TESLA'S Model X P100D, the most ballistic breeder bus in existence, has us simultaneously scratching our heads and nodding them in approval.
WHAT IS IT?
The world’s fastest seven-seat SUV, and also the world’s most environmentally friendly family-sized conveyance.
WHY ARE WE TESTING IT
The Model X takes Californian EV automaker Tesla closer towards mainstream relevance thanks to its family-friendly SUV-style form factor, yet in the range-topping P100D configuration tested here it retains 90 percent of the face-melting performance of its lower-slung Model S cousin. It’s still a phenomenally expensive way of busing yourself and your fam about, but what else will offer you this combination of speed and space?
Nothing on the market really hits the same targets that the Model X P100D does. No other seven-seater is as quick off the mark, or as frugal, or as technologically capable. That said, if you’re okay with the idea of burning some hydrocarbons then other fast SUV options include the Audi SQ7, BMW X5M, Mercedes-AMG GLS63 and Volvo XC90 T8.
THE WHEELS VERDICT
Does X mark the spot? Depends on what you want your SUV to do. If it’s ultimate family-friendly flexibility and practicality that you seek, then look elsewhere. If you want to burn rubber instead of hydrocarbons on your way to drop the kids off at school, then the Tesla is your rig.
PLUS: Mega performance, packed with technology, genuine seven-seat capacity, emissions-free
MINUS: Extra cost for three-row layout, unnecessarily complex rear doors, cost, design
- Learn more about autonomous cars and the future of motoring
- Catch up on the progress of electric cars in the automotive industry
THE WHEELS REVIEW
WHEN it comes to analysing Tesla and its lofty goals of delivering the world into guilt-free automotive nirvana, the boundary between ambition and hubris sometimes becomes awfully blurry. The Tesla Model X, its first-ever SUV and the highly-anticipated follow-up to the game-changing Model S, is a prime example.
It’s brutally fast, yet offers space for seven inside its rounded pod-like form. Practicality and pace in equal measure – what’s not to love? Being able to hit 100km/h in 3.1 seconds is certainly something that arouses the enthusiast in us – though it’ll probably also summon up the last lunch of your six passengers.
But after spending some time behind the wheel, it’s clear that the Model X is all about wowing people in the showroom first, and being a pragmatic people-carrier second. The SUV establishment need not be worried about the Model X.
Case in point: those gullwing – err, I mean Falcon wing doors (sorry Elon). Tesla says they can open with about 30cm of sideways clearance and will give full-grown adults easy access to the third row (which you only get if you add an extra $4500 to the price tag), but the fact it takes a seeming eternity for them to swing open is reason enough to hate them. Tesla also says they’ll stop short of hitting objects to the side or above the car thanks to built-in sensors, but we were rudely shoved out of the way by the (surprisingly) powerful door when we deliberately stood next to it. Exercise caution if you happen to find yourself in a low-roofed car park, and maybe keep your rugrats clear of them too.
As with the Model S, the Model X’s self-driving tech is impressive, or at least the promise of an eventual Level 5 (completely driverless) autonomous capability is. For now, Tesla’s highly automated cruise control system is as sophisticated as it gets, however with all of the necessary hardware for Level 5 already fitted, a fully-autonomous Model X is little more than a firmware update away – that is, if local legislation will ever allow it.
But forget about that autonomous malarkey for now, as there’s still plenty of joy to be had by piloting the Model X in an old-school DIY fashion. Behind the wheel it feels very much like a supersized Tesla Model S, and though the kerb weight nudges a colossal 3000kg in seven-seat P100D flavour, the Model X retains much of the vision-blurring speed of its lower-slung brother.
Granted, the extra weight and the taller seating position of the Model X takes some of the edge off that, but stomp the accelerator and you’ll still be abruptly slammed into the backrest from the dual motors' seamless and relentless torque.
We couldn’t get close to the stated 3.1-second 0-100km/h claim, but the 4.1 second result we got is still astonishingly swift – not just for a seven-seater, but for any machine. This thing weighs just shy of three tonnes, yet it sprints like a 911. The wow factor is off the charts when you’re behind the wheel.
The handling is also incredible too. With battery packs mounted below the floor, the Model X’s centre of gravity hovers mere centimetres above the deck. Body roll simply doesn’t exist, and the agility bestowed by the active air suspension and clever torque vectoring electric motors means the Model X is incredibly hard to unstick, just like its Model S sibling. The ride is a touch brittle on the optional 22-inch wheels we experienced, but the standard 20-inch rollers should prove a lot more compliant. All told, this is an exciting car to steer.
But from the outside, it’s a snooze-fest. There’s no getting around it: the Model X’s design is uninspired. It’s a lazy stretch-and-scale of the Model S’s handsomely understated design, the end being a charmless and anonymous blob. The near total absence of any actual ‘styling’ is perhaps its greatest aesthetic attribute, and while some may appreciate its minimalistic nature, we’re not so crazy about it. It’s just plain dull.
And while the Model X’s pedestal-mounted second-row seats are a clever solution to the problem of giving third-row passengers adequate legroom, the backrest shells are rigid plastic and fairly bulky. Toe room for the rear-most passengers is still in short supply too, though at least they get to enjoy C-pillar mounted air vents and their own cupholders.
Then there’s the question of cargo. Unlike most three-row SUVs, the Model X’s second row doesn’t fold flat; those pedestal seats can tilt and slide forward, but the backrests are fixed to their bases. The standard five-seat Model X has a folding second-row bench, but why would you buy a five-pew Model X in the first place? You may as well just get yourself a Model S.
Granted, the Model X does boast a deep under-floor storage compartment in the back and a sizable “front trunk” beneath the bonnet, but so does the Model S. Trips to Ikea in a three-row Model X may challenge its cargo-carrying capability if you’re buying something lengthy.
As a ‘sport utility vehicle’, the Model X P100D has an overwhelming abundance of ‘sport’ and a disappointing lack of ‘utility’. Yes, you can jam seven adults in it, but it’s not flexible enough to turn into a mini movers' van should you need to carry cargo rather than companions. Existing luxury SUV options have it beat from a packaging flexibility point of view.
And the fact a third row of seats isn’t standard – or at the very least a no-cost option – on a car that’s being spruiked on its family-friendly credentials stings a little, especially considering the already eye-watering cost.
However despite the Model X’s flaws Tesla should be commended for having the courage to bring an all-electric people-carrier to market. The packaging needs work, but the concept of an electron-munching family wagon is certainly noble. Bring on Version 2.0.
Model: Tesla Model X P100D
Engine: Two electric motors, 100kWh battery
Max power: 193kW front, 375kW rear
Transmission: Direct drive, 1-speed
On sale: Now