Demand and interest surrounding electric cars may be rising rapidly, but for now, that interest remains niche. In 2017, electric car sales in the UK accounted for less than 1 percent of total market sales, so the righteous path to a zero emissions future is clearly going to be a long one. Tesla is an electric carmaker that is helping accelerate this change, challenging how cars are sold and serviced and fundamentally shifting our perception of what an EV can do. Time to find out if its Model X family SUV can be both disrupter and a genuinely useful family car.
Did you know? Tesla has open sourced its patents to accelerate EV tech across the industry
There is nothing like the Tesla Model X. As both an electric car and an SUV, it’s bang on trend, blending the two fastest-growing sectors of the new car market. It also does more than most electric cars combined to dismantle any fears of range anxiety and embrace next generation interior design. If you’re a tech-savvy family person that likes the idea of guilt-free pace, 4G connectivity and requires space for up to seven, then it needs to be on your shortlist.
Be warned, however, that more all-electric challengers are on the horizon while today, some more traditional hybrid alternatives remain better finished, better to drive and cost far less to buy.
We don’t like
Expensive to buy
The Tesla Model X is the first all-electric SUV to go on sale and has been developed by a self-proclaimed tech company rather than a car company. You’d think such pioneering positioning would permit a degree of stylistic flair, but the silhouette of the Model X is confusingly conservative. There may be a lack of cooling intakes up front - batteries require less cooling than an internal combustion engine – to help clean up the front end and create a drag coefficient of 0.24 (the same as a BMW i8 sports car), but the body to glass ratio looks lumpen and top heavy.
Approach the car with the keyless entry, however, and the pop-out door handles hint at its Silicon Valley origins. Or maybe Broadway. That’s because there is a histrionic level of drama to how the rear doors on this large SUV open. You’ll either love them or hate them, but your kids will think they’re going to school in a supercar. Regardless, the so-called ‘falcon doors’ raise and fall like a Mercedes Gullwing and thanks to multiple cameras and motion sensors, they’re able to constantly adjust the angle at which they open or close in case there’s a car or obstacle in the way.
On first acquaintance, the Model X feels big, spacious and airy. The clean cabin aesthetic contributes to that sense of space, with the dashboard dominated by a huge 17–inch touchscreen infotainment system that controls pretty much everything. Think genetically modified iPad and you’re about there… There are a few buttons and switches that car geeks may notice have been borrowed from the Mercedes-Benz parts bin, but that’s no bad thing.
So far, so Model S, the other landmark car from Tesla. It’s also similar in the way it prioritises gadgetry and roominess over quality, whereby the choice of materials, and quality of fit and finish isn’t what you would typically expect at this upper price bracket. What is noticeably different, however, is the higher hip point, improving access and offering the driver a much more commanding view of the road ahead.
The Tesla Model X can be ordered with five, six or seven seats, making it a rival in reality for cars like the plug-in hybrid versions of the Audi Q7 e-tron and Volvo XC90 T8. A three-seater bench can be ordered for the middle row and fold completely flat, with two occasional, collapsible seats in the back. Alternatively, the six-seat option provides two plusher, non-folding chairs for the middle row, with an optional central storage console. The buttons to either move or fold any of the chairs are concealed within the top corner of the seat upholstery so make sure somebody shows you or you’ll be there for hours.
Visibility is excellent, thanks to a supersized windscreen that extends above and behind the front seat occupants, as is access, the falcon doors scalloping a significant portion of the roof away when unfurling. All versions of the Model X feature motorised front and rear doors, meaning they can be closed or opened at the press of a keyfob or swipe of a touchscreen. You’d need a £250k Rolls-Royce Phantom to find that kind of functionality elsewhere.
This being an electric car, with all the batteries stored beneath the floor, it also means there’s an additional boot up front where you’d normally find a traditional internal combustion engine. No parcel shelf is available for the rear boot because, according to a Tesla spokesperson, American customers don’t use them.
Tesla considers itself to be more tech company than car maker, and that makes a huge difference when it comes to presenting in-car connectivity. Within an automotive heartbeat, it’s as if this Silicon Valley start-up has re-written the rule book with its giant portrait-shaped touchscreen that is also voice activated, 4G connected and controls everything from music to live maps, temperature to car charging times.
Other carmakers may offer touchscreens and voice activation, but the user friendliness and legibility on offer here make those rival systems feel a bit last decade. Sure, we wouldn’t say no to a few more physical buttons and the screen can get very grubby, but there is a handy setting that allows you to wipe the screen clean without accidentally re-setting the car’s ride height or adjusting the level of ‘creep’; that sensation when a conventional automatic car rolls forward.
Then there’s Tesla’s optional Enhanced AutoPilot (£4,700), more accurately described as a co-pilot, that can assist the driver on certain roads using multiple cameras, ultrasonic sensors and radar. Tesla’s smart in how it updates its cars as well. Where some manufacturers require you to visit a dealer to update software bits, Tesla provides those same updates ‘over the air’. It’s entirely feasible to wake up one morning and your car is actually better than it was the day before.
Driving any Tesla needs to be experienced to be believed. Because an electric motor’s maximum torque - that’s the pulling force you feel as you prod the accelerator pedal - is produced in the same instant the motor is prompted, the Model X bursts off the line with hushed, gearless, unflustered all-at-once progress. Even the slowest (these things are relative) 75D can hit 60mph in 4.9 seconds, but the range-topping P100D with optional Ludicrous Speed upgrade can hit the same speed in 2.9 seconds. What’s almost more impressive is the fact the car builds speed just as quickly when on the move.
In a similar setup to the Tesla Model S, the Model X uses two electric motors and a lithium ion battery pack that is cradled within an extruded aluminium chassis, reinforced with high-strength steel. The power unit comes in a choice of 75kW and 100kW capacities, though the range-topping P100D develops the equivalent of 761bhp and 722lb ft of torque – that’s more than a McLaren 720S.
Unfortunately, handling is far from McLaren-esque but still secure. The battery mass may be evenly concentrated low beneath the cabin floor, which makes it willing to change direction, but this remains a family SUV that weighs in excess of 2.5 tonnes. The standard issue air suspension is both firm and height adjustable at speed, ensuring all body movements remain in check, though that mass does make the car feel squirmy under heavy braking. If you’re a driver who still loves the involvement of a chassis in this new era of electrification, a Porsche Cayenne Hybrid or Audi Q7 e-tron are more exciting steers.
Don’t think about off-roading either. Instead, it’s better to enjoy this car in town or on the motorway or at high-speed cruises, which serves to highlight the instant, linear acceleration plus the impressive wind and tyre refinement, providing you haven’t ordered the optional 22-inch rims.
Recommended version: 100D
|Fuel economy|| |
Type2 Single Phase 7.4kW: 6 miles per half hour
Type2 Three Phase 22kW: 23 miles per half hour
Tesla Supercharger 120kW: 160 miles per half hour
As a tech company, Tesla even likes to approach safety a little differently. While crash testing remains a pre-requisite - the Model X has yet to receive a Euro NCAP rating but has received a maximum five stars in the US equivalent from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) - the company is thinking of safety more holistically. This remit ranges from a medical grade air filter, preventing any dangerous toxins from entering the cabin, right through to active safety measures that include collision avoidance and automatic emergency braking.
Given regulatory approval, every Model X is also capable of self-driving functionality, but to benefit you need to spec the Enhance AutoPilot. This helps manage your speed according to the conditions and behaviour of other cars around you, implements steering inputs to maintain your positioning and allows you to change lanes with nothing more than the flick of a turn signal. Initially, the system feels unnerving to engage, but it works particularly well on motorways and dual carriageways.
There are just seven colours to choose from, with only solid black being a no-cost option. The Red Multi-Coat of our video car is a £1400 option, though we’d recommend darker hues like the £900 Midnight Silver Metallic to help reduce the Model X’s visual mass. The standard issue 20-inch wheels are finished in silver, but can also be ordered in a gunmetal effect known as ‘Sonic Carbon’ for £1900.
Tesla doesn’t offer a range of trim levels in the conventional sense, but instead presents a variety of modular options. The standard five-seat configuration, for example, can be upgraded to six (£5,700) or seven (£2,800), while trim finishes range from ash to carbon effect. Ethically astute shoppers will also be pleased that the leather trim is in fact made from polyurethane, which is wipe clean and family friendly.
Size and Dimensions
The Model X measures more than 5m in length, so you’ll need plenty of off-street parking, plus the ability to install a charging port if this is to be a viable option.
|Max towing weight (braked)||2250kg|
In terms of ownership, an all-electric car brings benefits such as no fees in the London congestion charge and zero company-car Benefit In Kind (BIK). Although the Model X would pay no road tax based on CO2 emissions, it would be eligible for a ‘premium rate tax’, which is an annual flat-rate fee of £310 per year, for five years, for any vehicle with an official list price more than £40,000.
As for power source, the argument improves further. Petrol remains a key revenue provider for the British government and is taxed accordingly. About 65 percent of the price we pay at the pumps goes into funding public spending. By comparison, an electric car charged from the grid will generate about 5 percent of VAT. This goes some way to explain why petrol costs 120p per litre, while the average cost per kilowatt hour - a kWh is a standard measurement of energy that refers to a person using 1,000 watts of electricity for one hour - is around 14p.
Taking a Model X 100D as our example, that means it would cost around £14 to ‘juice up’ from the grid, while offering a New European Driving Cycle (NEDC) range of 351 miles. We reckon 270 miles is a more realistic range, but even still, you’d imagine an equivalent petrol-powered rival requiring at least £70 of fuel for the same output.
Charging your Model X from one of Tesla’s high-capacity, high-speed ‘Superchargers’ can be a more convenient yet expensive option, costing more than £20, but this would be the electric equivalent of accessing high octane fuel.
Reliability and Servicing
The Model X is too new for there to be much meaningful reliability data available. In our limited test, we recorded no faults and tested the falcon doors multiple times in a variety of parking scenarios. Despite their complexity, they worked faultlessly, but whether they’re robust enough to survive small children tampering with them or even hanging from them, remains to be seen.
Thanks to fewer mechanical parts and ‘over the air’ updates, we expect servicing frequency and costs to be reduced. The battery and drive unit are protected by an eight-year/unlimited-mileage warranty, while the rest of the car has a four-year/50,000-mile warranty. Further, the role of active communities such as the Tesla Motors Club will be invaluable to potential new owners, seeking information on everything from software updates to charging infrastructure.
The Tesla Model X range starts from £75,000 for the 75D, but then rapidly jumps to £92,000 for the 100D and £132,000 for the P 100D. That sounds pretty punchy in isolation, and even more challenging when considered alongside more traditional rivals that are better finished, better equipped and more fun to drive.
But the Model X isn’t a rational purchase. It’s aimed at tech conscious early adopters and fans who want to assist in the future development of the car. The fact that Tesla is marketing (and securing orders for) a £2,800 ‘Full Self Driving Capability’ option that doesn’t yet exist, is testament to this.
|Cost Conscious||75. This entry-level output is the best family alternative to conventionally powered rivals.|
|Trend Setter||P100D. Make sure you engage ‘Ludicrous mode’ everywhere and order the ‘Full Self Driving Capability’ option.|
|Modern Parents||100D. Probably the Goldilocks of the Model X range. Acknowledging that Goldilocks is really, really fast.|
|Jaguar I-Pace||The first all-electric SUV rival from a mainstream car brand. Smaller than the Model X, but promises more refinement and better driving dynamics|
|Range Rover Hybrid||Flagship SUV finally gets plug-in hybrid tech to begin the fightback. Unlike the Model X, this is also a proper off-roader.|
|Audi Q7 e-tron||Probably the most refined plug-in hybrid SUV on sale with a feast of tech available. Beautifully finished, too.|
|Volvo XC90 T8||This seven-seat plug-in hybrid isn’t just the safest car in its class, but the safest car Euro NCAP has ever tested.|
|Porsche Cayenne Hybrid||Hugely desirable badge, brilliant fun to drive, strong resale values and frugal. Ish.|