement, even if Tesla then sell the car into the trade. You now need to check the car regardless as the car may have been sold by Tesla as a used car in the past and had this happen to it.

Key issues

Below is what appears to be a lot of potential issues with the cars. Owners of cars, especially as they get older or reach higher miles should expect the need to perform routine maintenance or have to fix some common failures. Tesla parts can be expensive, but increasingly third part solutions are cropping up to solve the problem more cost effectively.


Model S cars come with 2 manufacturer warranties.

One covers the battery and motor and was originally for 8 years and unlimited miles, changing at the beginning of 2020 to be a mileage limited warranty. The original warranty had no performance guarantee as was effectively a failure warranty, whereas the replacement warranty for cars from 2020 offered a maximum degradation threshold.

The second warranty is the general car warranty for everything else. This lasts for 4 years or 50k miles, which comes sooner.

Tesla also offered a used car warranty of 4 years, 50k miles warranty or 2 years up to 100k miles in total depending on whether the car was under or over 50k miles. Some used cars may still have the some of this warranty remaining. For more recent purchases Tesla have changed their used car warranty top one extra year after the current warranty expires.

What would we buy used?

The preface lift cars are starting to look dated and even the battery warranty is now close to ending. We would look at facelift cars and would now prefer a car with the Tesla Autopilot hardware and ideally either EAP or FSD activated.

Free supercharging has been a desirable feature but this is becoming increasingly hard to find on cars with the any of the more recent features and battery and motor warranty will only have a short time remaining. Any savings from free supercharging could easily be wiped out with a repair bill.

The MCU can be updated for around $1900/£1700 to the later spec (although not the 2021 facelift spec) and these cars only really fall behind the last of the pre 2021 updates with the lack of 1 foot braking and the latest adaptive air suspension. That said, these pre raven cars are also falling out of bumper-to-bumper warranty and a big bill could be around the corner.

As a result, we feel the raven cars are a good choice, or if you want the latest, then a 2021 facelift model. We don't feel going much older is worthwhile as you would be better spending your money on a more recent Model 3 or Model Y.

You check the whole market and compare prices between models on our Inventory listings.

tesla-info on facebook Contact tesla-info on linkedin tesla-info on twitter tesla-info on youtube tesla-info on Discord

By using our site, you acknowledge that you have read and understand our Privacy and Cookie Policy. Your use of the tesla-info website is subject to these policies and terms. All data is provided on a reasonable endeavours basis but errors and omissions may exist. No data should be relied upon as being accurate and additional checks should be made if the information is material to any purchase or use of the car.
Ways you can support tesla-info