New Tesla Model S Interior: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly (Or Pretty)

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Today, Tesla sent out its Q4 update to go with the earnings call, and the bean counters both at CleanTechnica and elsewhere are all combing through the data looking for stories. The financials are important, and there’s nothing wrong with being interested in them, but that’s just not what I do. Being an old-school car fan, I’m naturally more interested in the pretty pictures that were included with the report, along with the refreshed cars themselves.

In this article, I’m going to look at the features of the new Model S and Model X interior and share some thoughts on them.

The refreshed Model S interior. Photos in this article provided by Tesla.

The Good

There’s a lot to like about the new interior, so let’s cover some of that first.

The thing I like the most about the refresh is that they kept the dash display. I know many fans prefer the Model 3’s setup, and will defend it to the death, but I prefer to have a display just below the straight-ahead view of the road. The first time I encountered a center display being used for a gauge cluster was in a 2005 Saturn Ion I tested, and I wasn’t a big fan of that, either.

For driver safety, ease of use, and for less neck tension in some drivers, keeping the display is better. For people who want a clean, simplistic look that centers around self-driving, then no display is better.

This is a matter of personal taste in many ways, but I’m the one writing this one up, and I’m putting the retention of the driver display in the “Good” box. YMMV, and that’s OK.

The better front display and the very existence of the rear display is a big plus. A larger front display helps not only with information and entertainment while driving, but will give a more cinematic experience when sitting at Superchargers. The refreshed S has much longer range, so there’s going to be less of that going on, but it’s going to be a welcome improvement.

Given that entertainment will be needed less in the front row, because the car will be rolling more and charging less, the addition of the rear screen shows that at least some parents were involved in the design. Instead of “Are we there yet?”, you’ll probably be hearing the kids ask to stop for batteries for their XBox controllers (which work with the car’s built-in gaming computer). Be sure to keep some spare batteries in the back for them.

The display may also work for streaming, which will work well on most interstate highways, but be sure to bring alternatives along if you’re going to be venturing on the backroads. With over 500 miles of range, that’s going to happen more often with the new S.

If you’ve only got two kids, or you do like me and take two at a time on long road trips, the folding armrest/console is going to be a big hit. My 2017 Jetta has this, and you wouldn’t believe how happy it makes rear passengers. Having cupholders is also a big plus if you aren’t into cleaning up spills. Plus, there’s some storage space for the gaming controller batteries you’ll be needing.

If nothing else, it’s going to give little heads a place to rest when they inevitably fall asleep.

The wireless charger will also give people in the front row a good place to not only charge their phones, but keep them where they can be seen. We shouldn’t be messing with them on the road, but looking down for a quick glance is a lot better than having to dig the thing out of a purse or back pocket. Also, wireless charging helps keep the interior from looking like the space behind your TV, with a cord for this phone and another for that one.

And there’s also wireless charging in the backseat!

The (Potentially) Bad

The placement of the hazard/flasher button looks very problematic. In the last picture, you can see that it’s very wide and located just below the phone charger. It looks like it will be very easy to accidentally bump the thing with a phone or hand while putting a phone in the dock or pulling it out. It’s not a big deal if that happens, but it looks like something that could end up being a minor inconvenience. Maybe.

I can’t tell for sure, but from the photos it appears that the only rear cupholders are on the collapsible armrest/console. In the event one carries three rear passengers, and they each have drinks, that could prove problematic. This isn’t a huge deal, and aftermarket options may be possible here.

Personally, I’d design and print my own cupholders for the back and mount them somewhere, but it would be nice to have at least a rudimentary option that’s built in.

The Ugly

The only thing I’d put under “ugly” is the steering wheel. I don’t mean to say that it’s visually ugly. It looks pretty cool, and the futuristic aviation aesthetic is neat. When I say ugly, I’m talking about the functionality. Others may well disagree and consider it one of the prettiest new features of the car. What do you think?


The control stalks for windshield wipers, turn signals, cruise control, and shifting are gone. All of that has been put on the steering wheel itself. The steering wheel has had the top chopped off, like a racing wheel, and the bottom is flat. It looks a lot more like an airplane’s yoke than a car’s wheel.

The first problem with this setup comes in the form of a question. How does one shift this thing?  I know that most EVs don’t have gears, but you do need to be able to choose between park, drive, reverse, and neutral. I’ve been looking over the pictures …

Midway through typing this, I saw a notification with Edgelord Elon ‘splaining how this works:

This brings us to the problem of fine vs gross motor control. Pushing a turn signal stalk up or down, or forward and back for lighting control, is more of a gross motor movement. Pushing buttons is a fine motor skill. I know from law enforcement and concealed carry training that in a stressful situation, your fine motor skills go to crap. Occasionally, driving presents us with situations that will also do that to a person.

Nobody’s going to be worrying about turn signals in panic driving, but you may need to be able to shift quickly. For example, you may need to quickly shift to reverse and move to avoid a collision, or you might be needing to escape a thief or other criminal attacker in a parking lot, and that could require some quick shifting under stress.

That neural net had better be damned good.

UPDATE: Elon Musk has tweeted out the opinion from his own use of the tech that it actually becomes annoying to have to use a PRND stalk again once you spend a few days not using one and letting the car do all the work.

Edge case for example: I don’t think something like a J-Turn is going to even be possible with this setup, because you won’t be able to quickly go from R to N and then to D with gross motor controls like you can with a column or floor/console shifter. If you’re executing a J-Turn, you’re likely doing so because it’s a potentially life-threatening situation, and you won’t be working a touchscreen. I know J-Turns are an edge case (when’s the last time you did one?), but there will likely be a number of edge cases that will not be well served by this setup.

Unless quick changes between D & R are somehow much easier via the new setup than it appears at first glance, the lack of a stalk seems problematic. As these Plaid models start hitting customers’ hands, we’ll see if it becomes a point of concern or somehow a surprise feature of the new design.

The Wheel Itself

The bigger issue we would all encounter is low-speed driving, like in parking lots or parallel parking.

The reason racing wheels are flat on the bottom and don’t have the segment on the top is that race cars don’t do a lot of low-speed maneuvering, and thus don’t need the whole wheel. A normal car does a lot of that, though, and without the top of the wheel, you’ll be unable to do the hand-over-hand maneuvering.

It will work, but it will take some getting used to. I did some testing myself in a parking lot after seeing the topless wheel, and it was possible to do a lot of maneuvering without touching the top of the wheel. It was weird, though. Feel free to try it yourself. Naturally, this is not the same as trying out the new Tesla wheel, so we again have to wait to see if this is indeed an issue in practice or if the steering wheel performs surprisingly better in these situations than many are presuming.

The other problem with low-speed maneuvering was that I couldn’t “slip” the wheel like I and most others normally do. When you want a car to straighten out, you can release the steering wheel or let it slip in your hand, and it will go straight, especially with a little throttle. Not all drivers do this, but a round wheel allows for that quick maneuver and it saves a lot of hand-over-hand action. With a yoke-style wheel, you can’t do that safely.

One dumb thing: where will people put their steering wheel covers? If someone sends me some measurements, maybe I’ll put a design for a snap-on or bolt-on wheel topper on Thingiverse for curmudgeons like me to print up.


I’m sure your preferences will differ from mine on where you’d put the items on this list. Some would put the gauge cluster display in the “bad” or “ugly” category, and would put the avant-garde steering wheel in the “good” box. That’s cool, and you’re more than welcome to tell me all about it in the comments or on Twitter. I know people will have differing opinions here.

Most of these things ultimately do come down to personal preference.

On the other hand, there are some nearly indisputable goods here, like the rear display and foldable console/armrest. We can all agree that those are great features!

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Jennifer Sensiba

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.

Jennifer Sensiba has 1770 posts and counting. See all posts by Jennifer Sensiba