Testing the Tesla Model S Plaid: Milestones, Records, and Other Geeky Factoids

Hey, have you heard? The 2021.5/2022 Tesla Model S Plaid can run a sub-2.0-second 0-60-mph time on a prepped raceway surface. Well, sort of. The way we gather acceleration data uses the same launch methodology as the NHRA, drag racing’s sanctioning body. The official timer starts after 1 foot of forward progress—a.k.a. rollout—so that the car has fully broken the light beam at a competition drag strip’s start line. (We factor in this rollout via software when testing without a beam, which is most of the time.) The thing is, on a prepped surface so sticky with resin that it nearly pulls off your shoes, with three electric motors driving all four wheels, and 1,050 lb-ft of torque at your disposal, a lot can happen not only in one foot, but also within the length of a car on its way to 60 mph, and beyond. We’ll get to that in a bit.

Does VHT Make a Difference?

While we were looking at this car’s data, we compared its record-breaking run to the quickest pass we made in the exact same Tesla Model S Plaid on a plain asphalt surface. Did Tesla really need the resin-based compound called TrackBite (formerly known as VHT) to break the 2.0-second barrier?

We plotted together the two acceleration runs side by side and found very little difference in time-to-speed curves. Take a look: The red line is on the prepped raceway and the yellow is on plain asphalt. There’s almost precisely a tenth of a second between them all the way from the start to the finish. Why don’t the arcs begin at zero and zero in the lower left corner? That’s the 1-foot rollout showing up. As the timer started, the car was already moving at about 6 mph in the first foot after launching on the prepared surface, and about 5 mph on unprepped asphalt.

Satisfying Resolution

We routinely report times rounded “to the tenth” (0.1) of a second because our data recorder runs at 20Hz, dropping a data “breadcrumb” 20 times per second. This means, for instance, that in two seconds, we have 40 data points to work with. Luckily, computers are excellent at filling the spaces between these data points, so we used the 0.01 resolution in this case. Yes, on that sticky, race-prepped surface, the 2021 Tesla Model S Plaid indeed reached 60 mph in 1.98 sec (2.0 seconds rounded). It registered 2.07 seconds (2.1 rounded) on plain asphalt.

The asphalt run was sufficient for the Plaid to become the quickest (0-60 mph) and fastest (quarter-mile) production car MotorTrend has ever tested. In fact, we’ll record the asphalt run as the car’s official entry in our database because we don’t test on prepped surfaces. Performance being equal, the raceway launch solely provided enough initial grip to duck under two seconds to 60 mph and remain 0.1 second ahead of the asphalt run for the entire “race.”

And for those who are wondering what the Tesla Model S Plaid’s 0-60 time is on unprepped asphalt, without the 1-foot rollout, without drag mode, without launch control, without pedal overlap—so, just “slap-n-go”—the unadulterated 0-60 time is 2.45 seconds.

Time Slows Down

We wanted to slow the clock way down and take a closer look at this epic 1.98-second  0-60 time and the 9.25-second, 156.2-mph quarter-mile run millisecond by millisecond. So, we cracked open our laptop and fired up some software to take snapshots of particular interest along the 1,320-foot path. We’ll focus on the run on the prepped surface, but the below data points would be very, very similar on unprepped pavement.

Start the Timer

  • After setting up launch control and eventually releasing the brake pedal while at a standstill, the driver almost instantly experiences 1.00 g in longitudinal acceleration. In other words, the force pushing his head and torso into the seatback in that instant is the same as if he were lying on his back and attempting to perform a sit up from the floor. Go try that right now. No really, try it.
  • Welcome back. Fifteen-hundredths (0.15) of a second later, the car travels 1 foot, timing begins, and it’s already going 5.9 mph. The g load jumps to 1.23.
  • The length of the Tesla Model S Plaid is 197.7 inches (about 16.5 feet). By the time the car’s rear bumper is where its front bumper began, it’s already traveling 24.8 mph at 1.24 g.
  • Five feet further, the tires really dig in and a peak g force of 1.30 occurs at 28.4 mph, and the force doesn’t fall below 1.20 g until 50.4 mph.
  • Sixty mph arrives in the aforementioned 1.98 seconds, and the car is still pulling 1.11 g—and is just 98 feet from where it started. Yes, the entire sub-2.0-second drama occurs in less than 100 feet.
  • Interestingly, on regular asphalt, the car needs 104 feet and 2.38 seconds to stop from 60 mph, averaging 1.16 g in the opposite direction. We don’t dive into detail like this often, but this might be another first: a car that accelerates from 0-60 mph in a shorter time and distance than it achieves 60-0 mph.
  • For the first time since the brake pedal was released, the longitudinal g load drops below 1.00 at 68.1 mph.
  • So, occupants of the Plaid experience in excess of 1.00 g for nearly three full seconds. It’s in those three ticks you hear the most screaming from passengers. After that, it’s wide-eyed silence until the finish line, at which point the incredulous swearing and uncontrollable laughing begin.
  • In just 4.17 seconds and 360 feet from where it started—not even a third of the way to the quarter-mile finish line—the Model S Plaid cracks 100 mph, still shoving the driver back with 0.66 g of force.
  • Five seconds later, it accelerates across the finish line in an elapsed time of 9.25 seconds traveling at 152.6 mph and exerting 0.36 g.
  • For you drag racers out there, here are some other stats:
    • 60-foot time = 1.69 sec
    • 330-foot time = 4.16 sec
    • 1/8th mile = 6.19 sec @ 122.8 mph
    • 60-130 mph time: 4.711 sec

    It’s not often we test such an exceptional car or go into this level of detail, but when records fall, we can’t help but to geek out on the minute milestones that made it possible. The 2021 Tesla Model S Plaid’s accelerative performance is, for now, incomparable.

    While we just said it’s incomparable, here is the Plaid’s performance data put into context with results we’ve achieved with several other vehicles of note we’ve tested:

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