Will there be a Tesla Model S refresh or Model X update coming soon? Is a 2019 Model S update still in the cards or are we looking at a 2020 refresh for the Model S and X? 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 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.
- 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 prices lowered for Tesla Model X and S.
- 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.
- October 2019 – Model X gets slimmer front seats plus rear storage.
- November 2019 – Elon Musk says future Plaid Powertrains will have upgrade battery packs for more range
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 pause to consider whether there will be a refresh, particularly since the Model S design (interior and exterior) hasn’t been significantly updated in over six years. Now that Model 3 ramp has hit its stride, we’re guessing Tesla will likely update some portions of the Model S and X design sometime in early 2020. 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.
That said, in July of 2019, Elon Musk said there will be no refreshed Model X or Model S coming soon..
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.
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
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 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 Model 3 later in early-mid 2020 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 late 2019 and will include a horizontal screen (however, speculation now is 2020).
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
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 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).
All X & S will soon work with no key if your phone pairs w Bluetooth, signal strength is high & you enable feature
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 10, 2018
New Battery Technology – More Range and Faster Charging
Probably one of the biggest advances is the use of new battery technology in
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. If the battery pack can be replaced with these newer cells, expect faster charging and additional range, potentially up to 400 miles of range (from 370 today for the Model S).
However, here’s what Jeffrey B. Straubel, CTO of Tesla said on the February 2018 call regarding the use of
“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 for a while, although there has been speculation that this may happen in late 2019 or 2020.
Tesla has also hinted at producing a different battery cell in 2020, 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 it may come in late 2019 and Elon has hinted at a 400 mile range vehicle being possible in the near future, likely the Model S (from 370 today).
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 or other architecture, remains to be seen.
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 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 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 Variants: Plaid Powertrain
In September of 2019, we learned that future variants of the Model S and X will have a “Plaid Powertrain”, similar to the upcoming Roadster (and humorously in reference to the movie Spaceballs). That said, don’t hold your breath, since they won’t start going into production until late summer 2020.
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 out later in 2020.
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, 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
- 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 like the minimalist interior with fewer controls and believe they will update the interior in early 2020.
- You want the Plaid, high-performance variant and/or rear facing seats coming later in 2020.
- You want to wait for the upgraded battery pack in mid-to-late 2020 (coming with Plaid Powertrain).
Read more about Free Supercharging here.