Tesla Model S Ultimate Buyers Guide

Last updated 07-Jan-2023

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. We 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 chose 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 the same money as a Model S.
  • 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 hte 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, ie 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 documement 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 ooking 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 don;t even offer a choice in battery size, the choice is pirely 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.

Model
Model Code & Factory
Battery
Years Sold
Specification
60
MT60R
60
2014 - 2017
210 Miles/-km EPA, - Miles/400km WLTP
0-60 mph 5.5s, 0-100km/h 5.8s
130mph, 209km/h
60D
MT60A
60
2016 - Early 2017
- Miles/-km EPA, - Miles/408km NEDC
0-60 mph -s, 0-100km/h 5.4s
-mph, 209km/h
70
MT70R
-
2015 - 2016
234 Miles/-km EPA, - Miles/-km NEDC
0-60 mph 5.5s, 0-100km/h -s
140mph, -km/h
70D
MT70A
-
2015 - 2016
240 Miles/-km EPA, - Miles/-km NEDC
0-60 mph 5.2s, 0-100km/h -s
140mph, -km/h
75
MT75R
-
2016 - 2017
249 Miles/401km EPA, 298 Miles/480km NEDC
0-60 mph 5.5s, 0-100km/h 5.8s
140mph, 225km/h
75D
MT75A
-
2016 - 2018
259 Miles/417km EPA, 304 Miles/490km NEDC
0-60 mph 4.2s, 0-100km/h 4.4s
140mph, 225km/h
Std Range AWD
MTS01
-
2019
285 Miles/460km EPA, 280 Miles/450km WLTP
0-60 mph 4s, 0-100km/h 4.2s
140mph, 225km/h
P85
MT85S
-
-2014
265 Miles/427km EPA, - Miles/502km NEDC
0-60 mph 4.4s, 0-100km/h 4.6s
155mph, 249km/h
P85+
MT85+
-
-2014
- Miles/-km EPA, - Miles/-km NEDC
0-60 mph -s, 0-100km/h -s
155mph, 249km/h
85
MT85R
-
-2015
265 Miles/427km EPA, - Miles/502km NEDC
0-60 mph 5.4s, 0-100km/h 5.6s
140mph, 225km/h
85D
MT85A
-
2014-2016
270 Miles/-km EPA, - Miles/-km NEDC
0-60 mph 4.2s, 0-100km/h -s
155mph, 249km/h
P85D
MT85D
-
2014-2016
253 Miles/-km EPA, - Miles/-km NEDC
0-60 mph 3.2s, 0-100km/h -s
155mph, 249km/h
90D
MT90A
-
2015-2017
294 Miles/473km EPA, 346 Miles/557km NEDC
0-60 mph 4.2s, 0-100km/h 4.4s
155mph, 249km/h
90D
MT90A
-
2015-2017
294 Miles/473km EPA, 346 Miles/557km NEDC
0-60 mph 4.2s, 0-100km/h 4.4s
155mph, 249km/h
P90D
MT90P
-
2015-2016
270 Miles/-km EPA, - Miles/509km NEDC
0-60 mph 3s, 0-100km/h 3.2s
155mph, 249km/h
P90D Ludicrous
MT90L
-
2015-2016
270 Miles/-km EPA, - Miles/509km NEDC
0-60 mph 2.6s, 0-100km/h -s
155mph, 249km/h
100D
MT10A
-
2017 - Early 2019
335 Miles/539km EPA, 393 Miles/632km NEDC
0-60 mph 4.1s, 0-100km/h 4.3s
155mph, 249km/h
Long Range
MTS03
-
2019 - 2020
373 Miles/600km EPA, 379 Miles/610km WLTP
0-60 mph 3.7s, 0-100km/h 3.8s
155mph, 250km/h
Long Range/+
MTS05
-
2020
402 Miles/647km EPA, 379 Miles/610km WLTP
0-60 mph 3.7s, 0-100km/h 3.8s
155mph, 250km/h
Long Range+
MTS07
-
2020
402 Miles/647km EPA, - Miles/-km WLTP
0-60 mph 3.7s, 0-100km/h 3.8s
155mph, 250km/h
Long Range (2021)
MTS10
BTXB
2021 Facelift
375 Miles/-km EPA, 405 Miles/634 km WLTP
0-60 mph 3.1s, 0-100km/h 3.2s
155mph, 250km/h
P100D (without ludicrous)
MT10P
-
2016
315 Miles/507km EPA, - Miles/-km WLTP
0-60 mph 3s, 0-100km/h -s
155mph, 250km/h
P100D (with ludicrous)
MT10L
-
2016-2019
315 Miles/507km EPA, 381 Miles/613km NEDC
0-60 mph 2.4s, 0-100km/h 2.6s
155mph, 250km/h
Performance
MTS04
BTX6
2019-2020
348 Miles/560km EPA, - Miles/593km WLTP
0-60 mph 2.3s, 0-100km/h 2.5s
163mph, 261km/h
Performance
MTS06
-
2020
328 Miles/-km EPA, 368 Miles/-km WLTP
0-60 mph 2.3s, 0-100km/h 2.5s
163mph, 261km/h
Performance
MTS08
-
2020
334 Miles/-km EPA, 396 Miles/-km WLTP
0-60 mph 2.3s, 0-100km/h 2.5s
163mph, 261km/h
Plaid
MTS11
BTXB
2021 Facelift
348 Miles/-km EPA, 390 Miles/600km WLTP
0-60 mph 1.99s, 0-100km/h 2.1s
200mph, 322km/h

Autopilot

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..

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.

Warranty

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 desireable 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 worth while 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.

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