Tesla says that their all-electric Model X is an SUV that comes with almost none of the usual SUV compromises. Sounds intriguing. Jonathan Crouch checks out what's on offer.
Tesla reckons that its all-electric Model X is the safest, fastest and most capable sport utility vehicle in history. With all-wheel drive and battery options that can give you well over 300 miles of range, the Model X has ample seating for seven adults and all of their gear. And it can be almost ludicrously fast too. It's a pretty unique proposition.
Tesla is changing the way we think about electric cars. It's a process that started back in 2012 with their first vehicle, the Model S, a luxury executive-class contender that went far further on a full charge than any other full-electric car of the period. The brand's second design, this Model X, will also shake things up, an SUV that has none of the downsides that you'd think would go along with SUV ownership. Assuming you can afford the high upfront asking price - or more likely, the plump monthly leasing figures - it's super-cheap to run and, depending on the variant you choose, can go 300 miles or more between charges. Four wheel drive is standard and depending on how you specify your car, you can seat up to seven people. In future, it will even be able to drive itself. If you're looking for automotive state of the art, you'll find it right here.
Whatever Model X variant you choose, you'll get four-wheel drive, courtesy of a pair of electric motors, one powering the rear wheels and one for the front pair. In the 75D variant which offers a 259-mile driving range, this combination works with a 75kWh battery and generates 328bhp. In the 90D derivative, a 90kWh battery is used, there's a 303mile driving range and you get a combined output of 376bhp. Finally, in the top P100D flagship model, there's a 100kWh battery, a 336-mile driving range and a huge 691bhp output thanks to what Tesla calls a 'Ludicrous Speed Upgrade' that makes this variant capable of rest to 60mph in just 2.9s on the way to 155mph flat out. On the move, you'll be impressed by the easy seamless way this Model X gains its speed, though the acceleration does tail off noticeably at higher speeds. The regenerative brakes take some getting used to: come off the throttle and it's as if you've pressed the brake. What this means is that most of the time, you won't need to use the brakes at all. 'Smart Air Suspension' is standard but many still seem to find the ride quality quite firm.
The Model X may not immediately strike you as a classically-styled SUV but it's certainly obvious from the start that this is a much more practical proposition than Tesla's original offering, the Model S. The Model X's design party piece lies with the gull-wing 'Falcon Wing' rear doors that make entering the vehicle something of a theatrical event. Tesla says they can open in a confined space too, thanks to a double-hinged design (there's a hinge on the roof and another above the window line) that allows the doors to raise up with as little as 11 inches of clearance outwards. There are also ultrasonic sensors that lie beneath the bodywork so you can't open the door into an immovable object. The front doors open conventionally but are electrically powered, with the driver's door opening automatically when you unlock the car with the key fob. Step inside and a press of the brake pedal will see the doors close behind you. With both doors open, there's brilliant access into and out of the car, so, for example, strapping a childseat into the rear is far easier than it would be in a conventional SUV. The Model X comes as standard with two rows of seats. If you specify the optional third seating row, the middle row seats move forward at the push of a button to aid access into the third row. Adults will fit into the very back but will probably need the middle row slid forward a bit if they're to travel in any real comfort.
To start with, there are three Model X variants on offer, all fully electric with All-Wheel Drive as standard. The line-up starts with the '75D' variant costing around £77,000 which uses a 75kWh battery offering up to 259 miles of driving range. If you want to go further, faster, you'll be wanting the £85,000 '90D', where a 90kWh battery gives up to 303 miles of driving range. The ultimate option is the 'P100D' which costs around £122,000 and gives you a 100kWh battery claiming up to 336 miles of range. Bear in mind that from these figures, you can subtract a £4,500 government-funded Plug-in car grant. Only two seating rows are standard. For £2,700 more, you can get a 6-seater format that gives you two seats in the middle and two more at the back. Or for £3,000 more than the standard price, there's a 7-seat option that gives you three seats in the middle and two at the back. As you'd expect for the money, standard equipment is pretty comprehensive and includes this design's most unique touch, its gullwing-style 'Falcon Wing' doors, plus the largest panoramic windscreen in production. More conventional executive touches include full-LED headlamps, a powered tailgate, power-folding heated mirrors and keyless entry. In addition, as with the Model S, Model X owners will get regular over-the-air updates that will add safety and navigation features into their cars, while enhancing performance and improving the driving experience. In other words, if you buy a Model X, you'll regularly get into it and find it able to do something it couldn't do the previous day.
Owning a Model X is of course very different from owning a conventionally powered SUV. There's no petrol bill and service is minimal. The annual service fee covers an annual inspection, replacement parts like brake pads and windscreen wipers, 24 hour roadside assistance, system monitoring, remote diagnostics, software updates and new features sent through the touchscreen. It's possible to charge the battery half way in about 30 minutes using Tesla's 'supercharger' but as with most elements of this car, it requires a change in your way of thinking. The car responds best to nightly recharges, but will happily sit for a couple of weeks at an airport while you holiday without losing significant charge, though over longer stationary periods, the cells will slowly lose their charge. The batteries are guaranteed for 8 years. Tesla offers three battery model options, denoted by the kilowatt hours (kWh) of energy they store: 75, 90 or 100kWh. Tesla reckons that a 90kWh model can go well over 300 miles on the NEDC test, but a real-world range is more in the region of 250 miles. Opt for the entry-level 75kWh variant and that figure would probably fall to under 200 miles.
The Model X is a very desirable thing. It's also a very expensive thing. Still, if you were already going to spend upwards of £80,000 on a luxury SUV, it's certainly a more rational choice than something more conventional in this segment. Caveats are few. Yes, battery charging does require a little more thought than just topping up a tank and if a car is shared between a married couple for instance, you'll both need to be on the ball with it. Other than that, there's very little not to like. The interior is adventurous, the packaging is efficient and if you're able to go for the 90D or P100D models, the acceleration is quite simply astonishing. Quite simply, the Model X sets a fresh standard for what cars of this kind can do.