Alien land­ing

Tesla’s new Model X is un­like any­thing else on the road

The Courier-Mail - Motoring - - Prestige - CARS­GUIDE ED­I­TOR

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 ex­ple­tivein­duc­ing.

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. VER­DICT 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.

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