Tesla Model S and X Refresh Update – March 2019

March 2019

Will there be a Tesla Model S refresh or Model X update coming soon? What will the 2019 Model S update and 2019 Model X refresh bring? Now that the Tesla Model 3 is in full production and the Model Y has been revealed, we have a solid grasp of the new Tesla design language and technology being deployed to future Tesla vehicles (except for the future pickup truck, of course!).  Read on as we break down the potential areas that may be updated in a design refresh and the latest information based on everything we know.

Major Updates since Last Year:

  • March 18, 2018 – Tesla has updated the Media Control Unit (MCU) hardware on new Model S and X vehicles to provide a faster and more responsive touchscreen using Intel hardware, bringing it up-to-par with the Model 3.
  • May 8, 2018 – Interior options on the S and X updated to include new finishes (including graphite trim instead of silver on the dashboard and oak with cream interior).
  • July 30, 2018 – Rumors swirling around an updated interior similar to Model 3 potentially appearing in late 2019
  • November 2018 – Tesla slims down the number of available options for Model S/X to simplify the lineup and production.
  • January 2019 – kWh battery variants of Model S and X replaced with standard and “Extended Range” options. Extended Range is software upgradable in addition to Ludicrous mode on Performance models.
  • March 2019 – Battery options adjusted and overall prices lowered for Tesla Model X and S.

Should You Wait to Purchase a Model S or X?

The new design and technology refinements might just be enough to make prospective Model S or X owners wait for the inevitable refresh, particularly since the Model S hasn’t been significantly refreshed in over six years.  Now that Model 3 ramp has hit its stride, we’re guessing Tesla will likely update the Model S and X sometime in late 2019.  Exactly when is anyone’s guess since Tesla typically rolls in changes to their electric vehicles over time, unlike traditional auto manufacturers that introduce changes on the model-year cycle.

To help you decide whether you should buy now or wait, we break down each of the components so you can make your own decision.

New Interior

The most obvious change in the Model 3 is the minimalist interior.  Key changes include:

  • Sweeping, minimalist dashboard with a single programmable vent
  • No instrument cluster by the steering wheel
  • A horizontally mounted screen, powered by fast Intel chips
Model 3 Interior
Model S and X Interior Refresh Example 2018
Mid-May 2018 Model S and X Interior Refresh Example (Cream/Oak)

This will be personal preference, of course.  Some may like the vertical (and less obtrusive) nature of the current S and X layout, including the instrument cluster.  Many also like the vertical screen since it allows for more information to be displayed than on the Model 3 (essentially one screen stacked on top another). Others may like the clean, extremely minimalist design of the Model 3.  Our guess is that the S and X will likely get a layout similar to the 3 in late 2019 (not anytime soon) but with a heads-up display to replace the instrument cluster.

Update: July 30, 2018: Electrek posted an article where they claim to have early design sketches (very rough looking) and believe a refreshed interior will take place in Q3 2019 and will include a horizontal screen.

Horizontal Screen

We also assume that Tesla will, over time, standardize on the horizontal screen design (it remains to be seen if the new Roadster will really keep a vertical screen, as shown in the prototype).  When the Model 3 launched, the screen was faster and had a more current UI than the S and the X at the time, but the S and the X have now since been updated to match the speed of the Model 3 and have a consistent UI as well. Older S and X Models (before May of 2018 may still have the slower MCU computers that power the display, but they can be upgraded).

Update: As of mid-March 2018, Tesla has begun rolling out the faster Intel hardware to Model S and X vehicles as well. In addition, with Version 9, the UI now has the same modern approach as the Model 3

Internal Camera

There’s also an intriguing internally facing camera mounted on the rearview mirror of the Model 3.  It is not currently active and most people assume it will be either used to monitor the driver during Autopilot usage and/or allow users to see the interior of the car when it is used in the future autonomous ride-sharing network.

We’re just guessing here, but this is probably a feature most people will not be waiting for!

Keyless Entry with Mobile App and Keycard

One of the more interesting features of the Model 3 is that they ditch they key and only use Tesla app and a backup RFID keycard to unlock the car. With the app, the car will automatically unlock and lock, depending on the proximity of your phone.  Personally, we’d love to ditch the bulky key, and have fewer things to carry around.

Update: As of mid-May 2018, Elon tweeted that all Model S and X vehicles will be able to use their phones for keyless entry and driving (no word whether future models will include a backup keycard like the 3).

New Battery Technology – More Range and Faster Charging

Probably one of the biggest advances is the use of new battery technology in the Model 3.  The Model 3 uses the new 2170 format Lithium-ion batteries which replace the original 18650 batteries used in the Model S and X.  The new 2170s are larger, lighter and can deliver more power, allowing the Model 3 to have world-class range and faster charging.

What does this mean for the Model S and X? First, the 18650 batteries are excellent, tried-and-true cells. While the 2170s offer a bit more energy density, it’s not drastic – the biggest change is in the battery pack assembly allowing for faster charging capabilities with the new V3 Superchargers. If the battery pack can be replaced with these newer cells, expect a bit more range and faster charging. 

However, here’s what Jeffrey B. Straubel, CTO of Tesla said on the February 2018 call regarding the use of 2170s in the Model S and X:

“It’s something we’ve of course contemplated, but it’s quite a large change to the architecture of the module and the battery pack overall. And while the 18650 supply is somewhat of a cap at about 100,000 units per year, even just a few months ago we didn’t feel that expanding and making some long-term bets on expanding that supply with Panasonic in Japan was really the right risk.”

What that means is that replacing the current 18650s with 2170s is a big change to the structure of the vehicles, so we probably won’t see 2170s in the Model S or X until 2020 or later.

Update January 30, 2019: When asked whether the S and X will receive the 2170 packs, Elon Musk said there are no plans to switch to those cells. There is also a rumor that they may be creating a new cell type, so they may wait until 2020 for any changes.

Autopilot Hardware 3 (AP3)

Tesla Motors already stated in Q4 of 2018 that it will be releasing its own AI hardware called Hardware 3, to power Autopilot that is 10X more powerful than the current NVIDIA chips used today. Existing vehicles with AP2 Hardware can simply swap out the current AP2 computer with an AP3 one, but it will cost some money to do so (unless you already purchased the Full Self Driving Option – then it’s free).

What does Autopilot Hardware 3 mean practically? It likely means that Tesla vehicles outfitted with AP3 will be able to perform better at self-driving tasks than those with AP2, with advanced software updates targeted for that hardware. If you plan to purchase Full Self-Driving (see New Autopilot Options), then you may want to wait until Hardware 3 is released, likely by mid-2019.

Bottom Line

While the Model 3 has elements of the future, the current Model S and X are amazing vehicles and many prefer the more functional interior layout to the minimalist design of the Model 3. With the 2018 updates that brought a faster touchscreen to the Model S and X, keyless entry, and new interior options, the only thing potentially holding anyone back from buying a new car would be Hardware 3 (relatively minor) or a major interior overhaul and new battery technology (both of which we doubt will be updated until well into 2019).

Buy Now If …

  • You prefer the larger integrated screen layout in the current S and X Models versus the protruding dashboard screen in the Model 3.
  • You like the instrument cluster and additional steering column controls vs the ultra-minimalist Model 3 interior.
  • Want a larger portion of the Federal Tax credit (decreasing until the end of 2019)
  • Want to take advantage of the current Free Supercharging offer.

Wait If …

  • You want Full Self-Driving and don’t want to have to swap the computer from AP2 to AP3 in mid-2018 (free for FSD purchasers).
  • You like the minimalist interior with fewer controls and you’re willing to wait until the end of 2019 (supposedly) to get it.
  • You believe there may be a power/battery upgrade in 2019 (seems unlikely now given Elon’s statement in January).

Read more about Free Supercharging here.