I’ve driven the car of the future. I just didn’t expect to be able to fit the whole family in the back while I did it.
The Tesla Model X completely re-writes the rule book for SUVs, somehow taking the humble seven seater and transforming it into a sleek, luxurious object of automotive desire.
It’s fast enough to embarrass supercars at traffic lights once you add the Ludicrous mode upgrade and somehow actually manages to make gull-wing doors practical - an incredible achievement for a company that’s been rolling cars off the production line for barely more than a decade.
With unrivalled all-electric range, a tech-filled interior and the ability to drive itself using AI-controlled Autopilot, though, there’s a lot more to get excited about beyond sheer speed and bonkers bodywork.
After finally driving one on UK roads, we’re ready to deliver a verdict on this most prodigious of people carriers.
From the outside, there’s no mistaking the Model X for anything other than a Tesla. It has the same aggressively sculpted headlights, the same small grille and the same bare metal face, just like the recent Model S facelift.
With no need to cool a traditional engine, there’s no need for a massive chrome grill disguising a radiator or air intake - it looks a bit bare at first, but I quickly got used to it. Even if it does remind me a bit of that scene in The Matrix where Neo’s mouth closes up.
It wasn’t as obvious on the metallic blue model I was driving, as the tinted glass blends into the roof, but the Model X has an absolutely huge panoramic windscreen. Once you’re in the driver’s seat, there’s hardly anything obscuring your view of the outside world. Even the sun visors have been hidden away, but you can swing them into place in seconds. They’re held in place with magnets, so you don’t have to fiddle with latches or locks.
You only get the active rear spoiler on the top-end P100D, and even then it’s an optional extra. Without it, the back end looks delightfully subtle - meaning you can give people a surprise when you bolt away from them at traffic lights.
BUCKLE UP, BUCKAROO
With no traditional engine to make room for, the interior feels cavernous.
There’s ample space for driver and passenger up front, with fully adjustable seats. All electric, naturally. There’s space at the rear behind the back seats (with cubby underneath for your charging cable), along with a second, smaller boot under the bonnet.
The real surprise lies in the back, though. You can spec the model X as a five, six or seven seat car, and with the full seven seats, there’s just about room in the third row for two adults. I’d expect these to end up reserved for any younglings, though.
The middle row are mounted to the floor at a single point, a bit like the seats on an airliner, so there’s room underneath to store bits and bobs. The front seats have side pockets, too - something that was sorely missing on the Model S.
The quality of the plastic, leather, chrome and material throughout is impressive, as you’d expect from a luxury car. USB ports in front and back means you can siphon some of your precious range off to keep your smartphone topped up, too.
COME FLY WITH ME
I called them gull-wings earlier, but Tesla calls the rear passenger doors ‘falcon-wing’ - it’s because they’re double-hinged, which makes them more flexible than a yoga instructor.
They’re fitted with ultrasonic sensors that hide behind the bodywork, measuring exactly how much horizontal and vertical space there is to open each door and avoid obstacles. The car can measure ceiling height for when you’re in a multi-storey car park or garage, too. You’ll be able to open them fully with just eleven inches of space.
It’s all electronic, of course - no heavy lifting or stretching required.
Before you scoff into your cornflakes over the thought of actually owning a car with doors that open upwards, I was blown away by how well they worked.
They opened fully in a car park, even when I was flanked by two parked cars, and they give you an unrivalled amount of space to access the rear cabin. If you’ve ever had to wrangle a screaming toddler into a child seat, you’ll understand how useful even a little extra room can be.
Each door has its own sunroof, too, letting in loads of light into the back. Combined with the panoramic windshield, it always feels bright and airy - even when you’ve got a full passenger load.
Even the front doors open electrically, as does the tailgate. Just blip the car-shaped key fob in the right place and the relevant bit pops open. It’s a real party piece, and handy when you’ve got your hands full with shopping bags or errant children.
Once everyone is inside, a quick brush of the brake and all the open doors automatically close before you set off. It’s brilliant, even if I do wish the rear doors were just that tiny bit faster to open and close.
Tesla’s techno-minimal approach to car interiors turned heads in the Model S, and even though the Model X doesn’t change up the formula, it’s still just as unique and visually stunning.
Instead of a dashboard filled with buttons, you get a single 17in touchscreen, flipped in portrait orientation, to control just about everything the car can do. It’s colossal, and absolutely dominates the dash.
Only the glovebox and hazard warning lights get their own physical buttons. That means having to tap the screen for sat-nav, climate control, suspension settings and just about anything else, for that matter.
The screen is slightly angled towards the driver, and the icons are large enough that they’re easy to spot and select when you’re on the move - you’ve just got to learn where they all live first, which can be a little daunting. It didn’t take long to work out how to quickly jump from sat-nav to Spotify, though, and surely that’s all that matters. Unlimited Spotify comes as part of the package, so you don’t even need to bother pairing your smartphone just to get some tunes going.
The whole thing turns into a high-resolution rear view camera when you flick into reverse gear, too. Oh, and it has a web browser. Because why not?
DUCK AND COVER
It’s also here that you can activate the much-talked about bioweapon defence mode. The Model X already has an air filter ten times larger than the ones you’d find in a regular car, but this mode kicks it into overdrive, and actually pressurises the cabin slightly.
That should be enough to keep any nasties outside: Tesla reckons this makes it 300 times better at filtering bacteria, 500 times better at filtering allergens, 700 times better at filtering smog, and 800 times better at filtering viruses than any gas-guzzling car on the market.
It sounds like overkill, right? Well, maybe, but seeing how London is currently suffering through some of the worst smog we’ve seen in years, I was glad to have the option to filter as much of it out as possible.
Analogue dials are so 20th century. Tesla has ditched then in favour of a screen, which shows your current speed, whatever music you’ve got pumping through the speakers, and any route guidance you’ve programmed into the sat-nav.
With no traditional engine, there’s no rev counter to worry about - just a tiny battery indicator showing how much range you have left. Instead of fuel economy, you get a chart showing how efficient you’re driving: it plunges when you floor it, but surges skyward when you’re using the regenerative brakes.
The big change is the animated Model X sat right in the middle of the display. It shows what the sensors are picking up, drawing other cars onscreen as you approach and warning you when you’re getting close to kerbs or other obstacles. It was smart enough to bounce ultrasound underneath a lorry while I was sat in traffic, letting me know there was another car in front.
This will come into its own when driving with Autopilot, but as my loaner car wasn’t equipped with the self-driving tech, I wasn’t able to give it a proper test.
We have tried it on a Model S, though, and even a year ago, it was arguably the closest you could 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. That’s true of the Model X too.
ON THE ROAD
Behind the wheel of the 90D, a car capable of 0-60 in a hot-hatch bothering 4.8 seconds and a top speed electronically limited to 155mph, you quickly forget you’re driving something with room for an entire basketball team in the back seats.
Even with six adults on board, acceleration was still impressively sprightly.
Should that not be enough for you, there is the performance-oriented P100D and its Ludicrous Speed upgrade. Ludicrous mode might is aptly named, pushing the 0-60 time down to a, well, ludicrous 2.9 seconds.
There’s enough power to pin you to your seat, then, but 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 whenever you slow down.
In Standard mode, when you come off the throttle, you’ll find the Model X slows down like you’ve brushed the brake pedal. The brake lights come on and everything. 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.
TAKE ME FOR A RIDE
It certainly doesn’t have the rugged, go-anywhere looks as a lot of its rivals, so it’s hardly a surprise that the Model X is best suited to staying on the road, rather than going off it. It might ride a lot higher than the Model S, but there’s not a whole lot of ground clearance. Anyway, all the batteries run along the length of the floor, and you don’t want to go damaging those with some off-road shenanigans.
Air suspension does let you raise the ride height if things do get bumpy, though, and every model has four-wheel drive.
In other cars, air suspension normally means a luxuriously wafty ride, but that’s definitely not the case with the Model X. You can boost the car’s ride height, but none of the four settings felt especially pillow-like. It’s absolutely fine for motorway driving, but you definitely feel the bumps on British B-roads and pothole-scarred high streets. The massive 22in wheels don’t exactly do your spine any favours either, although the seats are a big improvement from the Model S and provide plenty of cushioning.
On the plus side, the stiff suspension and low centre of gravity, thanks to all those batteries mounted under the floor, the Model X handles like no other SUV. It corners brilliantly, even when you’re sitting high, with very little body roll and plenty of grip.
It does err on the safe side of exciting, though. Stability control kicks in early, stopping you from sending this SUV sideways, and there’s not a huge amount of feedback on what the front tyres are up to through the steering wheel.
TESLA MODEL X VERDICT
It's a lot more compact than any other seven seater, has the performance unlike any other seven seater, and is the most tech-laden seven seater out there too. Does that make the Model X the ultimate people carrier? I think so, yep.
Tesla isn’t a company to stand still, either. Free updates have added functionality and even additional range to the Model S, so you can expect a similar treatment here.
Then again, at over £100,000, should you expect any less? For all intents and purposes, the press fleet car I drove for this review would set you back £104,000 - and that’s before you add extra like Autopilot. All in, you’d be looking at £114k.
The Model X is every bit the luxury SUV, and was never going to be a car of the people with such a large asking price.
That has always been Tesla’s MO - start at the top and filter the tech through to the mainstream. It’s working, albeit slowly. I figure there will eventually be a more affordable version, but how long you’ll have to wait for one is a mystery.
Still, if that lottery win comes through any time soon, your kids will have the coolest parents on the playground when you roll up to the school yard in one of these.