In this Data Digest, we’ll be discussing Tesla’s upcoming high-performance version of its flagship sedan: the Model S Plaid.
The ‘Plaid’ powertrain – billed as “the only thing beyond Ludicrous” – will be available on the Model S sedan, Model X SUV and next-gen Roadster. The saloon will hit the assembly line in October/November 2020, with the SUV and sportscar arriving in 2021 – this article will focus mainly on the liftback.
The headline change will be found underneath the body. The current Model S and X’s dual electric motors are set to be replaced by a tri-motor setup, with one motor up front and two at the rear, one for each wheel.
Considering the current Model S Performance with Ludicrous Mode produces 568kW of power and 931Nm of torque, outputs in excess of 620kW and 1100Nm are realistic estimates for the Plaid.
If you’ve had your eye on the automotive media in the last week, you’ll know that these details are not rumour-mill scuttlebutt. Instead, numerous Model S Plaid prototypes have been doing the rounds at Germany’s famed Nurburgring racetrack and attracting a fair share of attention.
The presence of Plaid prototypes at the ‘Ring was conceived, naturally, in a tweet from CEO Elon Musk on September 5th, following the reveal of the 560kW Porsche Taycan electric sedan and its 7 minute 42 second lap record around the Nordschleife.
As promised, red and blue Model S test cars hit the track just days later – spotted by Carscoops – with a look well removed from production versions of the American flagship.
The most notable upgrades are present where the Plaid prototypes grip the tarmac. Body-coloured fender flares have been fitted, covering a set of lightweight forged wheels wrapped in semi-slick Goodyear Eagle F1 Supersport RS (initially Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 R) tyres.
Hiding behind those large alloys are beefy new brakes, reported by spy photographers to be carbon-ceramic Brembo SGL units normally found on high-end supercars the likes of Ferrari and Lamborghini.
Inside, spy shots appear to show few changes, though it is believed the Plaid prototypes sport roll-cages and racing bucket seats for safety purposes. We’d wager the production model will feature grippier sports seats, in addition to Alcantara trim, other race-inspired touches and a seven-seat layout.
Wheel and tyre package aside, Tesla has subjected the Model S Plaid test cars to moderate visual upgrades.
There’s a tall Gurney flap mounted to the rear tailgate to improve aerodynamics, while the lower front air intake has been opened up to increase airflow to help cool the 100kWh battery and reduce overheating – an issue that has plagued Teslas and prevented them from setting low, consistent Nurburgring lap times in the past.
What is the impact of all these changes? Tesla claims its data suggests the Model S Plaid can achieve a 7:20 lap time, with a 7:05 possible “with some improvements”. If the latter time could be achieved, the American sedan would share the leaderboard with exotics like the 991.2 Porsche 911 GT3 RS, Mercedes-AMG GT R Pro and Nissan GT-R Nismo.
The times are not just Tesla marketing spin, either, as stopwatch-wielding spotters clocked the red prototype achieving a 7:23 lap time with traffic, nearly 20 seconds faster than the Taycan. Additional graphs have been released by the Tesla Twitter account, showing the car’s power output and acceleration forces across the various laps.
The Plaid has also set an lap record at the Laguna Seca circuit in California, with a “powertrain and chassis prototype” crossing the line a second faster than any other four-door production car.
The 2021 Tesla Model S Plaid is expected to be fully revealed in the coming months, potentially at the Tesla truck unveiling event rumoured for November. Stay tuned to Redline for all the latest official Model S Plaid details.
UPDATE: November 2019
As promised, the Model S has returned to the ‘Ring, now sporting a mammoth rear wing, hardcore rear diffuser, more production-ready front bumper and brake cooling vents behind the front wheels.