What is it?
Tesla has already shaken up the luxury car market with the electric Model S, thanks to a combination of rapid performance, low running costs and respectable range. But as impressive as all that is, the saloon car seems to be a dying breed, due to the ever-increasing popularity of the SUV.
The answer? Well, making an SUV seems like a sensible solution, something Tesla has done with the Model X. It was first seen as a concept back in 2013, but there have been a number of delays, due to issues relating to the unusual ‘falcon wing’ rear doors and rear seat mounts, among other things.
This car may have been originally pencilled in for a 2014 release, but it still promises to offer cutting-edge technology. This includes ‘autopilot’, those automatic falcon wing doors and a range that can top 300 miles if you avoid the temptation that is the Performance model.
If temptation is too much, the P90D with the Ludicrous Speed upgrade can manage the 0-60mph sprint in a staggering 3.2sec. That’s McLaren F1 territory from a 2.5-tonne, seven-seat SUV.
Underneath the distinctive styling is the same skateboard-style chassis that underpins the Model S. The battery pack lies flat on the floor beneath the seats, giving an incredibly low centre of gravity, even with taller SUV bodywork.
All Model Xs are four-wheel drive, courtesy of a pair of electric motors, one powering the rear wheels and one for the front pair. In the P90D, these motors are rated at 503bhp and 259bhp respectively. Sadly, the electrical system can only provide a total combined output of 464bhp, although this is increased to 532bhp with the Ludicrous upgrade.
What’s it like?
Getting inside the Model X can be quite a theatrical event. The front doors may be conventional but are electrically powered, with the driver’s door opening automatically when you unlock the car with the key fob. Step inside and a press of the brake pedal will see the doors close behind you.
It’s the rear doors that are the more interesting, though. Although they look like they’d be impossible to open in a confined space, the doors are double-hinged (one on the roof and another above the window line) so they can open with as little as 11 inches of clearance outwards. There are also ultrasonic sensors that lie beneath the bodywork so you can’t open one into an immovable object.
When open, they offer excellent access to the rear seats, while parents will be able to strap their offspring in without banging their head on a doorframe. What may irritate is the time it takes to open and close a door. Who knew that a new Tesla would have something in common with a Peugeot 1007?
Still, they do offer exceptionally easy access to the middle row of seats, be it two or three individual chairs. Press a button and the seats move forwards and tilt to help you get into the rearmost row. An adult will fit back there, but most will need the centre row pushed forwards a fair bit. Taller individuals will also feel their head touch the rear screen.
Once you’ve selected Drive on the Mercedes-sourced column shifter, the Tesla creeps forward quietly, if not silently.
Left in Normal mode, it gathers speed rapidly, even with four people in the car. Switch to Insane (or Ludicrous where fitted) mode and you can certainly believe the 3.8sec it takes to get to 60mph from rest. It really is quick enough for there to be no sane reason to opt for the Ludicrous Speed upgrade.
What’s always impressive with electric cars is the smooth way in which they gain speed. With only one gear ratio, acceleration is completely linear, although it does tail off noticeably at higher speeds.
Under normal driving conditions, the Tesla proves easy to drive, although rearward visibility isn’t great. The huge windscreen may look good, but there’s a lot of reflection coming from the dashboard in direct sunlight. Surprisingly, though, the tinted panoramic roof does protect well, even against direct sunlight.
One thing that might take some getting used to is the regenerative brakes. They slow the Model X like you’re pressing the brake pedal when you simply come off the throttle. You soon get used to this, partially because it tops up the batteries and partially because you can drive for 90% of the time without moving your foot from the accelerator.
Even when the optional air suspension is fitted, you won’t find a wafty ride in any of the modes. The Model X is composed at all speeds but with a firm edge that could become jiggly on UK roads.
Get to a corner and you’ll find that the Model X corners remarkably flatly, considering the additional height of the body. You can corner quickly, but it’s not a car you’ll particularly enjoy punting down your favourite stretch of road. The steering is numb and the stability control makes sure the tail faithfully follows the front wheels.
The dashboard is dominated by the same 17.0in portrait-orientated touchscreen that can be found in the Model S. Almost everything is controlled through this system, from the climate control, music, chassis settings and even the opening and closing of the doors. This is paired with another high-quality digital display sitting in front of the driver.
This means the rest of the dash feels very minimalist. With the exception of the windows, you’d be hard pushed to find more than a handful of buttons in the whole car. What further exploration will reveal, however, is a bit of an odd mix of fit, finish and quality.
There’s no doubting that some appealingly soft, rich-feeling plastics have been used throughout the cabin. Even the stuff the door pockets are made of feels expensive. Elsewhere, there’s proper-looking carbonfibre trim and lots of metal bits that could very well be metal.
What you’ll also find is some very bendy plastic on the centre console and gaps between cubbyholes and lids so wide that you can see what’s lurking beneath. It’s a shame, because the design is most definitely there, if still a little behind what you’d get in an Audi Q7.
Should I buy one?
Hopefully some of the interior quality and ride comfort issues will have been resolved by the time the Model X goes on sale in the UK later this year. But even as it is, there’s a great deal to like about this dramatic new SUV. In P90D form at least, it’s startlingly rapid, offers a range that is usable for the vast majority of people and is undoubtedly more practical than the Model S.
Tesla Model X P90D
Location Germany; On sale Late 2016; Price £100,180; Engine Two electric motors, lithium Ion battery pack; Power 464bhp at 0rpm; Torque 612lb ft at 0rpm; Gearbox Single-speed, direct drive; Kerb weight 2468kg; Top speed 155mph; 0-60mph 3.8sec; Range 290 miles; CO2/tax band 0g/km, 7%
What is it?