Tesla just made a big change in the Model S sedan (Hint: It’s not a tech feature)

It's big news, even if it seems more like something Adobe would do with Photoshop than a brand new tech feature.

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Tesla is making headlines again.

The company has announced they will offer the flagship electric car in a base version for a cool $66,000, which is well below the asking price for the high-end model I tested recently. (That version runs $140,000 with all of the bells and whistles.) The car is essentially the same in terms of the size and styling, but the battery is limited to bring the price down.

Known officially as the Model S 60, not to be confused with the 2016 Volvo S60, the truncated and (some might say) crippled version of the sleek electric sedan goes about 210 miles per charge. That’s about 90 miles less than the typical Model S range, which won so many awards back when it debuted because of how far it would take you without needing a top-off.

Why is this such an important change? For starters, it bring the price much closer to what you’ll pay for a high-end luxury sedan from Audi or Lexus. The $140,000 asking price for the car I tested is “ludicrous” when you consider you can also purchase a 2017 Mercedes-Benz S550 for around the same price (actually, about $10,000 cheaper) for a car that has 449-horsepower engine and brand name recognition. The Model S base version is now about the same as an 2017 Audi A7 sedan.

It’s also an important change because it provides a few clues about what is to come with the Model 3, which at least 400,000 people have now pre-ordered. The price for that electric car will run about $35,000. There’s a $7,000 federal tax credit if you buy an EV, so this is becoming a battle of price as much as technology and innovation.

For anyone who follows the computer industry, it all feels a bit like deja vu. Cars are now highly controlled by software, designed on a CAD station, tested on virtual roads, and sold online. Tesla has said the base version, which they had discontinued at this price at the 200-mile range once before, can be magically restored (at an as-yet-undetermined price) to unlock the higher range, since it uses the 75 kWh battery pack but limits the output to 60 kWh. Yes, that’s exactly like a Photoshop trial or one of those "free" anti-virus tools. When you want the extra miles, you just pay a fee.

You still can enjoy most of the features of the Model S, though. The S 60 version goes from 0-60 MPH in 5.5 seconds, pushing you back in your seat a little at first due to how electric motors hit full torque right away. It still has an expansive screen that shows your climate and car controls, music from your smartphone, and one of the most detailed maps I’ve ever seen for finding your route to the nearest coffee-shop.

What you don’t get, of course, is all of the autonomous car tech, like the ability to have the car drive in traffic for you at highway speeds without having to use the brakes, accelerator, or steering wheel. That asking price that’s $4,000 than the original base model makes you wonder if Tesla is finally ready to hit the mainstream and attract more than just early adopters. It might also make the Tesla Model 3 a bit more interesting.

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