August 15, 2016

When you won the lottery, or signed your first big sports contract, or sold your dotcom, there was only one choice. The Ferrari showroom would be waiting to take your money.

Things are more complicated now, there are options in the upper echelon and they offer more than a straight choice.

That’s why this Tesla S P90D vs Ferrari F12 comparison is so intriguing.

Yes, logic dictates that we might go for the Tesla S vs Ferrari FF, they both have four seats and four-wheel-drive after all. But it’s not the right comparison.

People in this price stratosphere just want the best, the most dramatic, the fastest car they can buy.

In Maranello, that’s the Ferrari F12 Berlinetta. At Fremont it’s the Tesla Model S P90D. So how do they stack up when the gloves come off? It’s a culture clash, a battle of old and new and the result might shock you.

Tesla Model S vs Ferrari F12

Tesla Model S P90D vs Ferrari F12: USP

A Ferrari used to be the ultimate status symbol. It was a way to show you’ve made it, back when they were rare. Times have changed.

Now a Ferrari also stands for crass consumption, of money as well as fuel. It’s still aspirational for a large slice of society, but there’s a growing number that look down on a supercar as an insecure and unseemly purchase.

Ferrari F1 side profile

The Supermodel

The F12 still makes an impression, it will still get you a table at a restaurant and it will still get attention. But it isn’t the nailed-on hit it once was and you’ll find yourself explaining just why you need a 730bhp missile that costs more than a house as often as you will talk people through the launch control.

The Tesla, on the other hand, basically cuddles Mother Earth as it tears up the tarmac. It has become the very symbol of green motoring, it’s a technical tour de force that the nerds will love and yet it’s still insanely fast in a straight line. It’s much harder to make a case against the Tesla.

tesla store service model s (1)

As a piece of pure technology it’s the more impressive car. It also has more to offer. If these were people the Ferrari would be the life and soul of the party, but that’s all it’s got. The Tesla would be the one you wanted to know better.

Tesla Model S P90D vs Ferrari F12: Price

It’s a Ferrari, you already know it’s going to be expensive, but $322,638 is an immense amount of money to spend on a car.

That could buy a house in some States, a good one. More pointedly, it could buy the best part of three Teslas. In comparison the Tesla Model S P90D price of $119,200 is a bargain. That is before you even start on the tax breaks and Tesla lease deals.

Tesla Model S P90D vs Ferrari F12: Power

On paper, these two really are quite evenly matched.

The Tesla P90D power is simply off the charts. With 193kW going through the front axle and 375kW through the back. So it has independent four-wheel-drive and it basically produces the electrical equivalent of 762bhp and 713lb/ft of torque. That is madness. Even Tesla advertises the lesser figure of 532bhp in Ludicrous mode and less without it.

Tesla plug Model S

Ferrari F12 6.3L V12

The Ferrari F12 has a 6.3-liter V12 engine at its disposal. It’s a development of the powerplant that featured in the legendary Ferrari Enzo and is an icon in its own right.

It has 731bhp and 508lb/ft of torque, so it’s a different means to almost the same end. But the Ferrari is rear drive, so getting that power down without simply spinning the rear tires into oblivion is the trick. It’s one that few have mastered.

Tesla P90D vs Ferrari F12: Acceleration

Now this is where things get really interesting. The Ferrari is meant to be the absolute apex predator when it comes to outright speed. It isn’t quite working out like that. Thank Ludicrous mode.

The Tesla’s 4842lb kerbweight actually helps it gets traction and the Tesla Model S P90D 0-60mph time is a scarcely believable 2.8s. Forget the batteries for the second, even though they’re the reason why. This is not the fastest battery-powered sedan, it’s the only sedan ever to do that dash in less than 3 seconds.

tesla model s 2

That is superbike fast and is a legacy of the fact that electric motors can unleash as much torque as the components can take from a standing start. The quarter-mile time of 10.9s is vaguely absurd, too, especially as independent testers have actually done sub-10s repeatedly.

The Ferrari F12 0-60mph time of 3.6s is perfectly respectable in the real world, but it just goes to show how ballistic the Model S P90D really is. Motortrend recorded a quarter-mile time of 11.3s and the only battle it wins is the top speed war.

Ferrari F12 the view from the back

Get used to this view

That’s a real downer for Ferrari, Lamborghini and others that keep finding themselves on the wrong end of a YouTube bloopers reel, getting blown off the strip by the standard looking family car.

It’s like a weedy computer geek hitting the gym and doing reps with the weights the big guys can’t move. It shouldn’t happen. That makes it funnier.

Tesla Model S P90D vs Ferrari F12: Top speed

It tops out at 155mph, but the Tesla Model S P90D’s top speed really isn’t an issue unless you’re going on track. Why would you?

The Prancing Horse just can’t lay the power down as well as the Tesla, so it spins its wheels until it gets up to speed. Somewhere down the line it will catch the Tesla and scream past on its way to the Ferrari F12 top speed of 211mph, but that won’t happen until you’re both deep into illegal territory.

At normal speeds, the Tesla Model S P90D beats a Ferrari F12 on acceleration thanks to the instant response, endless torque and four-wheel-drive.

Tesla Model S P90D vs Ferrari F12: Handling

This one has to be a slam dunk for Ferrari, doesn’t it? Yes, in the end, but it really isn’t that simple.

The F12 has stellar natural balance, a range of traction control modes to allow a little slip at the rear and magneride suspension that reacts so fast it basically reads the road. It was tuned by some of the world’s finest drivers on the track and, in the hands of skilled professionals, it is automotive poetry in motion.

Tesla Model S side profile

And therein lies the rub. You have to be good to really exploit this car. It’s designed to be driven with fingertip control and a dab of opposite lock.

Ferrari claims that anybody can drive these cars with the nannies in place and produce a solid time on track. But it still takes skill to ride the ragged edge with a 730bhp rear-wheel-drive machine.

The Tesla Model S P90D handling is different by design. It lacks the feel, the passion and the romance. The weight makes its presence felt in every bend and braking zone, while the four-wheel-drive means you’d have to be a driving God to even try and be  playful with this car. So you’re limited to the ‘slow in, fast out’ approach.

tesla model s 7

Is it as much fun? Absolutely not. But, depending on who is driving, it could end up just a fast.

Tesla Model S P90D vs Ferrari F12: Design

Well they say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but the Tesla just can’t win this one. The Ferrari F12 is an angry, vicious, sculpted looking thing. It’s just a stunning, low slung car supercar that oozes menace. It’s the supermodel of this particular pair and there’s no point even questioning that fact.

The Tesla Model S P90D is subtly aggressive, in the mold of a Porsche Panamera rather than an out-and-out sportscar. It’s a grown-up sports sedan with four seats. It’s looks clean, elegant and business-like, but the subtle angles and flips let you know that this machine can still get wild when you want to.

Ferrari was always going to take this one.

Tesla Model S P90D vs Ferrari F12: Interior

Look inside and the cars are polar opposites. So it depends if you’re a fan of minimalist chic or a physical gadget freak.

The Tesla is virtually bereft of actual controls. You don’t really find switches, just a touchscreen and a TFT screen that replaces the traditional instrument binnacle. It’s modern, clean and simple, but you do get four seats.

Tesla Model S interior

A modern approach

In contrast, the Ferrari is so festooned with controls that it looks like the Italian company used all the available space and then started throwing switches on the steering wheel. It isn’t quite like that.

Ferrari tried to put all the essential controls on the wheel so the driver could focus on the job at hand. That means you can access the indicators, lights and start/stop button without letting go of this monster. That is a good idea. If you’re on the limit, you don’t want to be fiddling through a sub menu.

Ferrari F12 steering wheel

Need some more buttons?

Inevitably the Ferrari is perfectly trimmed with flashes of carbon-fiber, Alcantara and drilled aluminum pedals that hint at the sporting intent.

This really is horses for courses and it depends if you like the bells and whistles or a clean cut look. Unless you want four seats, then you’re wasting your time drooling over the Ferrari in the first place.

Tesla Model S P90D vs Ferrari: Practicality

The Model S P90D has four seats and 894 liters of luggage space. You can strap bike racks to it, tow a trailer, you can drive it across a continent and throw a small party in there. The only practical consideration with the Model S P90D is the location of the nearest Supercharger, but they are spreading like rabbits across the civilized world. So that is less of an issue with each passing month.

The F12, meanwhile, has two seats and a 350-liter boot that grows to 500 liters when you remove the rear divider. That’s as much as a VW Golf and it is good for a car like this. It’s just nowhere near the Tesla.

Tesla Model S P90D, a plug

Tesla Model S P90D, a plug

Tesla Model S P90D vs Ferrari F12: Economy

We have to include this one, it’s a part of every head-to-head, but you already know it’s pointless. The Ferrari F12 Berlinetta mpg is actually pretty respectable for a supercar at 15mpg. It comes with a 92-litre tank and that gives it a 304-mile range, all of it on old-fashioned fossil fuel.

The Tesla Model S P90D economy is in a different stratosphere. It comes with a 270-mile range on pure electric power. With the help of a Tesla Supercharger, it gains 170 miles of range in less than 30 minutes.

So this is apples and oranges. There is no comparison. A tank of gas for the Ferrari will cost serious money, the Tesla requires some free juice.

Unless you live in a remote corner of the Earth where electricity is a prized commodity, then the Tesla wins again.

Tesla Model S P90D vs Ferrari F12: Emotion

We’re reaching the point where it might be kinder to take the prancing horse out back and put a bullet in its skull. But this is one of the greatest cars in the world and it is getting canned in almost every respect by a four-door sedan. It must have something to offer…

It does. It’s the intangibles we call passion, emotion and feel.

The Tesla literally pulls at your face and neck under full power, but it doesn’t have the V12 symphony as part of the equation. Electric cars don’t sound sexy. At all. Then there’s the history, the legend of Ferrari. It isn’t everything, but it is something.

The Ferrari will make the hairs stand up on your neck every time you press the throttle. It will put  a smile on your face and it will make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. That still counts for something.

Ferrari F12 Berlinetta

Pure raging passion

No matter how fast a car is, nor how competent, a sportscar is still an emotional purchase and the Ferrari takes this one at a canter.


It’s easy to think we’ve tilted this test and done a hatchet job on one of the finest cars in the world. But break this down into the constituent parts and the Ferrari only really comes out on top on top speed, cornering speed and the intangibles like emotion and feel.

Apply cold, hard logic and the Tesla Model S P90D, a sedan, wipes the floor with the finest car Ferrari has ever made. In its own way, that makes us a little sad and even we didn’t expect it to go like this. But when you stack them up objectively, the Ferrari just comes second almost everywhere.

Pitted against the range-topping Tesla, the Ferrari suddenly feels like yesterday’s technology. The Model S P90D increasingly looks like the future, and it’s here right now.

Maybe the P90D’s arrival was an even bigger landmark moment than we first thought.

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