From the January 2022 edition car and driver.
“Basically, our product plan was stolen space ballsTesla CEO Elon Musk said with a smirk at the unveiling of the 1,020-horsepower Model S Plaid, referring to a parody of the 1987 movie. star Wars. In this movie, the fastest speed of light is called the funny speed. When a Spaceball that had reached this speed, it looked engraved, causing a character to comment in awe with wide eyes, “They’ve gone engraving.” Ludicrous and Plaid were both names for patterns in the fastest Model S variants.
Teslas has always been fast, and the company, led by its nerd boss, appears to be nearly as good at pushing the boundaries of humor and making serious strides to transform the industry. The Plaid is the result of both, and it perfectly delivers Tesla’s performance to new absurd heights. It’s Tesla’s first car powered by three electric motors, two in the rear and one in the front axle, all of which are now permanent magnet synchronous machines. New to the Plaid are the carbon-fiber sleeve rotors (just as it sounds, this is the rotor part of the engine). The carbon-fiber casing keeps each rotor together to enable rotational speeds of up to 20,000 rpm, about 25 percent faster than before. Because of the varying coefficients of thermal expansion between carbon and copper, Tesla says that the motor’s copper wire must be wound at extremely high tension, resulting in a highly effective electromagnetic field. Furthermore, Plaid addresses the disadvantages of EVs (particularly in those using a direct transmission, such as Teslas) where power drops dramatically with speed. Tesla claims the Plaid continues to produce 1000 of its 1,020 horsepower all the way to its top speed of 200 mph. Despite the extra engine, the Plaid weighed in at 4,828 pounds, 175 pounds lighter than the last S Performance model we tested.
To unlock maximum acceleration, select Drag Strip mode, which heats up the battery to the optimum temperature, then mash the brake and gas pedal and hold for 10 seconds to indicate the air springs to lower the front end. The front tires are installed in the fenders in what Tesla calls the cheetah stance (without waiting, we found it to be just 0.1 seconds slower to 60 mph and within the quarter mile). The initial firing stroke is not the one you might expect, as the force must be increased wisely to maintain traction. The shocking thing is after the Plaid’s 2.1-second flash to 60 mph, when it accelerates so fast that your surroundings begin to simulate the silly animations dotted on the dashboard screen. VBox test equipment clocked 4.3 seconds to 100 mph and 9.4 seconds to the quarter mile, a tie with the Bugatti Chiron Sport for the fastest quarter we’ve ever measured.
If you’ve been following a Tesla, you know that performance dwindles quickly after running more than one or two accelerations on a full charge. not longer. Plaid’s coolant is twice as large as before, and our test car performed eight consistent passes, most recently at 80 percent charged.
The Plaid is certainly the least ostentatious car that can run nine minutes in a quarter mile. It does not paint envy or flattery looks on the road. All her new tricks are hidden under a familiar ten-year-old shit-metal. But for a large four-door that seats five, the ride comfortably, and starting at $131,440 to mix it in with multimillion-dollar exotics, is an impressive feat. The Plaid actually blasts the fastest exotic away in our successful tests, shooting from 30-50 mph in 0.9 seconds and 50-70 mph in a flat 1.0. These are the fastest times our test equipment has ever seen, twice as fast as the Chiron and about a 30% performance improvement over last year’s Model S and Porsche Taycan Turbo S.
But it wouldn’t be Tesla if it didn’t overpromise, and Plaid couldn’t come close to the company’s 200-mph claims. Our test car topped out at 162 mph, which is no faster than last year’s Model S performance. Tesla is always a few software versions — and new vehicles and assembly plants — away from meeting its claims, and they, of course, swear that the update will unlock true Plaid speed.
But, trust us, you don’t want to go 200mph in this car. Even 162 mph was so terrifying, roving, and nervous that we were worried about being able to nurture it between the lane lines. The steering is not installed fast enough, which makes the task more difficult. At similar speeds, the Taycan is resolutely stable. Another reason to be afraid of the 200mph is the brakes that became soft during testing. Although our braking system isn’t nearly as severe as what a racetrack requires, a warning message reporting the brakes going off appeared on the dashboard. Between the flappability at high speeds and the understated brakes, our helmets are a long way from former FIA GT racing driver Andreas Simonsen, who drove Plaid to what should have been the 7:35 Nurburgring.
Plaid’s massive improvement in cornering grip likely played a role in that time ring. On the skateboard, Tesla introduced the Corvette with a weight of 1.08 grams, up from 0.92 grams. Michelin Pilot 4S Plaid-spec tires are 30mm wider than before with some Cup 2 charm.
Now is the time for your regular reminder that driving experience is more than numbers, a drum we regularly beat as we explain why the Clear Target Champion didn’t win the comparison test. The Plaid is zombie at the limit, with nothing showing through the sturdy knobs at the end of the steering yoke. It took a lot more to get this skateboard figure than usual due to the unpredictability of the car. Turning right, it will self-drive in an excessive direction, which will then lead to a strong blow from stability control. Tesla points out that the Plaid’s dual rear motors enable torque vectoring, but there’s nothing that could be near the limit due to the indomitable safety grille. The Model 3’s performance with its variable (and workable) track mode settings is more satisfying and enjoyable.
There’s also this steering yoke, something that doesn’t have to be a terrible idea but becomes an idea when the factory discards pairing it with a faster steering ratio. At speed it works well, and we quickly adapted to the touch-sensitive turn signals and other additional controls. In addition, the obstacle-free visibility forward is an improvement. But the Plaid and its 2.3 rotation from lock to lock violates the first rule of the yoke, which is that you never want to spin past 180 degrees. This soon led to the creation of bad habits, such as reaching the wrong side of the yoke when embarking on a bend that would have otherwise required confusion.
The yoke gets most of the attention inside, overshadowing a much-needed overhaul of the Model S’s interior that uses richer materials. There’s a 17.0-inch center screen now horizontal, a 22-speaker stereo system, and thicker acoustic glass that makes the interior even quieter than before.
Tesla loyalists will notice that the Mercedes-Benz transmissions, turn signal stems and window switches are gone. Shifting to gear is done with a touch screen swipe. That strikes us as a dubious idea, because infotainment screen collapse isn’t a rare occurrence, for Tesla or any other automaker. At least, Tesla has built a workaround for switching through the center console when this happens.
Despite the added performance gear, our test car delivered an impressive 280-mile range in our 75-mph highway test. That’s 80 percent of the EPA’s 348-mile range, which is higher than we’ve seen in other Tesla tests. Some credit has to be given to the Plaid’s heat pump, which Tesla claims uses 50 percent less energy to heat the cabin. The Plaid went further than any other EV we tested except for the more efficient S Long Range Plus. Which is hugely impressive considering the speed of the Plaid and its sticky tires. The car also fulfilled Tesla’s promise of significantly faster recharging capability, receiving the highest charge rate we’ve measured.
“We have to show that the electric car is the best car,” Musk said regarding the importance of Plaid. It points to the acceptance of electric vehicles as critical to the future of sustainable transportation. While Plaid is amazing in many ways, it’s not the best. Among other things, are there drawbacks more serious than the lack of power in a 1,020-horsepower sledgehammer?
I was expecting the launch control to start on my crazy-powered Tesla to blast my own synapses (I did). I wasn’t expecting what it was like the rest of the time. A stab of the accelerator at 20mph or 100mph—it didn’t matter—caused it to explode with instant, cartoon-like ferocity, actually bending so much that my neck muscles strained hard to keep my head flat. Stop! I wish I could give all car haters a ride in this thing. Its ability to blow minds may also change. – Rich Sebos
The yoke might be fine when you’re going on a straight highway, but the wheel works in this scenario, too. Try to park or turn in Plaid and you’ll get a new appreciation of the steering wheel rim. Compared to the coupler, the new digital gear selector works fairly well. Although there are times when the system doesn’t understand that you want to drive and not reverse, a corrective swipe on the left side of the screen gets you moving in the right direction. – Drew Dorian
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