Tesla Model X - first drive review
Despite being a company that’s been making cars for less than ten years, Tesla has already managed to make a significant impact on the luxury car market.
Not that Elon Musk is the kind of man to rest on his laurels. Not only is there the affordable Model 3 saloon to look forward to, there’s also this, the Model X.
Following the trend towards SUVs over conventional cars, the Model X combines a range of up to 303 miles with performance that could shame supercars should you opt for a P90D with the Ludicrous Speed upgrade.
The question is whether the Model X can live up to the hype; it has after all been delayed several times before finally reaching production. We find out in Munich.
On the outside, the Model X is clearly a Tesla from the front end. Aggressively sculpted headlights sit either side of a small grille with plenty of bare metal beneath it, in keeping with the Model 3 and recently facelifted Model S.
It’s very different from competitors that wear huge chrome grilles up front and certainly makes Tesla’s cars stand out. It does remind me slightly of that scene in The Matrix where Neo’s mouth closes up, though.
While Tesla classifies the Model X as an SUV, those hoping for the kind of rugged look that suggests you drive over mountain ranges for fun are absent. Yes, it does sit significantly higher than the Model S, but there’s very little ground clearance. The wheels and tyres also show a bias that’s very much towards on-road use.
That’s not to say the Model X can’t go off the beaten track. Air suspension means you can raise the ride height by a significant margin should things get bumpy, while all models receive four-wheel drive.
Thanks to the electric drive system, the front and rear wheels don’t need to be connected. Instead each end gets its own electric motor, helping ensure the rear passenger compartment has a totally flat floor.
But while there’s enough power to pin you to your seat, the Model X proves easy to drive sensibly, too. Being electric, there’s only one gear, so once you’ve selected drive, that’s it until you either need to reverse or park.
This means acceleration is totally linear with no interruptions from gears being changed. Also making things easier are the regenerative brakes that top the battery up when you slow down.
Come off the throttle, and you’ll find the Model X slows down like you’ve brushed the brake pedal. While odd at first, you soon learn to use this to your advantage; you’ll barely touch the brakes once you’ve got the hang of it.
Our test car was the mighty P90D, a car capable of 0-60mph in just 3.8sec with a top speed electronically limited to 155mph. Even with four adults on board, acceleration is much stronger than the vast majority of sports cars out there.
Should that not be enough for you, there is the Ludicrous Speed upgrade. This keeps the same 259bhp front and 503bhp rear motor of the P90D but upgrades the battery pack to deliver more grunt.
To put that in perspective, where a P90D has a maximum available output of 464bhp and 612Ib ft of torque, opting for Ludicrous ups these to 532bhp and 713Ib ft of torque – enough for 0-60mph in 3.2sec.
While air suspension normally means a luxuriously wafty ride, that’s most definitely not the case with the Model X. Although you can alter the ride height of the car, there isn’t a setting that you’d call truly cosseting. On the German roads of our test route, it was never uncomfortable, but you knew when you drove over a rough surface. Saying that, the massive 22in wheels of our test car wouldn’t have helped.
Still, firm suspension, coupled with a super-low centre of gravity thanks to a battery mounted under the floor, equates to impressive cornering ability. Despite sitting high, there’s very little body roll and lots of grip on offer.
While capable of covering ground indecently fast, the Model X isn’t involving to drive. The steering doesn’t give a huge amount of feedback on what the front tyres are doing and the handling balance is too safe for excitement. Stability control kicks in early to make sure you won’t be getting this SUV sideways.
On the inside
On the inside
Inside is an interior that offers plenty, but falls short against conventional rivals like the Audi Q7. We’ll start with the good; a huge 17in touchscreen in portrait orientation dominates the dashboard and controls virtually everything.
That means there are no physical controls for music, sat-nav, climate control, suspension settings and more. In fact, the only buttons you’ll find on the dash are to open the glovebox and turn on the hazard warning lights.
The sheer size of the screen allows Tesla to use icons that are big enough for you to select easily, helped by the whole thing being canted towards the driver. Although all the menus may seem daunting at first, you soon get used to navigating between screens.
Joining the big screen is a smaller unit that sits where you’d expect the dials to live. This has allowed Tesla to configure things very differently, with an animated Model X taking centre stage. This is used to show what the sensors are picking up, how fast you’re going, battery life and sat-nav instructions.
Both screens react quickly to inputs with none of the lag that some rival infotainment systems can suffer from. Saying that, BMW’s iDrive system is still easier to control, albeit graphically not as good.
Although the quality of plastics, leather, chrome and carbon fibre trim is impressive, the centre console is far too flexible in places with large gaps between cubbyholes and their lids. For a car that’s likely to cost over £60,000, those deficiencies are disappointing.
Naturally, we had a good play with a few other gadgets. The falcon wing doors may seem impractical at first, but additional hinges just above the window allow the door to be opened electrically with just eleven inches of space. Their fold is determined by ultrasonic sensors that hide beneath the car’s skin.
Even the front doors open electrically, as does the tailgate. This means that you can step into your Model X then step on the brake to close anything that’s open before you set off. It’s all very cool, but we do wish the rear doors would work a little faster.
Then there’s Autopilot; arguably the closest you can get to autonomous driving from a production car. As long as road markings are clear, it’ll accelerate, brake, steer and even change lane for you.
The best thing? It just works without you having to worry. Just remember that you need to keep hold of the wheel though, as it could hand back control at any time.
Although the Model X isn’t a giant leap forward like the Model S was, it’s still a seriously impressive bit of kit. There’s (just) enough room to get up to seven adults inside, the performance is mind-boggling, and it should cost peanuts to run.
That’s not to say it’s perfect though. An Audi Q7 offers an even more impressive interior and the ride on 22s may be just too firm for UK roads. We’d also be amazed if someone managed to actually match the claimed range. But Tesla isn’t a company to stand still.
There’s a good chance that a few of the issues will be sorted by the time UK deliveries start, while free updates have previously added functionality and even additional range to the Model S. If Tesla does this, then it'll have a car that would be among the best luxury SUVs out there.
Until then, it’s still a deeply impressive machine; just one with a few rough edges that need sorting.