Elon Musk, Tesla’s CEO, said, “Our product plan is stolen from Spaceballs” when he unveiled the 1020 hp Model S Plaid. He was referring to Star Wars, a 1987 parody film. In the 1987 film parody of em>Star Wars/em>, the fastest speed faster than light is referred to as ludicrous. The ship Spaceball I appears Plaid when it reaches this speed. A character is awed and remarks, “They have gone to Plaid.” The fastest Model S variants have both been named Ludicrous or Plaid. Teslas are known for their speed, and under the leadership of its “nerd in chief,” it seems that they can do both: make serious industry-changing moves and push inside joke boundaries. The Plaid, the result of this combination, is a vehicle that takes Tesla to new heights. The first Tesla to use three motors – two at the back and one at the front – all permanent magnet synchronous AC machines. The Plaid has carbon-fiber-sleeved motor rotors. (As you’d expect, this is the part that spins.) The carbon-fiber shells hold each rotor in place, allowing rotational speeds up to 20,000 rpm. This is about 25% faster than before. Tesla claims that the copper wire in the motor must be wound extremely tight due to the different coefficients of thermal contraction between copper and carbon. This results in an electromagnetic field with high efficiency. The Plaid also addresses an EV weakness (especially in those with direct-drive transmissions, such as Teslas), that the power drops off drastically at high speeds. Tesla claims the Plaid maintains 1000 horsepower up to 200 mph. The Plaid weighs 4828 pounds despite the additional motor. This is 175 pounds less than the last Model S performance we tested.
HIGHS: Extremely responsive powertrain that is refined enough for everyday use. Impressive range.
Select Drag Strip mode to unlock maximum acceleration. This will heat the battery to the optimum temperature. Then, hold down the accelerator and brake pedals for 10 seconds to signal the air springs to lower the front. Tesla describes this as a “cheetah” stance, where the front tires are tucked into the fenders. (Without the waiting period, it was only 0.1 seconds slower at 60 mph or through the quarter mile). It’s not as gut-punching as you may expect. The power must be applied judiciously to maintain traction. After the Plaid’s 2.1-second flash to 60 mph, it accelerates so fast that the surroundings mirror the Plaid animation on its dash screen. VBox’s test equipment measured 4.3 seconds for 100 mph and 9.4 seconds for a quarter-mile. This is tied with the Bugatti Chiron Sport as the fastest quarter we have estimated.
No more. Our test car ran eight consecutive passes at an 80% charge. The Plaid is the least flashy of the vehicles that can do nines on the quarter mile. It does not attract envious glances or praise on the road. Its new tricks are tucked away under familiar sheet metal from the past decade. It is incredible that a sizeable four-door car, which seats five people, rides comfortably, and costs $131,440, can compete with exotics costing millions of dollars. In our passing tests, the Plaid blew away exotics that were faster than it. It went from 30 to 50mph in just 0.9 seconds and from 50-70mph in just 1.0. These are the fastest times we’ve ever seen, and they’re more than twice the speed of the Chiron. They also represent a 30% improvement on last year’s Model S Performance or the Porsche Taycan Turbo S.
LOWS: High-speed drifting, poorly integrated steering wheel, lack of feeling at the limit.
Plaid is far from Tesla’s claimed 200 mph. Our test car reached a maximum speed of 162 mph. This is no faster than the Model S Performance from last year. Tesla’s claims are never met, as it is always a few software updates away from being able to deliver. It also has new vehicles and assembly lines.
You don’t want this car to go 200 mph. We were worried about how to keep it in the lane at 162 mph. The steering needs to be firmer to handle speed. This makes the task even more difficult. Taycans are remarkably stable at similar rates. Brakes that became soft in our tests are another reason to be concerned about a 200 mph speed. The warning appeared on the dashboard, even though our brakes were not being used as hard as they would be at a racetrack. Our helmets are off to Andreas Simonsen, who, despite the iffy brakes and capability of the Plaid at high speeds, managed to complete a 7:35 lap around the Nurburgring.
This was likely due to the Plaid’s vastly improved cornering grip. It’s that time again to remind you there is more to driving than just numbers. We do this whenever we explain why an objective winner didn’t win the comparison test. The Plaid is a dead car at the limit. Nothing comes up through the two large grips on the steering yoke. The car’s unpredictable nature meant it took many more runs to get the impressive skidpad figure. It would oversteer when turning right, and the stability control would smack it hard. Tesla claims the Plaid has dual rear motors, which enable torque vectoring. However, there is no torque at the limits due to the indestructible safety net. Model 3 Performance is more fun and satisfying with its variable (and defeatable) Track-mode settings.
Verdict: Greatness is more than just quickness.
The steering yoke is another example. It’s a good idea but becomes problematic when the manufacturer fails to match it with a faster steering ratio. It works well at speed, and the touch-sensitive controls for turn signals and other accessories are easy to use. The unobstructed forward view is also a plus. The Plaid’s 2.3 lock-to-lock turns violate the first rule for yokes: you should never have to turn a collar beyond 180 degrees. This created terrible habits, such as grabbing the other side of the yoke to initiate a turn, which would otherwise require confusion.
The yoke dominates the Model S interior, which overshadows the much-needed overhaul that used far more luxurious materials. The interior is quieter and more comfortable thanks to a new 17.0-inch horizontal center screen, a 22-speaker stereo system, and thicker acoustic glasses.
Tesla loyalists will notice that the Mercedes-Benz-sourced shift and turn-signal stalks and window switches are gone. The touchscreen is used to shift into gear. This is a bad idea since infotainment screen meltdowns are not uncommon, whether it’s for Tesla or other automakers. If this happens, Tesla has a workaround that allows you to switch via the center console.
Despite the performance upgrades, our test car managed to deliver a range of 280 miles in our highway test at 75 mph. This is 80 percent of the 348-mile EPA rating, a higher percentage than in any other Tesla test. Tesla says the Plaid heat pump uses 50% less energy than other EVs to warm up the cabin. The Plaid was the only EV we tested to go farther than any different EV except for the Model S Long Range Plus. The Plaid’s high speed and sticky rubber make this a remarkable feat. The car delivered on Tesla’s promise to significantly speed up recharging by achieving the highest charge rate we have measured.
Musk stated that the Plaid is essential. “We must show that electric cars are the best, hands down,” Musk added. Musk cites the acceptance of electric cars as critical for sustainable transport’s future. The Plaid is an excellent car in many respects, but it’s far from perfect. Are there any flaws in a sledgehammer with 1020 hp that are more deadly than the lack of power oversteer?