Tesla’s 2021 full-size luxury sedan, the Model S Long Range, clocks the highest mileage of any other electric vehicle on the market today. In June of this year, Tesla rolled out the Model S Plaid, their new name for the Performance model. They are proclaiming it to be the fastest EV available. You will want to know the main differences between these two cars before you decide which one is right for you.
The decision between the Model S Long Range versus the Model S Performance (now called Plaid) comes down to whether cost or power is most important to you. The difference in range between the two is not earth-shattering unless you drive long distances on a daily basis.
If you are trying to decide between these two Tesla vehicles, keep reading. There is much to understand before you make your purchase. Keep reading and take the time to discover what you need to know before you buy.
Car and Driver Magazine considers two categories in calculating the need for speed. Acceleration rates determine the quickest car. The quarter-mile test and top speeds determine the fastest. Tesla’s two Model S vehicles rank very high in both categories when compared to each other and to other electric vehicles.
Tesla created a buzz in the EV industry when they claimed the Tesla Performance would reach 0 to 60 miles per hour acceleration in under two seconds. MotorTrend conducted the first tests on the 2022 Model S Performance this summer on a VHT drag racing surface. The results came in at 1.98 seconds. Tests on asphalt rated 2.28 seconds, tying previous records.
When tested on the quarter-mile, the Performance flew over the racetrack in 9.25 seconds at a speed of 152.6 miles per hour. That is astonishingly fast. And the car has been able to maintain that rate consistently in test after test.
In order to actually drive your car this fast, you must set the car to drag strip mode. It takes the Performance 8 to 15 minutes to precondition the powertrain. Then add a few seconds (up to 10) for it to drop into what Tesla calls “cheetah mode” before tearing off so fast it creates a 1.00 g force on the driver within the first 2.5 seconds after launch.
The Model S Long-Range vehicle consistently offers over 400 miles per charge. Website stats advertise 405 miles, making it the longest range EV on the market. Tesla says they achieved these results primarily by reducing the weight of the vehicle components from design lessons learned on other models. More weight reduction results from lighter seats and batteries.
The EPA instituted the measurement MPGe, miles per gallon of gasoline-equivalent, to rate the efficiency of electric vehicles. The Model S Long Range rated 121 MPGe in the city and 112 MPGe on the highway. Prior to these advancements, the range was often a deal-breaker for anyone looking to buy an electric vehicle. The range issue is no longer a problem.
Longer range distances are figured on a fully charged battery. The battery recharge rate from a standard electrical outlet or a public charging station is about 30 to 35 miles for each hour of charge. Fifteen minutes at a Tesla supercharger station increases that rate to around 200 miles. A significant difference. Recharge rates are relatively inexpensive.
Tesla is committed to providing the infrastructure to support its electric vehicles. They maintain over 4,500 charging stations across the United States at restaurants, hotels, and resorts. If you take a road trip, you will find supercharger stations spaced about every 120 to 150 miles. This makes travel even more convenient.
Tesla designed the Long Range Model with two electric motors, one attached to each axle, providing all-wheel drive and 670 horsepower at peak performance. It offers a lively around-town feel and has ample power for passing. The newer iterations of both Model S cars have moved the motor from the front of the car to underneath it.
The Performance model starts with this same basic design but adds a third motor on the rear axle, bumping peak performance horsepower to 1,020 and adding plenty of torque. The Performance handles beautifully and offers a quiet, luxury ride in traffic. On the highway, the speed is unbeatable.
Both cars feature the 100-kilowatt hour (kWh) battery placed beneath the floor. The kWh measure calculates energy expended if the battery were used continuously for one hour. The 100-kWh battery is slightly smaller than the previous versions but more efficient due to improved coolant and redesigned electrical pathways.
|Model S Long Range||Model S Performance (Plaid)|
|Quickness (0-60 mph on asphalt)||3.1 seconds||2.28 seconds|
|Top Speed||155 mph||200 mph|
|Horse Power (at peak power)||670 hp||1,020 hp|
|Range (on full charge)||405 miles||390 miles|
As you can see, there is not a huge difference in quickness or in range. If you come from a race car background, then you may certainly prefer the Models S Performance to its slightly slower sibling. However, if your driving habits are more traditional, the Model S Long Range still offers the excitement of speed. There is only 15 miles range variation.
Tesla originally announced a Plaid+ variation which it stated would reach 1,100 hp and 520 miles in range. However, Elon Musk announced in early June that the Plaid+ had been canceled.
The stats are relatively close when comparing the two vehicles. If you add the cost into the mix, the difference between the two is somewhat staggering. The 2021 Model S Long Range starts at $81,190. The Model S Performance starts at $131,190, a staggering $50,000 more. Additional options can drive the cost much higher.
Do you need that .82 second faster acceleration rate? Does anyone? Probably not, but that does not stop EV enthusiasts from wanting it if only to show off that mind-numbing blur at 0 to 60. If money is not an issue, then the Performance may be your choice. It is undeniably one of the best cars on the road today.
Tesla has replaced its standard steering wheel in both Model S styles with a racing-style yoke. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has not ruled on whether the new yoke is legal in the United States. Its rules do not state a steering wheel must be round, only that it must satisfy safety standards. It is acceptable in the European Union.
Motor Trend’s evaluation states that the yoke is least efficient in low-speed maneuvers, especially for tasks like parallel parking or three-point turns. At higher speeds, the yoke performs adequately. A digital gauge behind the steering yoke is more visible to the driver. Currently, a traditional steering wheel is not available for any Model S after 2021.
Another huge change in the steering column is the lack of transmission control. On initial start-up, the Model S relies on artificial intelligence sensors to determine whether to reverse or drive, depending on what is in front of it or behind it. When the driver needs to make his own decisions, there is a touch option on the infotainment screen.
Turn signal buttons are located on the left side of the steering yoke. The headlight button is above them. Buttons for the horn, windshield wipers and push-to-talk are on the right side of the yoke. A rollerball, also on the right, adjusts volume or changes track. A second rollerball will turn on autopilot or adjust your speed.
The Model S vertical screen has been replaced with a 17-inch horizontal screen. A smaller second screen sits at the back of the center console for shared backseat viewing, temperature adjustment, or track changes. The new screen is much more responsive, delivering web pages and photos much faster.
While the audio system provides Bluetooth connectivity and streaming functionality from internet radio and music, it does remove AM, FM, and DAB radio. However, if these radio options are important to you, Tesla offers a radio upgrade package that gives you access to FM and DAB. It is not possible to access AM channels.
The new system is designed in a laptop-style, rather than an iPad style. This lets Tesla develop apps that can be shared across the company’s other models. All of the non-driving features, like the radio, the browser, and the arcade, are considered apps in the new system.
Tesla believes that as self-driving cars become more common, the entertainment system available on them will become more important. Until the autonomous rating levels in these cars increase, keep your eyes on the road and your hands on the wheel.
As part of the Infotainment center, Tesla provides video streaming from Netflix and YouTube in its Theater app. Other streaming services, like Twitch and Disney, are in line to be added, but none of these are currently able to be viewed in full-screen mode, only in the viewer window.
For now, TeslaTheater.com can act as a bridge for Model S owners to access a large range of streaming applications in full-screen mode. Open the browser, navigate to the website, enable full-screen mode, and enjoy your favorites. With the surround sound audio system (22 speakers), your Model S will feel like your own private theater.
The Model S Arcade app provides graphics at the level of a Sony PlayStation 5. The arcade currently hosts only a few games, but more are in development. Current games include:
- Beach Buggy Racing 2
- Stardew Valley
- Cat Quest
- Solitaire, Backgammon, and Chess
- Atari classics, like Centipede, Missile Command, and Gravatar
If you purchased a Model S before 2018, you are eligible to upgrade to the new Infotainment system.
Model S Long Range and Performance seat five passengers. They have added space inside since the engine is not in the front of the car but underneath. The front seat has moved forward slightly and added foot room. The adjustment automatically adds more legroom for rear-seat passengers.
Heated front seats and a HEPA air filtration system are standard for both models. Optional features include heated rear seats, a heated steering wheel, and leather upholstery. The Performance comes with carbon fiber and aluminum trim. The sleek, minimalist design offers unclutter luxury.
Because the Model S is a hatchback, you can pack a ridiculous amount of cargo into the trunk space. There is more storage space hidden underneath the floor of the trunk. And even more storage in front under the hood, an added benefit of not having the motor in the front.
Tesla offers two add-on driver assistance packages for the Model S–Autopilot and Full Self-driving Capability (FSD). Neither is truly autonomous. Tesla’s website advises that the features are “intended for use with a fully attentive driver, who has their hands on the wheel and is prepared to take over at any moment.”
Of course, Tesla will continue to develop these capabilities. Recently, Elon Musk acknowledged that its FSD technology is currently at a level 2, but said Tesla intends to equip all its vehicles with autonomous driving level 5 by 2022. A bold claim. One that many people in the industry question is whether it is possible so quickly.
AutoPilot will steer, brake, and accelerate automatically when you remain in one lane. FSD will also do the following things for you:
- Parallel park
- Navigate lane changes
- Get you to your desired highway exits based on your destination
Upcoming additions include the ability to recognize stop signs and stoplights.
Tesla’s most recent development in the field is an autonomous driving subscription. To purchase the add-on upfront jacks the price up to around $10,000. For drivers who would like to try the FSD without shelling out that kind of cash may now subscribe on a monthly basis. The cost is $99 or $199 per month based on the autopilot package.
NHTSA safety ratings for the 2021 Model S are superior, five stars for overall safety, frontal crash, side crash, and rollover. It earned a poor rating for headlights. In tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, an independent agency, the Model S received only an acceptable rate in a test that mimics the car hitting a tree or pole.
The lower score resulted because the seatbelt did not restrain the driver sufficiently but allowed the driver’s head to fall forward and hit the steering wheel through the airbag. In all other tests, the Model S scored high marks. And of course, the newer version does not have the round steering wheel but rather the yoke.
On July 30, 2020, a Tesla Model S Performance driver was cruising on autopilot in the fast lane of the interstate when an 18-wheeler veered into his lane. The truck guard rail caught the front of the Tesla and ripped off the driver’s side of the car, completely destroying the car.
The driver suffered a severely broken arm. His daughter, who was sleeping in the back seat, received a knee injury that required six stitches. The fact that both passengers walked away from the accident unassisted is remarkable evidence of the safety of the Model S.
In case you are wondering, there is no plaid anywhere in the Model S Performance (now called Plaid). The name came from the movie Spaceballs, a Mel Brooks spoof of Star Wars. The speed beyond the speed of light was called Plaid. Both Model S vehicles can claim a high rate of speed, though the Performance is ultimately the fastest.
As for range, you would need to drive over 150 miles outbound and the same distance home to exhaust the full charge of the Model S Long Range on a daily drive to work. Not many people drive that much in a day. The benefit of the Long Range is most evident in its convenience for road trips. While the Long Range wins in the mileage category, the Performance is not far behind.
Both the Model S Long Range and the Model S Performance will continue to change as Tesla advances in technology are made. Tesla has a reputation for being technology wrapped in a car rather than a car with some technology. Much like your phone or computer, the one you buy today may be superseded by a new model tomorrow.
The most significant difference between the two vehicles is the cost. With a $50,000 difference between starting prices, this is where the final decision may reside. No matter which Model S you choose, you cannot beat it for value in the electric car market.