Tesla Buyer's Guide

The Ultimate Tesla Buyer’s Guide

Up to date as of December 2021

Welcome to the world of Tesla. These electric vehicles are some of the most technologically advanced cars on the road today. Tesla’s strategy of rapid advancement excites its followers as the company addresses problems, introduces new features, and tweaks pricing, but that also leads to some confusion as the changes come quickly and often in the middle of model years, leaving no convenient way to organize and understand which version of a Tesla will have what capabilities.

It’s important to note that this guide is not a comprehensive record for every change Tesla has made to all of its vehicles—there are other places where such encyclopedic information is available. Rather, this is meant to cover the major updates of each car, to show you what to look for if you’re after something specific, and to clarify some of the common questions about Tesla’s universal features, like Autopilot.

Our goal here is to help you find the Tesla you will be happy with for years to come.

A Note on Autopilot

Autopilot is often the first conversation topic we encounter when someone is considering purchasing a Tesla from us. Tesla has not made it easy at times for shoppers to tell which version of Autopilot any given vehicle has. So we’ve put together a couple of helpful posts for you, The Ultimate Guide to Tesla Autopilot, and how to tell what version of Autopilot Hardware a vehicle has. A few quick hits from the latter are below:

• Autopilot Hardware 1 (HW1) – Shipped from September 2014 – October 2016

• Autopilot Hardware 2 (HW2) – Shipped from October 2016 – August 2017

• Autopilot Hardware 2.5 (HW2.5) – Shipped from August 2017 – March 2019

• Autopilot Hardware 3 (HW3) – March 2019 – present

Autopilot wasn’t introduced until October 2014, when Tesla started including the hardware as standard equipment on every car that was built–though it would cost buyers an additional $2,500 for the software. To check and see if a car has Autopilot 1 hardware, look at the windshield from the outside, where the mirror attaches to the car. If the car has Autopilot, it will have a camera underneath the glass.

Autopilot Hardware 1 Camera

This is an Autopilot Hardware 1 mount. A car without Autopilot will not have the camera.

The big giveaway as to whether or not a car has Autopilot HW1 or HW2 is the presence of rearward-facing cameras on the front fenders. While Tesla has shipped Autopilot Hardware as standard equipment ever since the feature’s release, the software requires an additional purchase to be unlocked. Be sure to check on the screen inside to confirm that Autopilot is activated.

Hardware 2.5 was an incremental upgrade to Hardware 2. The cameras became color and some of the internal computer components were upgraded, permitting use of a built-in dashcam. Beyond the build date of the car, there’s no easy way to tell if it would have HW2 or HW2.5.

Autopilot Hardware 1 v. Hardware 2

Autopilot Hardware 3 became standard on all cars in March 2019. This upgrade was once again internal, adding an upgraded processor to give cars the redundancy needed for Full Self-Driving. Because the upgrade was internal only, there’s again no easy way to tell if a Tesla has HW3—but all HW2 and HW2.5 cars can be upgraded to HW3 if the car has the Full Self-Driving package.

Proof of Full Self Driving

For a deep dive on Tesla’s computer hardware, we highly recommend this TeslaTap article.

A Note on Supercharging

Supercharging is one of the features that sets Teslas apart from the EV competition. Superchargers are Tesla-owned fast charging stations, capable of recharging the cars from zero to 80% in as little as 30 minutes. They’re easy to use, and placed all over the world’s highways, enabling Tesla owners to make road trips with relative ease.

At first, Supercharging was free for all Tesla owners. The company has scaled back that perk over the years; today, most newer Teslas require paid Supercharging—especially if you are buying a pre-owned vehicle. Teslas delivered before January 15, 2017 have transferrable free unlimited Supercharging, but there are exceptions. If a car is traded back to Tesla, the automaker removes it from the car.

Tesla Model S (2012–present)

Tesla Model S

The Model S is Tesla’s oldest vehicle in its lineup, though it has seen no shortage of updates, tweaks, and even visual design changes over its production run that is approaching a decade. Next year’s Model S will always have something fresh compared to last year’s Model S, even without a new vehicle “generation.” It’s also had what seems like a billion different battery and trim levels over the years.

The way that Tesla badged their vehicles is as follows:

– denotes “Performance”

• Number (i.e. 60 or 100) – battery size in kilowatt-hours

• D – dual-motor all wheel drive

• – the Ludicrous Speed Upgrade.

Though Tesla didn’t include it in the badging, all Standard Range, Long Range, and Performance trimmed cars are all-wheel drive.

Tesla Model S Chart

Batteries aside, we will divide the car up into rough “versions” to better organize the chaos of Tesla’s incremental updates. Before getting into this, we want to make note of the Technology Package and the Premium Upgrades Package. The option content within these packages gets very granular and changes were frequent as more features were made standard over time. If there is a feature within either of them that are must-haves, then it’s best to just check for it on each car you’re looking at.

June 2012–October 2014 Tesla Model S: Classic Fascia, No Autopilot, MCU1, Lifetime Supercharging (if enabled)

This 2012 Model S Signature Performance was one of the first 1,000 Model S vehicles ever delivered.

The early Model S was impressive for the same reasons the new Model S is impressive. It’s stylish, with a beautiful exterior and strikingly minimal interior. It goes like hell—and the eye-watering nature of electric acceleration was more surprising to drivers back in 2012 than it is today because it was still so new.

That said, the first version of the Model S will be missing a few things fans of modern Teslas may crave. The 17-inch center touchscreen uses the Media Control Unit V1, resulting in a slower experience with fewer features. There’s no center console. It has the faux-grille look thanks to the classic front fascia, and these cars came in the time before Autopilot. Drivers will have to make do with traditional cruise control.

October 2014–April 2016: Classic Fascia, Autopilot 1, MCU1, Lifetime Supercharging

In October 2014, Tesla began selling Autopilot Convenience Features—now commonly known as Autopilot 1.

This first version of Autopilot has many of the features you can find on Autopilot today, including Traffic Aware Cruise Control, Autosteer, Autopark, Summon, and Auto Lane Change—it just doesn’t have all of the extra cameras necessary for the latest and greatest in Tesla’s driver-assistance suite.

It was also within this time that Tesla released the first of its “Performance” branded cars, denoted by a “P” in front of the car’s trim level. When you see a “P85D,” “P90D,” or “P100D” on the back of a Model S, you know it’s an especially fast one.

With the release of Performance cars, it wasn’t long until “Insane Mode,” the predecessor to Ludicrous Mode, was introduced in October 2014. This speed upgrade allowed 0-60 runs in the low three second range. Not long after that, Tesla introduced Ludicrous Mode for a sub-three second run in 2015.  Both modes have only been available on performance versions of the car.

With the release of the P85D, Tesla offered more supportive “Next Gen” seats built by Recaro. The standard seats, built by Futuris, didn’t have much in the way of support and bolstering. The increased support and side bolstering of the Next Gen seats was helpful for performance-oriented Teslas, and the more supportive seats were eventually offered across the lineup.

Model S buyers in March 2016 also received parts that were a sort-of sneak preview to the upcoming visual refresh. At this point in time, Tesla switched from their aero and turbine wheels to the Slipstream design that’s still standard on Model S today.

Model S Wheels

From top left to bottom right: 18″ Five-Spoke | 19″ Slipstream | 21″ Turbine | 21″ Twin-Turbine

April 2016 – August 2016: New Front Fascia

Tesla Model S

In 2016, Model S received its first exterior refresh. It received a smooth new front bumper, headlamps, rear end, and the rocker panels were painted. Beyond the visual update, the cars are the same. Drivers still get Autopilot 1.

August 2016–January 2017: The “Unicorn”

A few months after the new front fascia was rolled out, Tesla released Autopilot 2 hardware and the Enhanced Autopilot package. Teslas with this configuration are the most desirable because they have the new look, the most up-to-date hardware (with the option to upgrade to Autopilot Hardware 3 for Full Self-Driving), and transferrable lifetime free Supercharging.

It was also built during the brief period of time that Tesla offered both the perforated, cooled seats and a heated steering wheel. Cars built with this configuration still have the potential to be the most fully-loaded Tesla Model S built!

The only thing it’s lacking over newer Model S is MCU2—meaning features like in-car video streaming and Caraoke are unavailable.

It was also in this time period that Tesla’s latest seat design—the “Tesla Premium Seat” was introduced.

January 2017–March 2018: Free Unlimited Supercharging perk eliminated

Cars built during this period have everything the cars above do, minus the free lifetime Supercharging perk. Instead, they have 400 kWh (approx. 1,000 miles) of free Supercharging credits annually. If you don’t tend to take many road trips where you would need to Supercharge, this change should not make a big difference to you, as the vast majority of charging occurs at home. Even if you drove back and forth across the country twice in one year, you would only save about $300 with unlimited free Supercharging versus this perk.

While there is a brief overlap of the 400 kWh charging credit with this configuration, it’s best to think you’ll be paying for Supercharging when you need it.

March 2018–April 2019: Enter MCU2, AP3.

March 2018 saw the introduction of an upgraded Media Control Unit—or MCU2. This upgraded computer chip first appeared in the Model 3, leaving Tesla fans to wonder when it would make its way to Model S and Model X. The answer: March 2018.

MCU2 is generally faster and more capable than MCU1, making for a faster experience using the center screen. It’s also capable of running new software features like Caraoke and In-Car Video Streaming that the older control unit cannot.

Autopilot HW3 was introduced in March 2019, but it’s not worth separating out into another build because it’s just a new computer that adds redundancy needed for Full Self Driving—all the cameras and other sensors remain the same across both versions.

Vehicles with Autopilot Hardware 2 or 2.5 will receive a complimentary upgrade to Hardware 3.0 with a purchase of Full Self-Driving software, or can purchase the Full Self-Driving computer hardware for $1,000 plus applicable taxes and fees if you’re looking to subscribe to FSD monthly.

April 2019–2021, pre-refresh: “Raven”

In 2019, the Model S got an additional bump in range to more than 370 miles along with new active suspension components commonly referred to as “Raven,” which is what Tesla codenamed the parts when they were in development.

While Model S and Model X had long had air suspension, the new active suspension is adaptive to road and driving conditions, allowing for a more comfortable ride on rough roads and more mechanical grip during dynamic driving by stiffening the dampers via a “sport” setting.

June 2021–Present: Tesla goes to Plaid

Red 2021 Tesla Model S Plaid

Slight changes to the 2021 Model S Plaid exterior include new creases to the front fascia and subtly flared fenders for wider wheels and tires.

Tesla pushed beyond Ludicrous speed and went to Plaid with the most significant refresh of the Model S in the vehicle’s history in June of 2021. With the addition of a third motor to its all-wheel drivetrain, the flagship sedan’s Performance trim became Plaid and now boasts 1,020 horsepower and an eye-watering zero to 60 time of 1.99 seconds. Tesla called it the quickest accelerating car in production when it was released. The Plaid also has a 348-mile range with 21-inch Arachnid wheels and a claimed top speed of 200 mph, which was software limited by Tesla when the vehicle was first released.

In Q4 of 2021, Tesla simplified its naming convention and offered two versions of the S, the aforementioned Plaid and Model S Long Range was shortened to simply “Model S.” When configured with the range-friendly 19-inch Tempest wheels, the dual-motor version of the S passed the 400-mile range mark for an EPA tested total of 405.

In addition to the mind-bending performance of the Plaid, both trim levels had significant interior refreshes, the most notable—and at times controversial—being the change from the traditional steering wheel to a steering yoke. It also reconfigured the main touchscreen from its vertical display to a 17-inch landscape orientation.

Model S Yoke and Main Display

A view of the yoke steering and new landscape-oriented main touchscreen in a 2021 Model S Plaid.

2021 Model S Redesigned Second Row

Other significant interior touches include the redesigned second row with extra head and legroom, a stowable center armrest/console and a rear-facing 8-inch display for entertainment and gaming. It also brought back the popular ventilated front seats.

While Tesla is known for changing and releasing features in the middle of model years—there are pre- and post-refresh 2021 Model S Long Range and Performance on the road—given the significance of the 2021 refresh, this iteration of the Model S will likely live on for some time.

Tesla Model X (2016–Present)

Tesla Model X Performance

Tesla Model X Performance with 22-inch Black Onyx wheels.

Model X didn’t receive quite as many battery trim levels as Model S, but there are still almost a dozen versions of the car. Smaller batteries with less range and performance will generally retail for less on the used market. All versions of Model X are all-wheel drive.

Tesla Model X Trims

Besides battery size, the big differentiator most Model X buyers look at is the number of seats. The electric SUV can come in five-, six-, or seven-seat configurations depending on your particular needs.

Monopost vs. Fold-Flat Middle Row Seats – From release in 2016 to July 2017, middle-row Model X seats had a monopost design—they sat on a single post attached to the floor. This allowed the outboard seats to be power-adjustable and meant there was a fair amount of room underneath the middle row, but they couldn’t fold flat, reducing total cargo capacity.

Tesla Model X Monopost Seats

Monopost seats in a six-seat Model X

From July 2017 onward, five and seven-seat Model X featured a traditional sliding, fold-flat bench seat in the middle row. Six-seat Model X retain the monopost design.

Tesla Model X Bench Seat

Updated fold-flat bench row for five- and seven-seat Model X.

Five-Seat Configuration – Standard and least popular configuration. Seats the least number of people with additional cargo capacity under the floor where the third row of seats would normally be. It’s worth checking out if you want the additional cargo space of a Model X but don’t need extra people-carrying capacity, especially since these tend to be priced lower than comparable six- and seven-seaters.

Tesla Model X Five-Seat Hatch

Underfloor cargo compartment of five-seat Model X.

Six-Seat Configuration – Offers most comfortable seating arrangements for all passengers, including two-way power adjustable seats in the middle row. This is the most popular (and expensive) interior configuration for Model X. Some vehicles have center consoles mounted between the middle-row seats, but most have an open aisle for easy access to the rear seats and cargo area.

Seven-seat Configuration – Takes the five-seater Model X and adds two third-row seats in the back. Obviously, this offers the most seating capacity, though middle-row passengers get the manually adjustable bench seat instead of power-adjustable standalone seats.

Model X Seat Configurations

From left to right: Five-, six-, and seven-seat configurations of the Model X.

Hardware and Software Upgrades

Model X received Autopilot and Media Control Unit hardware and software upgrades at the same time as Model S.

July 2016–August 2016 – Autopilot 1, MCU1, Lifetime Free Supercharging

August 2016–January 2017 – Autopilot 2, MCU1, Lifetime Free Supercharging

January 2017–March 2018 – Autopilot 2, MCU1, Paid Supercharging

March 2018–April 2019 – Autopilot 2, MCU2, Paid Supercharging

April 2019–October 2021 “Raven”

The “Raven” suspension upgrade Model S received was also given to Model X.

October 2021–Present Refreshed—and waiting to go to Plaid

After a long wait and many production delays, a handful of reservation-holders got to take delivery of their refreshed Model X in October 2021, all of them being white-one-white with the coveted six-seat configuration.

Like the Model S, the refreshed Model X ditched the wheel for yoke steering, reoriented its main display to a 17-inch landscape experience, and added a second-row display for entertainment.

The Plaid version of the Model X will also have three high-performance motors with carbon-sleeved rotors and boasts a sprint from zero to 60 mph in 2.5 seconds. As of December 2021, Tesla had yet to deliver a Model X Plaid.

Tesla Model 3 (2017–Present)

Silver Metallic 2018 Model 3 Long Range

Designed with affordability in mind to reach a wider range of consumers, the Tesla Model 3 received 150,000 reservations within a day of its 2016 announcement, began delivering to customers in July 2017.

Compared to the Model S and Model X, the Model 3 has had fewer trim and feature changes throughout its production run and remained mostly unchanged until a refresh in 2021—although its pricing has always constantly fluctuated. Standard and Mid Range versions were offered only in rear-wheel drive. For a time, the Model 3 Long Range was offered in the choice of rear- or all-wheel drive, though it has since been simplified to all-wheel drive-only. Like all other Performance trim Teslas, the Model 3 Performance has only been offered with all-wheel drive.

Tesla Model 3 Chart

Various Model 3 trim levels and stats for vehicles through 2020.

The interiors are all basically the same, with the big differences being:

Standard—No heated seats, basic sound.

Partial Premium Interior—Front heated seats only, upgraded sound.

Premium Interior—All seats heated, high-end immersive sound system.

2021 Refresh

In October 2020, Tesla updated its online configurator to show the newly refreshed Model 3, which saw a bump in range from 250 to 263 for the Standard Range Plus, 299 to 315 for the Performance, and a 30 mile increase to 353 miles for the dual motor Long Range.

Along with the increased efficiency, the Model 3 also saw some significant interior redesigns, including a fully refreshed center console and a heated steering wheel.

Refreshed Model 3 Interior

A peek at the Model 3’s redesigned center console for 2021.

After first being introduced in the Model Y when it debuted in 2020, the refreshed 2021 Model 3 also got a heat pump system to maximize efficiency in cold weather conditions. It also got a long-awaited power trunk, and slightly redesigned wheels. The biggest wheel change came for the Performance, which got 20-inch Überturbine wheels similar to the 21-inch versions on the Model Y Performance.

Finally, after many owners blacked out the chrome window and mirror trims of their Teslas over the years, the “chrome delete” look became standard in the 2021 refresh.

2021 Model 3 Long Range Chrome Delete

Model Y (2020–Present)

2020 Model Y Performance

A 2020 Model Y Performance with 21-inch Überturbine wheels.

After the Model Y was first unveiled in March of 2019, the youngest vehicle in Tesla’s lineup began delivering to customers in early 2020. Originally available in four configurations—Standard Range rear-wheel drive, Long Range rear-wheel drive, Long Range all-wheel drive, and Performance—the Model Y lineup was quickly cut to three versions with the elimination of the Standard Range, before being further simplified to two versions in early 2021: the dual motor Long Range all-wheel drive and Performance.

The compact electric SUV design takes many cues from the Model 3, but with a taller roofline, added cargo space, a sportback versus the traditional trunk of the 3, and an optional third row for up to seven passengers. It also debuted with “chrome delete” black trim that later became standard in the 2021 refreshes of the Model 3, S, and X. The Model Y also hit the streets as the first Tesla vehicle to have a heat pump for increased efficiency in cold weather. Again, that feature found its way into other models in the lineup.

Though only a year old, the Model Y got a refresh in 2021 that included a new center console similar to that of the Model 3 along with dual pane front window glass for a quieter cabin.

Roadster (2008, 2010–2011)

Tesla Roadster 2.0

Roadster 1.5 – VINs 1–500

Why does Roadster start with Version 1.5, and not version 1.0? Well, technically there was a Roadster 1.0 at first. The first 25 cars were released with a two-speed gearbox, but all of those models were retrofitted with single-speed units—which has become the go-to solution for electric car transmissions.

You can easily distinguish a Tesla Roadster 1.5 from the rest of the Roadsters by looking inside. Roadster 1.5 has a gated shifter, while 2.0 and 2.5 Roadsters have a push-button gear selector.

Roadster 1.5 is also lacking a glovebox—instead it has a small shelf on the passenger side of the car for the placement documents and other small items.

Roadster 2.0 – VIN 500–963

Roadster 2.0 was the biggest update to the car. It received a new motor and power electronics module (PEM), enabling the introduction of the Roadster Sport with increased performance. The Sport model was capable of making the 0-to-60 sprint in 3.7 seconds.

Roadster 2.5 – VIN 964–2500

Tesla Roadster 2.5

Tesla Roadster 2.5–note the new front fascia compared to 1.5 and 2.0.

Roadster 2.5 introduced a number of tech upgrades and a cosmetic update. The PEM was once again upgraded, this time to allow it to better handle hot climates. It received a back-up camera and double DIN touchscreen media unit – a hint of Tesla’s screen-oriented future. Drivers can also enjoy better side-bolstering on the seats.

Visually, the car received new front fascia and rear diffuser design, making them easy to tell apart from earlier Roadsters. New wheels were also available, including forged silver or black sport wheels.

Now that you’re a pro on Tesla’s vehicles, check out our inventory to see what we have in stock. Don’t hesitate to reach out to anyone on our team for additional questions—we’re Tesla experts with history with the company dating back to the Roadster days.

Posted in Consumer Info January 23rd, 2020 by