Tesla is a remarkably ambitious company. When they first launched the Roadster, way back in 2010, nothing could have prepared the world for the Model S that came just four years later in 2014. While some say Tesla has only been a success because of the amounts of money being ploughed into it, that’s only half the story. The truth is they’ve rewritten the rule book of what’s possible with a car. it used to be simple. You buy a performance car, and expect some form of compromise, be it poor fuel economy or a lack of gadgetry. Maybe it had a compromised boot, because there was a dirty great big engine in it. With Tesla you can have it all. Want super high-performance and tech like no other? You can have that and throw in seven seats too. That Tesla, a relative start-up, has been able to show up the established motoring elite is impressive.
Approaching the Model X, the door pops open by itself. Jumping up and in for the first time, I’m wowed by the immense windscreen, the biggest in the business. The instrument display lights up, as does the massive 17″ central touchscreen. I’m now a child in a sci-fi adventure. Everything about this car shouts ‘wow’ and impresses. Why aren’t all cars like this? I fasten my belt and press the brake. The door shuts automatically and pulls itself tight against the car’s body. Hang on, what? So I’ve not had to open a door, not had to plug a key in and not even had to close the door. This is ostentatious beyond expectation. The automation doesn’t stop there. With the doors closed and the car ‘on’, I select drive from the Mercedes-Benz sourced steering-mounted gear-shifter and gently prod the throttle. Yes, there’s no need to muck about with Tom-Foolery like hand brakes either. Now on the move I do, however, have to drive. On this particular car, Tesla’s Autopilot system is not active but the car does have all the gear on-board to turn it on, should sir desire.
On the road the X’s only real discernible noise emanates from the massive 22″ alloy wheels. Model X is extremely slippery. Its sleek design has a drag coefficient of just 0.24cd. A meaningless number? Many sports cars are unable to match this, for example the BMW i8 only manages 0.26cd. In practice this means Model X glides through the air and keeps a tomb-like silence inside.
Acceleration is explosive, even on this 90D model, which is hardly the fastest on offer. The spec reads like the Millennium Falcon’s and that’s enough to keep even the most die-hard petrol fan happy. Believe me, the 90 is plenty fast enough but if you want terrifying power the P100D offers it in spades. There’s really no need for more performance or for that matter battery size. More than 250-miles is more than enough, especially thanks to Tesla’s excellent Supercharger and destination charger network.
The one downside to the large windscreen is I was initially distracted by a flashing reflection of white echelons on the left side of the road – something that you wouldn’t think of at the design stage. You soon become accustomed to it and then get to appreciate the immense glass area. Everything looks better. The glass is tinted to avoid too much sun glare, although there are neatly stowed sun blinds mounted on the A-pillars. Rear passengers are treated to glass windows above them too, which adds to the sense of space. It would, however, be nice to have a blind option. Our car was equipped with the six-seat layout, which provides plenty of room for additional passengers.
Even these are operated electrically and can be controlled from the touch screen. There’s a seven or five seat option available too. The main difference between them is boot space is reduced for the six and seven- seat options. Rest assured there’s still plenty of payload room remaining for suitcases. The third row of seats fold flat too, for occasions when they’re not needed or more luggage is. Tesla hasn’t neglected rear occupants either and with a nice modern touch there are even plenty of USB charge points, so everyone can have their gadgets charging. There’s two on the back of the central arm-rest and one at the rear for third-row passengers. More than generous. The third row is hardly third class and can accommodate two six-footers, but leg-room is a little cramped. It is better than the rear-facing Model S seats, but still more practical for children rather than adults.
Nevertheless, practicality is what this car is supposedly all about. The seven-seat option is one thing, but combined boot plus Trunk’ (or ‘froot’ if you prefer) offers even more storage. And of course, there’s those rear doors. Why Tesla decided it would be a good idea to spend a literal fortune to make Falcon Wing doors a reality is anyone’s guess. They’re so unnecessary but oh- so sensational. They’re a genuine work of mechanical art. Open, the car resembles some sort of bird (not a Falcon) and, amazingly, they are relatively useful. Tesla went to great lengths to get these to operate properly and encountered the odd hiccup along the way. The sensors are housed within the door itself and use sonar to detect obstacles, preventing the precious doors from hitting a parked car or garage roof. However, I can foresee a few problems. For one thing, I’m surprised there hasn’t been any mention of a child being uppercut by the door in one fell swoop. Maybe owners appreciate this feature to help put their kids to sleep? Whack, and there’s another irritable child out cold. Gesting aside, the idea is they make the rear of the car far easier to enter than traditional doors and Tesla’s right, they do – but a sliding door might have sufficed. Millions of vans can’t be wrong. There’s a niggling feeling that Tesla was just trying to show off, to corner a little more of the market who are attracted to public statements and who buy large SUVs like this. And to their credit, when they work they’re amazing and a real crowd pleaser.
So the X is a car that you can truly have your cake and eat it, then?
Yes and no. On the design front, it certainly impresses. On a day-to-day basis, this thing feels special. It’s the kind of car that makes all others around you appear a bit old fashioned. And I say this ignoring the electric powertrain. The design is a genuine success but it’s not without its faults.
Those wonderful Falcon Wing doors probably should have stayed on the concept. They do work, but they’re not perfect. I applaud Tesla for not taking the easy route, but sadly it’s not likely to have done them any favours.
Then there’s the build quality. While I’d love to say that Tesla has nailed it and there are, without doubt, many improvements to the build quality, this car still feels like it has been made on the cheap. Interior plastics are down market and others aren’t glued on properly. Don’t get me wrong, the cabin is still very much a stunning place to find yourself, but compared to its European competition Tesla still has a way to go. And that’s to be expected, given the company’s youth.
However, these are all minor flaws in an otherwise utopian car.
I didn’t want to like this car. I dislike the current SUV trend because it generally means accepting compromise in the name of fashion. But I’ve been proven wrong with the Model X. There’s an air of fun about its sophistication and that’s a difficult act to pull off – but it manages to. Whether a Range Rover driver can be persuaded to part cash for something not quite so vulgar is another matter entirely, but the mere fact that Tesla has created something tempting to many would-be gas-guzzling owners is laudable. It also has a habit of making everything else feel inadequate. It may be expensive on paper, but it provides so much more that money cannot buy.
Tesla must get irritated by people constantly repeating, “this is the future”. They’re wrong – this is the present and everyone else is living in the past.