The Future of Electric SUVs..?
Comfortable, fun to drive and with loads of internal space, a practical SUV. It’s not cheap but Tesla has the full electric SUV niche sewn up for now with their Model X
Review by Marc Stickley
So, you’ve gone full electric and plumped for the excellent Tesla Model S… But you find yourself wishing you had a more commanding driving position and a little more room for friends and family in the back… oh, what to do? Well, you should probably navigate your way to the Tesla Model X online configurator and start to go wild with the options… But steady how you go, because the Model X isn’t just bigger and taller than the Model S (in my eyes, it’s almost a cartoon rendition that’s been given the bicycle pump treatment), it’s also a little more pricey – prices start from about £78,000, compared to £73,500 for “little” brother, the Model S I loved so much on my last Tesla outing.
So what do you get for the extra outlay? Well, you get the same excellent all electric architecture. A claimed 351 mile range, which is about 250 in the real world, or just charge to 80 per cent in a handful of minutes, wherever and whenever a supercharger is available – this would be more than enough for most UK travel needs. You get a lot more space inside, with two rows of two seats, or a rear row of three seats behind the driver and passenger up front. You get a useful boot in front (conventionally where the engine hides in most cars) and a bigger one in the back, which becomes almost cavernous if you fold the rear seats flat at the push of a button on each of the rearmost seat backs. The middle row of seats automatically adjust forward to allow the folding and boom… a large, practical SUV. And because of that Tesla drive train, not only is the interior floor flat, but it’s already four wheel drive. You can select high and very high ground clearance, to help circumnavigate those troublesome urban potholes, or maybe some folk would actually venture into the (almost) wilds. The furthest I ventured was off the beaten track to Minehead and down a gravel track, but the clever drive train certainly gave reassuring grip and drive throughout my time with the car.
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There is an exciting signature design feature to the Model X – the rear doors. These are not just any doors, oh no… the rear doors are very cool. They’re the Falcon Wing design and definitely the most novel feature of the Model X (until we in the UK get approval for self-driving). If you think of the iconic Gull Wing doors seen on the 1950s Mercedes 300SL, but needing less room to open, you won’t be far off. Extremely handy for tight car parking spaces and also great for inquisitive car geeks everywhere. As with all doors and hatches on Teslas, the Falcon doors can be opened up at the push of a button, either on the doors or the central control console. They really do need very space side to side and sensors will detect whether there is room to the side and above the car for the doors to operate and then it’s like you’re controlling something from a sci-fi novel – this could be the transport of the future: space ship door and a near silent warp drive.
To access the rear most seats, push a button on the back of the middle row and they automatically slide forward to allow access. Once the rear passengers are in, the middle seats return to their stations. In the back you get independent climate control and spacious, comfortable seats – even the rear row will seat full sized adults. Up front you can control most aspects of the cabin from the huge central screen, with its intuitive layout similar to a large iPad. On the move the Model X delivers the same surreal, near silent thrust as the Model S. You can opt for a 75D, 100D (from £94,000 or over £100,000 as I drove it) or the pinnacle P100D (£130,000), which will crack 60mph in an astonishing 2.9 seconds – that’s supercar territory, with the option for up to six (hopefully grinning) passengers. It will spook the uninitiated, but makes driving fun and relatively low hassle. As with the Model S you can largely drive on the throttle alone, as when you lift off of it, the braking and regeneration modes will slow the car and also add range through recovering energy. This mode can be set to higher or lower modes to preference.
The Model X ride is comfortable in the most part, but the enormous 22 inch wheels on the press car I drove had the effect of occasionally steamrollering the road and it could get a bit fidgety at times. To be fair, you certainly wouldn’t mistake the Model X for a sports car. In looks it’s more like a Coupe with SUV botox injections – and the ride and handling are more in keeping with a luxury SUV than a Sports saloon or estate. Which brings me to the elephant in the room. I reckon the Tesla architecture is phenomenal, but you certainly need to change your mindset from internal combustion cars to get the best of it. If you are after more space than a Model S (which I love), then could other SUVs provide low (or no) emissions and similar luxury? There’s no doubt that Tesla have the full electric SUV niche sewn up for now, but with hybrid offerings from Porsche, Mercedes, BMW, Lexus and Jaguar, plus for the price of a Model X, pretty convincing “regular” luxury SUVs (if you’re not ready to convert to zero fuel), I don’t think it’s as clear a case for ownership as the Model S presents.
However, they are still pretty cool to see and usually exclusive – unless you’re at a Supercharge station, where Teslas cluster like moths to a light. So, the Model X is near silent, up to seven seats, with plenty of space for luggage and astonishing pace and roadholding. It’s also got a 5-star Safety rating. It’s certainly not cheap, but it’s comparable to other luxury SUVs, with some unique features that arguable make a case for good value.