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Is Top Gear Misrepresenting 2019 Tesla Model S Performance, Using Results From 2017?

Top Gear recently released a head-to-head comparison between the 2019 Tesla Model S Performance and the Porsche Taycan Turbo S, sensibly concluding they are both great performing vehicles with different goals and strengths. Whilst the video notes both cars are more than fast enough in the real world, the data that Top Gear used to represent the 2019 Tesla appear to be copied unaltered from a 2017 Top Gear review of a previous generation of the Model S. What’s up with that?

Yesterday, Top Gear released the video segment looking at the 2019 “Raven” Tesla Model S Performance and the Porsche Taycan Turbo S in terms of performance, road manners, daily practicality, and charging. The overall review was reasonably balanced, concluding that the Tesla has advantages in range, space, practicality, technology, and charging infrastructure. The Taycan has advantages in great sporting feel, handling, and “driver’s car” characteristics.

With these distinctions, and the significant price difference between the two, Top Gear concludes that these two high performance EVs are not in direct competition with each other, but rather that both compete well with fossil fueled “alternatives”.

One notable anomaly in the video was the data used to represent the acceleration and quarter mile performance of the Tesla. It appears to be straightforwardly copy-pasted from a two year old Top Gear review of the the older (and slightly slower) 2017 Model S P100D:

Tesla Model S Performance data as presented by BBC Top Gear in 2017 and 2019 (Author’s Graphic/Remix)

The probability of the exact same times – identical across 4 distinct measures – recurring purely by coincidence is something of the order of 1 in 100,000. The host of Drag Times, Brooks, who has much experience with accurate performance car acceleration testing and quarter mile runs, has weighed in also. He agrees that it is highly improbable that the times recorded in the field in 2019 would be an exact match for the results from the 2017 test.

Brooks, who has owned a number of Model S Performance versions over recent years (amongst a wide variety of combustion supercars), additionally notes a number of technical discrepancies as to the way Top Gear tested the 2019 “Raven” Tesla Model S Performance. He raises important questions as to whether the Tesla was in fact tested in its fastest “Max Battery Power” driving mode or not:

We don’t yet have all the answers as to what’s going on here. There was another discrepancy around the top speed of the Tesla – Top Gear said it was 155 mph, whereas Tesla lists it as 163 mph (it has been 155 mph for previous versions of the car). This may simply have been due testing circumstances on the day, but – yet again – the way it was communicated by Top Gear doesn’t inspire great confidence in the factual accuracy of the BBC video.

Top Gear has famously used “dramatic license” to (negatively) fictionalize the performance of Tesla’s vehicles in the past. That was a long time ago however, with mostly a different team at the helm, and since then there’s been plenty of positive coverage of Teslas and EV in general. The discrepancies in the latest video could have been unfortunate (and unprofessional) mistakes, rather than deliberate mis-portrayals of the Tesla’s performance.

We know that both the Model S and Taycan have more performance than can be safely used in 99% of daily driving scenarios when sharing roads with others. But the performance data presented by Top Gear being an exact match for the data they presented two years ago on a different generation of Model S certainly needs some clarification.

I’ve tweeted to Jack Rix, a deputy editor at BBC Top Gear, and the host of this specific video, regarding the duplicate data issue. He’s yet to respond. The BBC, being a publicly funded broadcaster, has tight policies on factual accuracy of content, so we’ll likely get some clarity eventually. Watch this space!

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Max is an anthropologist, social theorist and international political economist, trying to ask questions and encourage critical thinking about social and environmental justice, sustainability and the human condition. He has lived and worked in Europe and Asia, and is currently based in Barcelona. Find Max's book on social theory, follow Max on twitter @Dr_Maximilian and at, or contact him via LinkedIn.


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