Lu­di­crous way to save planet

The Weekend Australian - Life - - MOTORING -

Let’s ad­dress what some may con­sider the morally in­con­sis­tent sta­tus of an al­l­elec­tric lux­ury SUV cost­ing $US135,400 ($183,000). By de­sign, Tesla’s Model X P90D Lu­di­crous (that’s the real name, ap­par­ently) is meant to be green and ef­fi­cient. Elec­tric ve­hi­cles are a tech­ni­cal ex­pres­sion of our be­lief that the at­mos­phere is the blue com­mons, owned by all. Egal­i­tar­ian in impulse, in other words.

But the Model X is also the rarest sushi of ma­te­ri­al­ism, class priv­i­lege un­der a blis­ter of tinted glass, a suede­lined pachinko par­lour of the soul. Just re­mem­ber as you pull up to Nobu in West Hol­ly­wood and su­per­mod­els come run­ning out to the valet to take a pic­ture with your Model X with the doors up: you’re sav­ing the planet.

Here’s the hard part for most peo­ple: it can be both. A fea­ture of a free so­ci­ety is that some have more than oth­ers. But every­one, no mat­ter their life­styles, can con­sume less. And, by the power of num­bers, a lot of lesses add up to a lot.

So some Hol­ly­wood celebrity down­sizes to a Gulf­stream IV and now she’s mother Earth? Well, yes. Con­sider it a self-im­posed car­bon tax.

F. Scott Fitzger­ald said the test of a first-rate in­tel­li­gence is the abil­ity to hold two op­posed ideas at the same time and still func­tion. It also seems to ap­ply to the Model X’s fa­mous fal­con wing doors, since they are si­mul­ta­ne­ously un­nec­es­sary and ab­so­lutely vi­tal to the en­tire en­ter­prise; deeply thought through yet com­pletely spu­ri­ous; im­prac­ti­cal and, well, more im­prac­ti­cal. But you get used to them be­cause they are so cool.

When all the doors are open you can look through the Model X as if it were a pic­ture win­dow. Would mini-van-style doors have been a more sen­si­ble tech­ni­cal so­lu­tion to a mid-row door open­ing? In­finitely. But the spell these doors cast — let’s call it emo­tional en­gi­neer­ing — is pay­off for some of the shrewdest de­sign money ever spent.

A bit of con­text: the fal­con wing doors came about be­cause Tesla chief ex­ec­u­tive Elon Musk liked them and wanted them, full stop. He has said he didn’t want the pro­duc­tion car to be a di­alled-back ver­sion of the con­cept car, which is just the sort of ini­tia­tive and for­ward think­ing that gets peo­ple cashiered from Gen­eral Mo­tors.

To afi­ciona­dos, Musk’s move smacked of pride since in over a cen­tury of au­to­mo­tive de­sign, from the MercedesBenz 300SL Gull­wing to the DeLore­ans to Lam­bos, gull-wing doors have al­ways looked cool and never re­ally worked.

To name a few of the prob­lems: ease of en­try and exit, weather seal­ing and wind noise. From a safety stand­point, cen­tre­hinged over­head doors cut into the kind of rec­tan­gu­lar ge­om­e­try around a door open­ing that lends it rigid­ity.

What if it snows overnight? If it rains? Where do you put the ski racks, bi­cy­cles and roof mod­ule full of lug­gage? Who cares? Have you seen the doors open?

Most mad­den­ing was cre­at­ing a dead­stable pivot point for the doors, which rise and fall slowly on the mo­torised breeze not like fal­con wings but more like seag­ull wings, with a dou­ble fold. The so­lu­tion re­quired a heroic amount of costly mag­ne­sium in the car’s dor­sal spine.

Musk has copped to over­reach with the Model X. Maybe he tried to do too much, what with the Model X’s sen­sor-rich au­topi­lot driver aids; the danc­ing shut­tle­craft seats; the air fil­tra­tion sys­tem with the “Bioweapon De­fense Mode” set­ting; the panoramic wind­screen, a stun­ning soap bub­ble of a canopy over your head.

This is the card Musk con­tin­ues to play to his ad­van­tage. This is the part of the Tesla busi­ness plan that might as well have been quoted out of the Old Tes­ta­ment. The rich will want the riches.

The Model X is a full-size SUV with dual elec­tric mo­tors front and rear, pro­vid­ing all-wheel drive. Although its body is al­most en­tirely alu­minium and mag­ne­sium, our flag­ship test car (P90D Lu­di­crous) was quot­ing a mas­sive 2441kg, most of it in the floor-mounted bat­ter­ies. Four-cor­ner air sus­pen­sion with five ride-height set­tings, from off-road to high­way, is stan­dard.

The Model X is a lux­ury fam­ily mover, with five, six or seven-pas­sen­ger seat­ing op­tions, a rear trunk and a frunk (a front boot). The deeply tinted glass canopy cre­ates a pretty mag­i­cal space, although the Cal­i­for­nia sun is too bright through the roof glass. Ad­di­tional tint­ing is avail­able.

Front and mid-row seats are mounted on pow­ered pedestals that glide for­ward as if to a Strauss waltz, eas­ing ac­cess to the third row’s cosy bucket seats. The seats’ pedestal mount­ings al­low pas­sen­gers more foot room than oth­er­wise.

All the doors open elec­tri­cally, which can take some get­ting used to. If you get in and put your right foot on the brake, the driver’s door will swing closed, even if you have not yet re­trieved your left leg. The door will gen­tly gnaw on it un­til you take your foot off the brake.

The price for the stan­dard Model X 70S with a 70kW/h bat­tery is $US80,000, which is aca­demic as Tesla won’t be build­ing any base Model X’s for some time.

In­stead it will be fill­ing or­ders for the flag­ship P90D (“P” for per­for­mance). These will come with a face-flap­ping 967Nm of in­sta-torque from two huge four-pole AC in­duc­tion mo­tors and the fa­mous “Lu­di­crous” drive mode, which es­sen­tially per­mits the bat­tery to vi­o­lently eject elec­trons in pur­suit of max­i­mum ac­cel­er­a­tion. In Lu­di­crous mode, the Model X P90D max out­put is 391kW.

It is hard to find fault with a six-seat SUV that ac­cel­er­ates like an open-wheel racer. Stamp the ac­cel­er­a­tor and it goes off like a sprung mouse­trap. Tesla es­ti­mates 0-100km/h in a Lambo-like 3.2 sec­onds. In do­ing so, the Model X qui­etly with­draws ev­ery­thing from your pock­ets and scat­ters it con­ve­niently un­der the back seats.

Then, be­tween 80km/h and 160km/h, it’s goodbye, Char­lie. The P90D op­er­ates at an en­tirely dif­fer­ent frame than just about any­thing on the street. It takes a sus­tain­ably har­vested base­ball bat to Panzer wag­ons such as Porsche Cayenne Tur­bos and Range Rover Sport SVRs.

Around LA the sweet, ef­fort­less blurt of our EV hot-rod tempted me to do, well, ques­tion­able things. No yel­low light turns red for the Model X P90D. No hole that opens in traf­fic is too small or far away.

Fal­con wings? Maybe Icarus. But if the Model X flies too close to the sun, there’s al­ways more win­dow tint.

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