At long last, Tesla’s longest-tenured vehicle has gotten a much-needed update. While the 2021 model year doesn’t drastically change the electric sedan, it does breathe some new life into one of Tesla’s premium offerings. With more and more automakers releasing plans for their own electric luxury sedans, it is now more important than ever for Tesla to keep its cars fresh.
Is this latest overhaul of the Model S a major transformation? It really depends on your point of view. In any event, regardless of your initial impressions, this refresh does deliver some serious changes. While you wouldn’t really be able to tell much of a difference from the outside, the changes made to the inside appear to be drastically different. The technology, acceleration, and range have also substantially improved.
As noted, the refreshed exterior isn't all that different. In fact, unless you are a seasoned Tesla veteran, you might not be able to tell the difference between a refreshed model and one from last year. The biggest visual difference is in the front fender which has gained some extra body creases.
The headlights and taillights also appear to have been updated to be brighter and sleeker. The refreshed Model S (and X) have joined the Model 3 and Y in ditching the chrome trim pieces. You will notice that both the trim around the windows and door handles are blacked out now.
While the exterior only has a few (minor) updates, the interior features some rather radical changes. In fact, some of these changes could be hinting at Tesla's over-arching vision of a self-driving future ahead.
Let's start with the steering wheel. Well, it’s missing a top-and-bottom. The new yoke steering wheel is reminiscent of one found in race cars, invoking a feeling of high-performance. There are also no stalks behind the steering wheel as all of the functions are mapped to buttons found on the steering wheel. Without stalks, changing gears in the electric car is quite a bit different from most other traditional vehicles on the road.
The center console has also received a big upgrade, ditching the old vertical orientation screen. Rather than sticking out like in the Model 3 and Y, the new horizontal screen is embedded within the dash with a slight tilt mechanism. The new screen is obviously better for media consumption and Tesla has noted that the center screen has current-gen gaming console performance.
Other features on the dashboard include the air vents from the Model 3 and Y. This gives the dash a cleaner feel as it lacks the traditional obtrusive vents found in every other vehicle.
The rear of the cabin also received an update with a new rear console as well as an 8-inch screen. In addition, there are no more latches on the inside of the doors for both the Model S and X, buttons only, just like the 3 and Y.
Tesla has been working their way up to making their cars quite competent gaming centers. Over the past few years, the brand has built up a Tesla Arcade through its continuous software updates. The games were simple at first, but have progressively become more robust and full-featured.
Above: Understanding the changes to the new, refreshed 2021 Tesla Model S (Source: Cleanerwatt)
With the new V11 update, the company looks to continue raising the bar in regards to in-car gaming. Some of the press images for the refresh show the Witcher 3 on the center console, and Elon Musk has stated that the car should be able to run Cyberpunk 2077. Both of those games are a considerable step up from anything Tesla has pushed out thus far through their ongoing software updates.
The new yoke has been a topic of controversy for more reasons than one. Aside from it missing a top-and-bottom, Tesla has done away with the stalks. As such, the Model S will figure out which gear you need to be in via its camera system and switch to it. For those that want to be able to shift themselves, there will be an option to disable the feature and change gears yourself via the center console.
With the updated dashboard, Tesla did away with visible A/C vents. While this ventless design has been on the 3/Y for a while now, the sleek air conditioning was absent on the Model S and X. The new setup will make it appear like air is coming from the screens in the dashboard, amazing all of your friends who aren’t privy to your car’s secrets.
The system now has three-zones of control and retains its preconditioning functions as well as heated seats.
In an effort to make the cabin of the Model S more enjoyable, Tesla has updated the sound system. There are 22 speakers located throughout the car as well as new microphones to enable active noise cancellation, blocking out a lot of the road noise. Think of AirPod Pros, but for your car.
Along with the design changes, the performance upgrade really packs a punch here. According to Tesla, the battery modules, battery packs, and drive units were updated. Surprisingly, the Model S still appears to be using the old 18650 cell rather than the newest 4680 or even 2170 cells found in the Model 3/Y.
Nonetheless, there appear to be some notable improvements in chemistry or thermals as the refresh does see a boost in its range. The Long Range Model S will have a range of 412 miles with a top speed of 155mph and a 0-60 time of 3.1 seconds.
The real improvements are seen in the Plaid versions of the refresh. The previous Performance version has gained a third-motor and the ‘Plaid’ name. With this extra motor, the Model S Plaid is able to hit 200mph and boasts a 0-60 time of 1.99 seconds.
The Plaid+ is a whole other animal. The long-rumored Tesla is still a year’s away, but it promises insane performance. While it only slightly beats the regular Plaid in 0-60 time with “<1.99 seconds” and matches its top speed, the Plaid+ will offer over 520 miles of range. As of this writing, Plaid+ will secure the top spot as the world's quickest production car.
An earlier version of this article appeared on EVBite. EVBite is an electric vehicle specific news site dedicated to keeping consumers up-to-date on any developments in the ever-expanding EV landscape.