Ludicrous way to save planet
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.