When it was launched in 2012, the Tesla Model S sent shockwaves through the car industry. It didn’t just look good, but it drove well and its software (which included advanced driver assist features with the ability to be autonomous in the future) could be updated over-the-air.
Tesla’s battery technology was also ahead of its time, meaning that it had a longer range and could recharge faster than any other EVs.
The Model S has now been joined by the Model X SUV, with the reasonably priced Model 3 to follow. By 2020, Tesla is aiming to sell 500,000 cars a year.
I’ll put my cards on the table. I’m a huge Model S fan, but even I needed to be won over by the Model X – a car that’s promoted as the “safest, fastest and most capable sport utility vehicle in history”.
First impressions count, and when you first see a Model X in the metal it’s clear that it’s a car like no other. Bigger than you might think (similar in size to a BMW X5, Porsche Cayenne, Range Rover Sport or Audi Q7), it’s clearly aerodynamic, but also surprisingly spacious inside.
Then there are those “Falcon-wing” rear doors, which aren’t just a party trick. Not only is access to the rear of the car impressive, but they are clever too. Thanks to sensors, the double-hinged doors open safely up then out, requiring only 30cm of space on the side of the vehicle and making it possible to park in tight spots. They have to be seen to be believed.
But it’s not just the doors and the space inside – what sets the Model X apart from the opposition is its clever packaging. With three rows of contoured seats, a front and rear boot, and room under the second row seats, meaning there’s ample room for people, luggage and other bulky items. It also has a futuristic, luxury feel.
It’s possible to spec the car with five, six or even seven seats. However, the third row is for children or small people unless the second row of seats is pushed forward.
And what about the mind-boggling windscreen? If you thought the Citroen C4 Grand Picasso had a whopper, then think again. The word ‘panoramic’ doesn’t do the Model X’s justice. Frankly, it’s one of the lightest and airiest cabins you will ever experience.
The rest of the interior is not unlike the Model S before it, which is no bad thing. The cockpit is minimalist and it’s dominated by a giant 17-inch tablet in the centre console. Again, this is the car’s nerve centre. Did you know that a route can now be plotted for you, adding in a Supercharger stop if necessary – and it will even give a live indication as to whether the charging bays are full or not?
The Model X also offers 2268kg of towing capacity which is enough for most small caravans and trailers, making it the first electric car with anything approaching that kind of ability.
I tested the Model X 90D, which is priced from £89,300, though the on-the-road final cost of the car I drove (with optional extras) was an eye-watering £104,730.
With four-wheel drive and an equivalent power output from the electric motors (one at the front, one at the rear) of 682bhp, my Model X could sprint to 62mph in a blistering 3.7 seconds, and go on to a top speed of 155mph.
The first thing you notice about the Model X is that the driver’s seat is set quite high (presumably because there are batteries below), but you soon get used to the position and you’re left to marvel at the goldfish bowl-like visibility.
Dip the accelerator and you’re off in virtual silence, just a vague whoosh from the electric motors. Though when you’re travelling at faster speeds, there is a fair amount of wind and road noise (over some surfaces). That said, like most electric cars, it may just be that is it quieter overall, but because there’s no engine noise, other sounds are more obvious!
Overtaking is infectious and I don’t think the novelty would ever wear off, but the Model X is also a relaxed, comfortable cruiser. However, take your foot off the accelerator and the drop off in speed can be quite profound depending on your regenerative brake settings, so it’s best to experiment.
At 2.4 tonnes the Model X is pretty heavy and on challenging country roads it feels its weight. While it stays reasonably flat through the corners, it’s not as agile as a Model S.
It’s fair to say that the Model X isn’t quite the revelation that the Model S was and in some ways it has more in common with an MPV than an SUV, but it is distinctive, futuristic and very clever (I haven’t even touched on the autonomous tech it shares with the Model S).
The Model X is not perfect though. It’s not as driver-focused as the Model S and it’s a seven-seater at a squeeze. Also, the “Falcon-Wing” doors are a tad slow for some. The doors also mean that a box cannot be attached to the roof, though a “hitch rack” can be fitted to the back of the car.
However, one’s thing’s for sure – the Model X is another breath of fresh air from California. Literally, because it’s fitted with a HEPA filter system, which fills the cabin with “medical-grade air” no matter what’s happening outside. There are three modes – circulate with outside air, re-circulate inside air and a bioweapon defence mode which creates positive pressure inside the cabin to protect occupants.
Review: Gareth Herincx