Flick the switch and feel the power as Tesla’s winged luxury all-wheel-drive propels the driver into another world
I’M being asked to choose between two buttons on the centre screen. One says “I want my mommy”, the other “bring it on”. It’s more a dare than a choice, so I take the bait, floor the accelerator and hang on as the Tesla Model X snaps my head back and takes off on a silent, relentless surge to 100km/h.
I’ve driven faster cars — not many — but none have launched off the line so brutally. It has the same effect on your senses — and your insides — as an amusement park ride.
Tesla claims a 0-100km/h time of 3.1 seconds in what it calls “ludicrous” mode, which you unlock by pressing a button marked “ludicrous” on the centre screen. Hold that button for a few seconds and it unlocks an “Easter egg” special feature that unleashes even more power. We could only manage a 4.3-second time, but we didn’t use the launch control mode.
That level of performance would be remarkable on its own, but this is essentially a six or seven-seat people-mover that weighs two-and-a-half tonnes.
While blindingly fast acceleration is the Model X’s star turn, this is no one-trick pony.
The claimed range of 546km is by far the longest claimed by
an electric production car, putting it on par with petrolpowered SUVs, and the company claims it will have the ability to drive itself when future software updates are released.
For now, though, our test car has none of the “autopilot” features that have made headlines for both the right and wrong reasons overseas.
The official line is that all the hardware — cameras, sensors etc — is in place, but the updated software is not available to Australian customers. They can order the autopilot option now and receive the software update later. It’s not cheap, though. For those who pay for it upfront — before it’s available — the cost is $7600. Pay later and that cost rises to $9100. Full self-driving is another $4600 upfront or $6100 later. When you consider that self-driving is “pending regulatory approval” you’re taking a bit of a punt.
Elsewhere, the Model X feels relatively normal, aside from the dramatic gullwing rear doors that open upwards.
The huge centre console screen looks like an oversized iPad and is easy to navigate. The infotainment system is wi-fi enabled and you also get a complimentary Spotify subscription, with free data for four years.
The audio unit is excellent, with great clarity, helped by the fact that it doesn’t have to compete with engine noise.
Some of the stalks and switches will be familiar to anyone who has driven a Mercedes-Benz, but the instrument readouts are among the best in the industry for clarity and ease of use.
Overall quality and presentation is a step up from the Model S, with better materials and higher-resolution graphics.
It’s not as practical as other high-end SUVs though. The second row seats don’t fold flat for bigger loads and those spectacular rear doors mean that roofracks aren’t an option. You get the feeling that the novelty of opening and shutting them might wear off over time.
Third-row seat occupants sit under the glass of the steeply raked tailgate, which could get uncomfortable in summer. There are air vents for third row passengers, but the aircon is going to have to work harder to keep them cool. The same goes for the front, where there is a huge front windscreen. It might seem like a little thing, but pumping the aircon up zaps your range and power noticeably.
On the plus side, access to the third row seats is easier than other seven-seaters and you can seat adults in the third row. You also have extra luggage space under the bonnet.
ON THE ROAD
As a driver, the Model X experience is top notch, from the moment the door automatically opens as you approach the car.
Forward vision is good and the suspension glides over all but the sharpest of edges in the road surface. It’s well controlled too, settling quickly after a big bump at speed.
Head for the curves and the Model X continues to impress. Steering feel can be adjusted from comfort to normal to sport, with the latter providing plenty of feedback.
You can still feel the weight of the car under braking, but through the corners it resists that top-heavy lean you get with most big SUVs, thanks to the huge slab of batteries in the floor of the car.
The brakes are strong and the acceleration is expletive-inducing.
Our only gripe was the range, which didn’t get anywhere near Tesla’s claims.
When we picked the car up it had an estimated 487km left. We took it on our normal 150km test loop, which includes an equal split of city traffic, freeway driving and secondary country roads. At the end the range was 222km.
This isn’t unique to electric cars — petrol cars understate their range as well, but the discrepancy was far more pronounced.
After a series of roughly 8-10 “ludicrous” launches and some more city driving, we returned to Tesla head office with 237km on the trip computer and 7km left to empty.
The Model X is an exceptional car but our test car was $305,000 on the road, so it remains a plaything of the rich, rather than something that will revolutionise our car buying habits.
There are more expensive cars that aren’t as good, but we’d be inclined to sacrifice some straight-line performance for the style, sophistication and touring range of Audi’s diesel SQ7 at half the price.