The Model S Plaid could render Ludicrous Speed obsolete

If you’ve ever wondered about the etymology of Tesla’s Ludicrous Speed upgrade for the Model S, look no further than Mel Brooks’ Spaceballs, the parody of the Star Wars movie franchise that was released back in 1988. “Ludicrous Speed,” as it was called, was a unit of speed that traveled faster than “Light Speed” and “Ridiculous Speed.” It also opened the door for the next fastest form of speed in outer space, referred to only as “Plaid.” All of this is relevant only in Tesla’s world because of the upcoming arrival of the Model S Plaid. This is everything we know about it.

What is the Tesla Model S Plaid?

Tesla Model S Plaid - Everything We Know Exterior Spyshots
- image 867383

The Model S Plaid has actually been in development for some time now, even if it was initially thought of as an upgrade package for the new Tesla Roadster, not the Model S. It was even previewed in prototype form at the Roadster’s unveiling back in November 2017. Even if that may still end up being the case, the Model S is apparently getting first dibs on the upgrade now that word is out that the Model S Plaid is not only happening, but it’s also already in the middle of development.

We’ve seen the juiced-up Model S make headlines recently, too.

Tesla claims that it’s the fastest production four-door at Laguna Seca and has video evidence to back it up regardless if the lap time was sanctioned or not.

The Model S Plaid has also appeared at the Nurburgring. These things tell you that the Tesla Model S Plaid is closer than it’s ever been to arriving, and while we don’t know the full scope of details surrounding the car, we know enough about it to call for this post.

Three electric motors open up a lot of possibilities

Tesla Model S Plaid - Everything We Know Exterior Spyshots
- image 867401

Of all the things about the Tesla Model S Plaid that have been talked about, the prospect of a three-motor setup is what everyone’s excited about. It’s a huge leap for Tesla after initially offering a single electric motor for the Model S when the electric sedan arrived in 2012. Tesla upped the ante in 2014 when it released an all-wheel-drive version of the Model S with an electric motor in the front and rear axle. Since then, that’s the only setup Tesla has used on the Model S, and that raises interesting possibilities on what a third electric motor can do to help the electric sedan improve its power and performance capabilities.

On the surface, a three-motor Model S P100D with Ludicrous Mode should expect a significant increase in power from its current output of 794 horsepower and 1,013 pound-feet of torque.

How big that output increase is will depend on how crazy Tesla is. That bump in output will also have an effect on the sedan’s performance times, and we’ve already seen what the Model S Plaid is capable of when it set Laguna Seca on fire (figuratively, of course) with a blistering lap time of 1:36.555. The Tesla Model S Plaid will become the fastest and most powerful version of the Model S. That’s almost a certainty, though by how much is the question.

Tesla Model S Plaid - Everything We Know Exterior Spyshots
- image 867386

That said, it’s not just about power and performance, either. One added benefit of a three-electric-motor setup is torque vectoring or the ability to control what wheels on opposite sides of the car are doing and the possibilities that it can open up to the driver. Think about the Acura NSX, for example. The hybrid performance car comes with a pair of motors in the front axle, one for each of the two front wheels. When the NSX is riding on corners, the outside front wheel launches into overdrive, and, in the process, it drags the inside front wheel. This result is a car that can turn more sharply, particularly in, well, sharp corners. This kind of setup isn’t new to the market. The recently unveiled Ferrari SF90 Stradale uses a similar front-axle setup as the NSX and other automakers like Lotus and Rimac are developing their own electric vehicles that will carry a similar layout.

If Tesla joins in on the fun with a three-electric-motor setup, it opens up a lot of possibilities on what that model is capable of.

There’s still the matter of figuring out what kind of layout Tesla will go for when it launches the Model S Plaid. Is it two electric motors at the front and one at the back or vice-versa? Whatever it decides, we can be sure that such a setup is going to unlock a level of performance that we haven’t seen from the Tesla Model S before.

The romp at Laguna Seca really happened, even if it didn’t go in the record books

Tesla Model S Plaid - Everything We Know Exterior Spyshots
- image 867404

There’s been a lot of talk regarding the Tesla Model 3 Plaid’s lap time around Laguna Seca. The automaker released a video of a Model S Plaid prototype laying waste to the race track with a lap time of 1:36.555. Tesla claimed that this lap time was a record for four-door production cars. But there is a caveat to this record: Laguna Sec doesn’t sanction lap records so it’s not technically an official lap record.

Still, that didn’t stop Tesla from celebrating the feat, saying that the Model S Plaid lapped Laguna Seca faster than the 600-horsepower Jaguar XE SV Project 8, which completed a lap time of 1:37.54 back in September 2018.

It is interesting that even if the track doesn’t sanction lap records, a lot of production cars go ahead and set lap times anyway. Veteran racer Randy Pobst set the record in the Jaguar XE SV Project 8, and he also happened to be the man behind the wheel when the Cadillac CTS-V set the lap record for a four-door production car — 1:38.52 — that he ended up breaking with the XE SV Project 8.

For now, at least, it appears that Tesla and the Model S Plaid has a stranglehold on that lap record, at least until another four-door production car breaks it, even if none of these lap times are sanctioned.

So, what does this say about the Tesla Model S Plaid? At the very least, it gives us an indication that the new Model S Plaid has the performance chops to break lap records. It already, albeit unofficially, planted its flag at Laguna Seca. Now the question moves to which race track it can conquer next.

Tesla’s Nurburgring jaunt could be a sign of things to come

Tesla Model S Plaid - Everything We Know Exterior Spyshots
- image 867402

Ahh, yes. The Nurburgring Nordschleife. It is arguably the most famous race track in the world. It’s also the track that seemingly every automaker uses to test out its new wares in preparation for an eventual lap time that will determine where it stacks up in the track’s famous production car lap record standings. For the longest time, Tesla has resisted bringing any of its vehicles to the Nurburgring for one reason or another. But something happened along the way that seemingly forced Tesla’s hand. Porsche released the Taycan EV and unleashed the Taycan Turbo variant on the Nurburgring, where it set the record for the fastest four-door electric car with a lap time of 7:42.

The attention (and acclaim) Porsche received for the Taycan Turbo’s record-setting run prompted Tesla to take the offensive.

Not only did it go to the Nurburgring, but it also brought prototypes of the Model S that were later identified as prototypes of the Model S Plaid.

Tesla ended up participating during open Industry Pool lapping sessions, and while it didn’t make an official record attempt — it’s still unclear why Tesla didn’t do it — sources close to the track have come forward and said that a Model S Plaid prototype was able to complete a lap in 7:23, as per their stopwatches. Granted, that hardly counts as an official lap time and the accuracy of these stopwatches could be off by a few seconds or two, but that 7:23 lap time is 19 seconds faster than the lap time posted by the Porsche Taycan Turbo. Not only is that lap time incredible in the face of comparing it to the lap time of the Taycan Turbo, but it’s also impressive in the context of all the lap times posted by production cars in the past. For a little context, the Model S Plaid’s 7:23 lap time is quicker than the lap times posted by the Ferrari 812 Superfast, the Porsche 911 (992) Carrera S, and the Mercedes-AMG GT 4-Door Coupe 63 S 4MATIC.

So, why didn’t Tesla perform an official timed lap if it knew that it could handily beat the Porsche Taycan Turbo? Perhaps it has something to do with the faster and more powerful Taycan Turbo S, which has yet to set a lap time around the Nurburgring.

I suspect that Tesla is still working out the kinks for the Model S Plaid’s official timed lap, but it’s also not prepared to throw all of its chips on the table without at least knowing what the Taycan Turbo S is capable of.

Can the latter make up the supposed 20-second gap between the unofficial lap time of the Model S Plaid and the official lap time of the Taycan Turbo? I don’t think that’s going to happen without the Porsche wearing a set of super sticky tires, but then again, anything can happen on the Nurburgring.

Tesla Model S Plaid - Everything We Know Exterior Spyshots
- image 867407

Either way, this is setting up for quite a showdown between two models — the Model S Plaid and the Taycan Turbo S — that will be fighting for four-door electric car supremacy in the near future.

Fastest Sedans Around Nurbugring
Subaru WRX STI Type RA NBR (non-street legal) 6:57.5
Jaguar XE SV Project 8 7:21.23
Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio 7:32
Porsche Panamera Turbo 7:38
Honda Civic Type R 7:43
Volvo S60 Polestar 7:51
Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG S 7:55
BMW M5 7:55
Subaru WRX STI 7:55
Cadillac CTS-V 7:59

The Model S could also look different in Plaid form

Tesla Model S Plaid - Everything We Know Exterior Spyshots
- image 867400

The Tesla Model S Plaid won’t just be different mechanically and technically. It will also come in a different form, at least in terms of the aerodynamics that it boasts. The sedan still retains the same Model S design, but prototypes that we’ve seen also reveal several important additions to the body. The fender flares, for example, are bigger than in the standard model to accommodate the larger tires that the sedan appears to come in. The Model S Plaid also comes with a tweaked spoiler to go with large vents located behind the front wheels. At least one of the prototypes also featured a large diffuser. That tells you that Tesla isn’t messing around when it comes to the performance improvements it’s going for with the Model S Plaid.

Speaking of Tesla’s mentality, the Model S prototypes were also spotted wearing Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 and Goodyear Eagle F1 Supersport RS tires.

Granted, that doesn’t provide a clear indication of Tesla’s plans, but these tires have something in common in that they’re grippy and sticky on the road. That extends to the race track where these sticky tires play crucial roles in helping cars post fast lap times.

Could these additions be a sign of things to come for the Tesla Model S? We won’t know for sure until Tesla debuts the vehicle, but these signs do point to that.

Production and Pricing

Tesla Model S Plaid - Everything We Know Exterior Spyshots
- image 867382

Production could start sometime next year, though neither Musk nor Tesla at large have identified a specific timetable for the Model S Plaid’s arrival. The most specific Musk has come to pinpointing a production timetable would be October or November 2020. Then again, Tesla is infamous for rarely sticking to schedule so if 2020 comes and goes without any significant developments in the production of the Model S Plaid, at least we know this early that we didn’t expect too much out of it.

The good news is that development is already underway and that the prototypes have already been captured numerous times in the wild.

That tells us that the Model S Plaid is a real thing, and at this point, that’s all we can ask for from Tesla.

As far as pricing goes, the Model S Plaid will become the most expensive version of the Model S when it hits the market. Elon Musk has said that it will be priced “less than our competitors” so with the Model S starting at around $100,000 and the Porsche Taycan starting at $150,000, it’s reasonable to expect that the Model S Plaid will be priced somewhere in the $110,000 to $130,000 range.

Further Reading

2017 Tesla Model S Exterior
- image 672438

Read our full review on the 2019 Tesla Model S.

Kirby Garlitos
Automotive Aftermarket Expert - kirby@topspeed.com
Kirby’s first exposure into the world of automobiles happened when he caught Knight Rider on television as a five-year old boy. David Hasselhoff didn’t leave much of an impression on him (that happened later on in Baywatch), but KITT certainly did. To this day, Kirby remains convinced that he will one day own a car with the same ‘spirit’ as the original KITT (not the 2008 monstrosity). He doesn't know when that will be, but until then, he’s committed to expressing his love for KITT, and all cars for that matter, here at TopSpeed.  Read More
About the author

Related Articles

Tesla’s "Plaid Mode" T-Shirt is Actually Pretty Cool

How Big is the Battery In the Tesla Model S and Model X Plaid?

What do you think?
Show Comments
Car Finder: