In many ways, high-riding SUVs lends themselves to electrification more than any other type of car. Weight is an immutable fact of the electric vehicle; a large stack of lithium ion batteries weighs an awful lot, and that burden is best carried by an already sizeable car. Cost is another factor. Electric cars of this size are necessarily very costly machines, but there’s no shortage of buyers who are prepared to hand over six-figure sums for the right SUV.
Finally, there is CoG; centre of gravity. Off-roaders and SUVs sit so high off the ground compared to a saloon car that they are rather top heavy, which means they must employ all manner of trick chassis technologies simply to stop them from toppling over in corners. But an electric car’s entire powertrain, and the significant mass of those batteries, can be spread out across the floor like a rug, which keeps the CoG much closer to the road.
It was inevitable, then, that Tesla would move into the SUV space. What it has built in this Model X, only its third ever model, is a car that not only intertwines the upsides of an SUV with the benefits of an electric drivetrain, but one that is also more versatile than any other electric vehicle you can buy today.
It’s all to do with the flexibility of the seats. You can specify six seats or seven from the factory, and in either case the rearmost pair can be folded flat to create an enormous load space, one that is augmented by the useful, if not exactly cavernous, stowage compartment that sits between the two front wheels. If you want a premium, practical EV and can stomach the eye-watering cost of the Model X 100D, it is without rival.
But let’s not call it job done just yet. The Model X does still need to meet certain standards, not least in the way it drives and in how intuitive it is to operate. The 100D is massively fast, thanks to a huge 100 kWh battery and a pair of motors, one located on each axle. Tesla quotes a 0-60mph time of 4.7 seconds, but in reality it feels even quicker. Instant, uninterrupted acceleration, the sort only an electric powertrain can deliver, has a habit of doing just that.
But what about range? The quoted figure is 351 miles, which is a little less than the lower-slung Model S with the same drivetrain hardware will achieve, mostly because the taller Model X has to work that much harder to punch its way through the air. You would have to be unnaturally fixated on the realtime range readout to meet that quoted figure, though. In practice, 280 miles is far more likely.
From its loftier seating position you really do appreciate the car’s lower CoG (compared to a conventional SUV of the same size). Rather than wanting to roll and flop around in bends, the Model X is flatter, better controlled and more agile. At 2459kg it is a fantastically heavy machine, but it disguises that weight extremely well.
The steering is accurate enough - without giving any sense of connection to the front wheels whatsoever - while traction is completely unbreakable and cornering grip very strong. In dynamic terms the Model X has two main weaknesses. The first is its ride quality. The way it thuds and thumps its way through negative features in the road surface - potholes, clumsy roadwork repairs and the like - makes you wonder if it has any suspension at all. On better surfaces, it should be said, the ride is no worse than a little bit jiggly, rather than being completely woeful.
The second weaknesses is the rigidity of the structure. On rough surfaces you feel the whole body shuddering, and you can actually see the steering wheel rattling away in front of you and hear bits of interior trim creaking and groaning in sympathy. Again, it’s only an issue on poor road surfaces, but it isn’t an issue that affects any of this car’s more conventionally powered rivals.
The interior build quality is very good - not so the exterior build quality - and there is a huge amount of space for passengers and their things. The enormous front screen, the single largest piece of glass currently fitted to any production car, gives a real sense of airiness and light, while the initially confusing infotainment system actually becomes very easy to navigate with a little familiarity.
So much has been written and said about Autopilot that it’s difficult to add anything original. Given the restrictions of present day legislation here in the UK it’s best to think of Autopilot as being one step along from radar cruise control. It isn’t autonomy, even though the car does already have the box of tricks it would need to drive itself. At first, engaging Autopilot, even on the motorway, feels completely alien. This is a hands-on system, which means it will sound a shrill alarm and quickly disable itself if you remove your hands from the steering wheel. The point is, the driver must stay in control at all times. It’s difficult to know, therefore, exactly how much control you should cede to the car.
Again, familiarity is the key. Just allow the car to adjust its speed in response to the traffic around you and feel the steering wheel gently tug in your fingertips as the system guides you along the meandering motorway. More than anything else, Autopilot is another set of eyes on the road. It would make a very long drive less draining, certainly, but don’t expect to be kicking back with a good book just yet.
The Model X 100D is certainly not without its flaws - the sometimes stiff ride is the big one - but otherwise it is very good to drive and more versatile than anything else Tesla currently builds. Patchy exterior build quality is an issue Tesla will need to address very soon, but it isn’t enough to prevent this from being a very capable car.
|Engine/power unit||Twin electric motors, 100 kWh battery|
|Electric range||351 miles|