You know you’ve created a sensation when the group clamouring around a car at the school gates is full of mums rather than kids urging you to “do the doors”.
Tesla Model X 100D
Price: £87,200 (£100,600 as tested)
Engine: Dual electric motors with 100kW batteries
Transmission: Single-speed, four-wheel-drive
Top speed: 155mph
0-60mph: 4.7 seconds
Range: 351 miles (NEDC)
CO2 emissons: 0g/km
It’s a pattern repeated wherever you take the Tesla Model X. Despite its rarity on our roads it’s a car that everyone seems to have heard about and everyone is desperate to get a look at. I’ve driven bright orange muscle cars and Bentleys that cost more than a house but nothing’s turned as many heads as the Model X.
Part of what has propelled the Model X into the public consciousness are the gimmicks and tricks that set social media alight. Those crazy falcon wing rear doors that swoop up and out; the literally all-singing, all-dancing “celebration” mode; the 17-inch media screen that doubles as a sketch pad and turns your map into the surface of Mars at the touch of a button. It’s all great for publicity and certainly gets the car noticed but beyond that there’s got to be some substance.
To see what lies beneath the attention-grabbing party tricks we borrowed a Model X for the weekend and set off for a wander around Scotland, partly because it’s a beautiful place to drive around and partly to test one of Tesla’s more practical new features – the idea of destination chargers.
The Model X is what you would class as a no-brainer car. Two of the biggest developments in the car industry in the last ten years have been the rise of electric vehicles and SUVs. So an SUV from one of the pioneering EV firms makes perfect sense.
While the Model S serves those looking for a performance saloon and the upcoming Model 3 is targeting the compact exec market the X is the car for families who want to embrace the EV revolution but need the space and practicality of a large SUV.
And the Model X is a seriously large SUV. From a distance its slippery lines are deceptive but up close you realise just how substantial it is. At five metres long, 1.64m tall and two metres wide it’s comparable to an Audi Q7 or full-fat Range Rover, if not as tall.
Inside, the Model X can be configured with five, six or seven seats. Our test model was a seven-seater and was impressively spacious. The Model X is one of the very few cars I’ve been able to fit three child seats across the middle bench and the rear seats are suitable for average-sized adults, although the sloping roof does somewhat restrict headroom.
In fact, the X is a hugely practical option for larger families. There’s loads of space for passengers in every seat and, with boot space front and rear, even in seven-seat mode there’s a useful amount of room for luggage. It’s also comfy and feels especially airy thanks to the huge windscreen which swoops right back over the front row in a single piece of glass.
The interior design is unique and appealing, door grabs swoop out and chrome and wood blend nicely on the major surfaces. But the Model X suffers a few material problems. Major touchpoints look and feel great, including the Mercedes-sourced controls, but cast around and you’ll find plastics that wouldn’t pass muster on a £25k Nissan Leaf, let alone a £100k car from any of the conventional “premium” brands.
Of course, the biggest talking point around EVs remains range and charge. From that point of view the Model X offers as much reassurance as it’s possible to get at the moment. Our 100kW model has an official range of 295 miles. The only EV with a bigger range is the lighter Model S saloon.
Like every “official” figure though, it’s best taken with a pinch of salt. Everything from your driving style to the weather will affect the real-world performance. Still, range anxiety really shouldn’t be an issue in most day-to-day situations. On a full charge and driven with no effort to conserve energy we managed 160 miles, with 40 predicted to spare.
You would never look at a petrol or diesel with 160 miles of range left and begin to worry and you don’t in the Model X either. You can deplete range suddenly by hard driving but the same is true of any car with a 0-60mph time of under five seconds.
Yes, this 2.5-tonne SUV will hit 60mph in just 4.7 seconds. Opt for the P100D and that drops to 2.9 seconds. It’s a strange and addictive feeling rushing forward at the pace of a Porsche with only the soft whine of the twin motors accompanying you.
The handling doesn’t quite match the promise of the pace but that’s inevitable given the car’s weight and height. Still, it didn’t embarrass itself on Perthshire’s more twisting routes, thanks in part to its low centre of gravity.
The second biggest issue around EVs is charging. Tesla is already doing its bit to reduce worry, plumbing in more and more of its super-fast Superchargers that will take a Model X from 10 per cent to full in around an hour. And there are more and more public charging points springing up.
Beyond that, though, Tesla is also investing heavily in “destination chargers”. Linking up with hotels, restaurants and visitor attractions, Tesla is installing charging points at places you’d actually want to visit rather than just in car parks and at shopping centres. It’s a smart idea, allowing owners to plan a day or weekend trip safe in the knowledge that when they reach their destination they’ll have somewhere to top up their car.
We decided to take advantage of the “destination” arrangement, stopping overnight at Pitlochry’s Fonab Castle, where two Tesla-branded chargers await owners. A drop-off at Edinburgh airport allowed me to brim the batteries at one of its three Superchargers so the 70-mile run to Pitlochry was well within range, even with some scenic detouring. At the destination we simply pulled into one of the Tesla bays and plugged in. Fonab’s chargers are 7kW units but other destinations offer everything between 7 and 22kW. With an overnight stay the car was fully charged for us in the morning and had even updated its software while we slept.
The big problem with charging remains time rather than access. Even on one of Tesla’s 120kW Superchargers the Model X will take around an hour to fully charge. In scientific terms that’s impressive but it still means you’re either hanging about for a long time or having to stop for multiple short charges on any long drives. Using anything less than a Supercharger means even more hanging around.
Long-range routes still require more time than in a conventional car and you really need access to rapid or Superchargers. The smart navigation system is great at plotting route and calculating where and when you need to stop so planning isn’t hard but there’s definitely a sacrifice of time.
Whether the Model X is for you will come down to your lifestyle, travel requirements and whether you’re will to make such a sacrifice. If you are then the Model X has plenty to recommend it. It’s blisteringly quick, hugely practical and offers zero-tailpipe emissions where other large SUVs are still being pulled around by large capacity diesels.
And it’ll create a stir on the school run like nothing else.