Tesla 2020 Model S and X Refresh Updates

September 2020

Will there be a Tesla Model S refresh or Model X update coming soon? Is a major 2020 Model S and/or Model X refresh in the cards? Now that the Tesla Model 3 and Model Y are in active production, we have a solid grasp of the new Tesla design language and technology being deployed to future Tesla vehicles, including the futuristic Cybertruck.  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:

  • April 2019 – Model S and X now have FSD Computer, and get the “Raven” update that includes a new active suspension, longer range and faster charging
  • July 2019 – Elon Musk says no “refreshed” Model S or X coming soon.
  • September 2019 – Tesla previews Plaid Powertrain for Model S and X.
  • February 2020 – Tesla releases Tesla Model S/X “Long Range Plus” variants with 390/351 range with a software update released in March to reflect that increase.
  • April 2020 – Software update to boost performance for Raven Model S/X.
  • June 2020 – Model S range officially EPA rated at 402 miles and base price reduced.
  • July 2020 – Rumors of project “Palladium” Model X and Model S refresh towards end of 2020.
  • September 2020 – Tesla officially announces Model S Plaid coming in late 2021, $140K, 200 MPH, 520-mile range.

Should You Wait to Purchase a Model S or X?

Some of the new design and technology refinements might just be enough to make prospective Model S or X owners pause to consider whether there will be a refresh, particularly since the Model S design (interior and exterior) hasn’t been significantly updated in several years.  Now that the Model 3 and Model Y are in full production, we’re guessing Tesla will likely update some portions of the Model S and X design sometime in late 2020 or perhaps early 2021.  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.

As Elon Musk said via Twitter there will be no refreshed Model X or Model S coming soon, only a series of minor updates…

That said, what a “refresh” means exactly is, of course, subjective and open to interpretation. In addition, on the Q3 2019 earnings call, Elon said “The Model S and X are really niche […] To be totally frank, we’re continuing to make them more for sentimental reasons than anything else.”

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 and Model Y 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 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 two screens stacked on top one 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 Model 3 and Cybertruck later in 2020 or early 2021 but with a heads-up display to replace the instrument cluster (aka the binnacle).

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

Update November 2019: Tesla’s Cybertruck revealed showing ultra-minimalist interior and horizontal screen similar to the Model 3. New is an electronic rearview mirror.

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 is intended to be used for the future Tesla ride-sharing network.

Elon Musk tweeted, “It’s there for when we start competing with Uber/Lyft & people allow their car to earn money for them as part of the Tesla shared autonomy fleet. In case someone messes up your car, you can check the video.” It could also, in theory, be used as a Driver Monitoring System to ensure the driver is attentive during Autopilot usage.

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 ditched the 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 areas of advancement is the use of new battery technology to improve range, charging speed, and power. The Model 3 and Y use the newer 2170 format Lithium-ion batteries rather than 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 and the Model Y to have great range and fast charging.

Tesla 18650 and 2170 Batteries
Tesla 18650 and 2170 Batteries

In addition, during the 2020 Battery Day event, Tesla announced a future battery called the 4680, even larger than the 2170 in the current Model 3 and Model Y. However, that battery is still a long ways out and won’t go into volume production until 2022.

What does this mean for the Model S and X? First, the 18650 batteries are excellent, tried-and-true cells and Tesla continues to improve the energy density of this form factor. While the 2170s offered a bit more energy density initially, the new 18650s are catching up. In fact, Elon Musk said during the 2019 Q4 call in January 2020 that he expects Tesla to offer a 400 mile range Model S (up from 370 today), in addition to range improvements on the Model X as well.

In addition, switching battery form factors is a big deal. Here’s what Jeffrey B. Straubel, then 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. “

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 for a while. This was repeated again in the 2019 Q4 earnings call held on January 2020, where Drew Baglino, VP of technology again reiterated they have no immediate need to switch away from the 18650 architecture.

Tesla has also hinted at producing a completely different battery cell in 2020 or 2021, so we’re not sure it makes sense for Tesla to switch the batteries used for the S and X at this point, although there have been rumors that range increases for Model S and X may come in 2020.

Update April 23, 2019: Tesla updated the ‘drivetrain’ to include more efficient motors and faster charging (like the Model 3) as part of the ‘Raven’ update but is still using 18650 batteries. Regardless, range has improved 10% (e.g. 370 miles for Model S) and both the S and X can now utilize 200 kW fast charging on V3 Superchargers.

Update November 2019: Elon says new “Plaid Powertrain” variants (see below) will have increased range. Whether that means they’ll use the 2170 batteries or other architecture, remains to be seen, but it will likely be improved 18650 battery chemistry.

Update June 2020: Tesla Model S now officially EPA rated at 402 miles using existing Raven technology.

Autopilot Hardware 3 (AP3)

Tesla Motors has released its own AI hardware called the Full Self-Driving Computer (aka AP3 / Hardware 3) that is 10X more powerful than the current NVIDIA chips used previously. Existing vehicles with AP2 Hardware can simply swap out the 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 having the Full Self-Driving Computer (“FSD Computer”) mean practically? It means that Tesla vehicles outfitted with FSD Computer will be able to perform better at self-driving tasks than those with AP2, with advanced software updates targeted for that hardware. See the Tesla Autonomy Day announcement for more.

All new vehicles being produced as of late April 2019 have the Full Self-Driving (see New Autopilot Options) installed.

More Efficient Motors

April 23, 2019 – Tesla introduced electric motors for the Model S and X as part of the internally called ‘Raven’ update, similar to those found in the Model 3. Previously the S and X used induction motors, which do not have permanent magnets and instead uses electromagnets to provide variable torque and ample power. The Model 3 motors have a simpler design by using permanent magnets, making them cheaper and more efficient.

The Permanent Magnet Switched Reluctance Motor (PMSRM), like that found in the Model 3, has been introduced on the S and X in the same configuration as the Performance Model 3 with one permanent magnet motor in the front and an induction motor in the back to balance efficiency, cost and performance.

New Tesla-Built Active Suspension

April 23, 2019 – Tesla updated the active suspension on the Model S and X as part of the ‘Raven’ update, building it completely in-house. This allows Tesla to better control the suspension in real-time based on conditions and to further squeeze efficiency out of the vehicles by lowering a far as possible to reduce aerodynamic drag.

Future Performance Variant: Model S Plaid

In September of 2020 during the Battery Day event, Tesla officially announced a high performance version of the Model S, dubbed the Model S Plaid (in humorous reference to the movie Spaceballs). It starts around $140,000, has a range of 520 miles, a top speed of 200 MPH and a zero-to-60 under 2 seconds. That said, you’ll have to be patient since, even though you can order one today, they won’t start going into production until late 2021.

There is no mention whether the Model S Plaid will have any design refresh or battery update, but we assume it will since it will be released in late 2021.

Rear-Facing Seats Coming Back

Also in September of 2019, Elon let the cat out of the bag that rear-facing seats will be making a return in the Model S, allowing for up to 7 passengers to be carried at a time. It’s assumed these seats will roll in 2021.

Bottom Line

While the Model 3 and Model Y have 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 and Model Y. With the 2018 updates that brought a faster touchscreen to the Model S and X, keyless entry, and new interior options, and the 2019 updates that brought Hardware 3 (FSD Computer), the ‘Raven’ update that included updated active suspension, longer range and faster charging for V3 Superchargers, the only thing potentially holding anyone back from buying a new car would be a minimalist interior and/or an updated battery pack (for some additional range beyond the excellent current range and slightly faster charging).

Remember that you can order online and return in 7 days after receiving the vehicle if you don’t like it.

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 to take advantage of the current Free Supercharging offer.

Wait If …

  • You like the minimalist interior with fewer controls and believe they will update the interior sometime in late 2020 or early 2021.
  • You want the Plaid, high-performance variant and/or rear-facing seats likely coming around later in 2021.

Read more about Free Supercharging here.