2021.5 Tesla Model S Has Hidden, Physical Shifter Controls

Tesla can’t just make a car. They have to deliver an experience that’s fresh, innovative, fast as all hell, and sometimes a little perplexing, too. The Model S Plaid follows this recipe to the letter, and it’s probably the best Tesla to date. However, you might have noticed it’s missing a typical shift lever.

In fact, Tesla has ditched the old setup in favor of a predictive shifting system that puts the car in Drive or Reverse without the need for driver interaction—at least immediately after starting the car. Tesla isn’t super clear on how this works, but our guess is that if the system makes a determination between forward and reverse, it’s doing so based on whether it senses objects in front of or to the rear of the car.

Should the driver need to take over (and they will after the car’s initial determination of forward or reverse, which may or may not occur, depending on the situation, and you can override it) the driver uses a touchscreen-based option. This requires the operator to drag a little icon of the car toward the top of the screen for Drive or toward the bottom of the screen to engage Reverse. It’s arguably an answer to a question no one asked, even if the setup proved rather intuitive during our time testing the 1,020-hp electric sedan. Well, at least until the infotainment system crashed.

Fortunately, Tesla prepared for such a screen-off situation, as the automaker fits a small touch-sensitive control panel beneath the infotainment display that includes more traditional shifter controls (and the hazard light switch). Accessing these controls requires a generous tap of the panel (or the infotainment system to crash), otherwise, the icons for the shifter controls are hidden from view.

Admittedly, we prefer the column-mounted shifter stalk of prior Model S EVs. That said, we appreciate that Tesla’s included this hidden shifter as a failsafe in the event of an issue with the infotainment system.

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