Mash the Tesla Model S Plaid's accelerator at 20 mph and the burst of power hits so hard it pulls the skin on your face taut. It's like getting an instant facelift, but one that lasts for only a few seconds. Try a standing start in the Plaid's Drag Strip mode, and it hurls itself off the line so ferociously you'll experience tunnel vision. We repeated that maneuver several times in the name of science to confirm that our senses weren't lying. Is this what Navy pilots feel when catapulted off a carrier? Maybe, but this much is for sure: It doesn't get old.
The Model S Plaid scrambles your senses with 1020 horsepower and 1050 pound-feet of torque. It is the ultimate, unhinged expression of Tesla's—and its equally unhinged CEO's—desire to keep the company's aging luxury-performance flagship sedan relevant as new EV competitors arrive to stalk it. The Mercedes-AMG EQS 4Matic+ sedan is one of those challengers. A Model S Performance beat a Porsche Taycan in a comparison test a couple of years ago. But how does this latest mega-muscle Model S—Tesla introduced the Plaid in 2021—fare against a Mercedes-Benz EQS 580 reworked by the German company's vaunted AMG performance division?
The AMG-ized version of the EQS sedan seems at first to be too lightly armed for the task. The AMG's 107.8-kWh battery pack teams with two permanent-magnet synchronous motors to produce a maximum of 751 horsepower and 752 pound-feet of torque—and only for brief seconds during launch-control starts—far less than the tri-motor Tesla's totals. The AMG also weighs 5911 pounds—1083 pounds more than the Model S. The numbers say that the EQS doesn't stand a chance in a drag race. But we're not just out to destroy quarter-miles here. We're looking for the overall best electric luxury-performance sedan, which makes this a multi-dimensional comparison of attributes—ambiance, posh appointments, and comfort, as well as over-the-road competence and driving satisfaction.
Pricing and Plushness Compared
With luxury playing an equal part, this competition becomes significantly more balanced. The EQS looks like a giant lozenge with windows, but it also has a presence the Tesla lacks. Credit the Benz's careful exterior detailing, blacked-out trim, optional 22-inch turbine-style wheels, and the large three-pointed star in its blanked-off pseudo-grille. It starts at $148,495. Our test car had a handful of options including carbon-ceramic brakes on the front axle ($5450), those great-looking wheels ($1850), and laminated side glass ($1010), which brought the total to $159,055. Whether it's the EQS's weird-science shape or its Mercedes face, it gets noticed—especially by other EV drivers juicing up at our local charging station.
Mercedes-AMG EQS 4Matic+
Highs: Posh personified, muscle-car quick, excellent real-world range.
Lows: Doesn't steer like an AMG should, doesn't handle like an AMG should, not enough AMG in this AMG.
Tesla Model S Plaid
Highs: Warp-your-vision acceleration, still looks good, recharges in a flash.
Lows: Unpredictable when driven hard, brakes no match for the power, the yoke is a joke.
The Model S, by comparison, has been on the market for 11 years, and it creates about as much excitement in the general populace as the sighting of a UPS truck. The Plaid looks like every other Model S, so only Teslarati will recognize that this is the one with the ability to warp your worldview. The Plaid goes for significantly less than the EQS, with a base price of $131,440. Ours had the optional sticky Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires on 21-inch wheels ($4500) and dark-gray paint ($1500), which brought the total to $137,440.
They're both dearly priced, but these EV supersedans are as different as Silicon Valley and Stuttgart. Our AMG's interior was pure opulence, a match for any gas-fired S-class's rich passenger space. Its interior, in dove gray and sable brown, had the feel of a luxury yacht's cabin, right down to the slabs of natural-finish wood trim laced with delicate metal inlays. The turbine-style HVAC vents are dash-mounted works of art, and the few buttons and switches in evidence sport beautiful finishes. And then there's the Hyperscreen infotainment touchscreen, a single swoosh of glass spanning the dash from door to door that houses the instrument cluster and most controls—including a screen for the front passenger to play with. It doesn't seem to work any better than other touchscreens, washes out in bright sunlight, and accumulates more fingerprints than an FBI database, but the graphics are great and, well, it's huge.
Next to the EQS's cornucopia of plushness, the Plaid's interior is an exercise in Scandinavian-esque minimalism. Think Volvo rather than Bentley. Handsome in its simplicity, its dark-leatherette-and-cloth upholstery feels like it belongs in a $50,000 car, not one costing almost three times as much. Tesla was a pioneer at stuffing most of the controls into the center-stack screen, and now even the Plaid's shifter lives there—and it's sometimes fussy. Also missing are the top and bottom of the steering wheel, which has been replaced with a Cessna-style yoke that makes maneuvering in tight spots annoyingly awkward. And for all its well-known tech-forward innovation and off-the-wall thinking, we wish that Tesla had gifted the Plaid with a simple sunshade—something the EQS has—for the inside of the glass roof to reduce the heat on our noggins during hot summer days.
Spread-out room is another form of luxury, and both cars have plenty both front and rear. The EQS is the much bigger car, though. At 207.3 inches it's 9.6 inches longer than the Plaid and its 126.4-inch wheelbase is 9.9 inches longer, which translates into limo-like rear legroom. Its rear seat is also higher off the floor than the Plaid's, making it a more comfortable place to sit, and its rear headrests are cushy pillows. Both cars have similarly long standard-equipment lists rife with driver-assist tech, but the EQS offers some luxury features, such as soft-close doors and massaging front seats, the Plaid doesn't.
Impressive but Flawed Performance
Luxury, of course, is only half of what these two EVs purport to be about. Their goal is to combine premium ambiance with performance—which to us means the totality of the driving experience, not just straight-line thrills. Not surprisingly, the Plaid and AMG EQS go about that mission very differently.
In normal driving the Tesla is as docile as a house plant if you tread lightly on the rightmost pedal. It has a taut ride and crisp steering response—though the steering yoke will drive you crazy any time you need to grab a handful of steering lock and instead find air. Exploiting the Plaid's immense power and supercar-like 1.08 g's of lateral grip on a challenging road, however, is like being invited to a party only to arrive and find no one else has showed up: It's weird and off-putting. Pushed hard, the Tesla's age shows. Its steering is lifeless and its chassis unsettled and uncommunicative; you don't know what it's going to do next. On a tight-cornered two-lane, the massive speeds the Plaid reached between turns demanded so much hard braking that a "brake overheating" warning popped up after little more than a mile, forcing us to back off. We'd seen the same brake-fade problem in our instrumented testing. Get anywhere near the Plaid's 162-mph governed top-speed on a straight road, and it's an unsteady handful. Exploiting the Plaid's potential produces more anxiety than pleasure.
The AMG EQS feels far more secure and enjoyable to drive hard even though its 0.92-g cornering effort is far below the Plaid's. But it also feels heavy-footed, like it's trying to dance wearing ankle weights. In Comfort mode it almost floats over pavement swells, but those big 22s occasionally thwack seams and road patches. Even with the dampers cinched up in Sport Plus mode, it responds lazily to steering inputs. The brake pedal always feels mushy, but the optional carbon-ceramic stoppers never faded, no matter how hard we drove.
Only next to the Plaid does a car that reaches 60 mph in 3.0 seconds and covers the quarter-mile in 11.4 seconds at 119 mph feel sluggish. When not driving in its quick-fire launch-control mode, it still conjures 649 horsepower and 700 pound-feet of torque, so jabbing the accelerator below 50 mph can make your face feel a little funny—even if it can't take nearly as many years off your mug as the Tesla can. Steering-wheel paddles conveniently control its two levels of regen and also enable coasting, which is the best method for stretching range. But the complicated steering-wheel haptic buttons and sliders that operate a variety of screens and functions require too much concentration and respond inconsistently.
The AMG EQS may be easier to hustle than the Plaid, but we nonetheless expected a more engaging driving experience from something wearing the vaunted AMG badge. We'd be fine with this car's dynamics if it were a standard EQS 580, but as the driver's car in the EQS lineup it lacks the light-footed responsiveness and haughty confidence that make most AMG-tuned models a joy to drive.
Range and Charging: Closer than Expected
That these two cars have such different personalities makes it all the more surprising that they perform almost identically in two critical areas: real-world driving range and charging speed. The EPA estimates that the AMG EQS can cover 277 miles on a single charge and that the Plaid will go 348. But on our 75-mph highway range test, the Plaid had enough juice to run 280 miles while the EQS managed 290. When plugged into DC fast-chargers they also add miles at about the same rate. We'll give the Plaid extra points for the added convenience of the extensive Tesla Supercharger network.
That's not enough this time. The Plaid is the EV world's 1970 Chevelle SS 454, a muscle car that blows minds with its straight-line speed. Need we remind you that only one other car we've tested—the $4.3 million, 1578-hp Bugatti Chiron Super Sport—can top the Plaid's 9.4-second, 151-mph quarter-mile run? The Mercedes-AMG EQS 4Matic+ is the better-balanced package of performance, handling, and luxury. It's a car that makes you feel rich just being in it, and it's better—though far from flawless—at playing the role of performance sedan when you drive it aggressively.
The EV world is evolving so quickly, however, that the AMG EQS's position atop this elite electric luxury-performance sedan class might well be short. The Lucid Air has just arrived on the market, and people have taken notice. And more entrants are sure to follow.