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Tesla Model X review: The SUV of the future?

4

The Good

  • Memorable design
  • Smooth
  • Cheap to run

The Bad

  • Expensive to buy
  • Long journeys require planning

Tesla Model X review: Until we have flying cars, the Model X is as close to the future as we can get. But is the all-electric SUV any good, how cheap is it to run and does it make sense to buy?

We were supposed to have flying cars by now. Instead, we have so much congestion you can get a lung disorder from driving to the shops and pot holes so large you would think they were created by a glacier.

The simple fact is that we are still driving around in cars that have got faster, safer and more efficient, but nothing in the world of motoring has really changed that much since we swapped horses for horsepower.

We are, however, on the brink of a sizable shift away from the combustion engine. Diesels are under fire for causing premature deaths and petrols are costing more and more to run. But we still need cars, which is why alternative fuel vehicles such as hybrid and electric cars are picking up the slack.

This puts Tesla in a strong position because it only makes electric cars and one of its creations, the Model S, is somewhat ahead of the competition in terms of performance, range, technology and design.

The best electric cars: Five you should consider buying in 2017

The big problem is that electric cars are expensive, especially when they are capable of 0-60mph in under three seconds like the Model S P100D. Even your more accessible BMW i3 or Nissan Leaf makes a petrol or diesel equivalent look cheap.

This is why the arrival of the 'affordable' Tesla Model 3 is so important. If you can have an electric car with 200-mile of range or more for the same price as a BMW 3 Series, knowing you would never have to fill up on fuel again, would you stick with the combustion engine?

The Model 3 is still a long way off for the UK, with the first production car now in the hands of Tesla CEO and founder Elon Musk. But the car in between is important in its own right because it taps into one of the most lucrative areas of motoring.

We are, of course, talking about the SUV and the Model X is Tesla's interpretation. It can seat up to seven passengers, (allegedly) travel up to 300 miles per charge and make its rivals look incredibly slow – if you are willing to spend a lot of money on the 'P' performance variant with Ludicrous mode.

That's all well and good, but can you really justify a Tesla when it costs four or five times more than a more conventional SUV? We spent a few days in a crisp white Model X 100D for the answer.

Tesla Model X: The design

Pretty is hardly the best word to describe the Tesla Model X yet that is exactly how many non-car people described it. To be fair, the white paint job, black alloys and weird front grille does make the rest of the SUV bunch look predictable.

But essentially Tesla has increased the proportions and the result is what would happen if you inflated a Model S. The design lines, though never beautiful in the first place, look more awkward and bloated.

There is a reason, of course. Being bigger has paved the way for seven seats that all face forward and the level of head room is vastly improved for the rearmost passengers. The boot is also bigger and there is more elbow and leg room – the basics of a family car.

Apart from that, the Tesla Model X shares virtually all of the same DNA. Battery cell in the floor? Yep. Dual electric motors for all-wheel drive? Yep. That 17-inch touchscreen display that dwarfs the dashboard? The answer rhymes with go.

That means the Model X will be instantly familiar to anyone who has been in a Tesla Model S and rather futuristic and sparse for those who haven't. Think Bauhaus, not Buckingham Palace, for the interior design aesthetic, which favours simplicity over luxury.

A touch of soft Alcantara has helped the Tesla feel a bit warmer, it must be said but it's a bit like wallpapering the Starship Entreprise. It can only be so effective.

It is worth mentioning the lack of engine noise helps the 17-speaker system sound absolutely fantastic. As car stereos go, the Teslas are easily some of the best-sounding around.

Tesla Model X: Handling and performance?

The dual electric motor setup (one at the front axle, one at the back) provides huge torque and the delivery of power is instant, smooth and silent. There is no engine noise to hide – just the sound of rubber on tarmac and wind as it hits the massive panoramic windscreen.

In terms of character, it is much like the Model S. The bigger dimensions and increased weight mute the agility, but overall it is smooth and nimble. The light steering and modest body roll makes the Model X surprisingly efficient at cornering, too.

Absolutely nothing outside of the Tesla family is so effortless and capable of a change in speed, nor is any other car as easy to drive. Take your foot off the accelerator and the energy regeneration system slows the car down faster than a mechanical gearbox, making the brake pedal somewhat redundant.

A BMW X5 M and Porsche Cayenne speaks to your petrolhead nature better and both provide greater handling feedback, but the Model X can hold its own – particularly as even the lowest horsepower output offers exciting acceleration and a strong grip. 0-62mph takes the 417hp 100D 4.7 seconds.

The 20-inch wheels, while less likely to make youths stare, make a lot more sense if you are happy to trade in a touch of handling ability for more bump-soaking. The 22-inchers do contribute to a less forgiving ride.

"Less forgivable is the fact the Model X makes the odd squeak and creak as it glides along like a spaceship."We found the Tesla Model X on air suspension has a tendency to bounce more and takes longer to settle down than the Model S. On the whole though, it is smooth enough to keep granny from complaining and you from spilling your coffee.

Less forgivable is the fact the Model X makes the odd squeak and creak as it glides along like a spaceship. It only really happens over bigger bumps but these unwated noises do sound out of place in a car this expensive.

For those who want to embarrass the likes of the Porsche Cayenne, Volvo XC90 T8 and Range Rover Sport, the P100D is for you. 0-60mph takes 2.9 seconds, making it almost as fast as a McLaren P1, while 45 to 65 takes 1.4 seconds. This is impressive for any four-wheeler, let alone an SUV.

As for off-roading, the Model X's all-wheel drive nature will make it somewhat effective, especially as the air suspension system (standard on all but the 75D) can be raised to 230mm for a little extra ground clearance, but a proper SUV would make more sense in this department.

Tesla Model X: Practicality and boot space?

You can have the Model X in a four, five, six or seven-seat configuration and – because of the battery cell in the floor – a front and rear storage space. But we will get to those elements in a second.

The party piece of the Model X are the Falcon Wing doors, which open outwards then upwards in rather spectacular fashion. When they are working, that is, although Tesla assured us it has ironed out the reliability issue experienced by some of the early adopters.

Besides showing off to other mums and dads at the school gate, the Falcon Wing doors make it easier for passengers to get in and out of the car and you are less likely to smack your head when fitting a child car seat.

It is possible to open and close every door from the Model X-shaped key and the interior touchscreen display, which is practical for when hoping to make a quick getaway. But the speed at which the rear doors open can still be annoying.

Up front are very comfortable seats that can be adjusted to suit your needs. The electrically adjustable steering wheel also provides generous reach, helping make it a great car for long stints behind the wheel."It is possible to open and close every door from the Model X-shaped key and the interior touchscreen display..."

The third row of seats are designed for adults, but they way your head nestles in behind a structural pillar means they can feel claustrophobic for tall people. At least the forward orentiation helps combat travel sickness, though.

For such a futuristic car, it is a shame the Model X's rear seats have to be put up manually, unlike in the new Land Rover Discovery, which does it electronically using a group of controls in the back or an app.

Rear leg room could also be better in the Model X, but then it is easy to electrically slide the middle row of seats (be that in the six or seven-seat layout) forward to improve the situation. Sadly these seats cannot be folded down.

Another problem is the six-seat configuration gives you a reasonable size boot with the rearmost seats up, but there is absolutely nothing to stop your shopping from escaping into the cabin. You could, of course, use the hooks or the 187-litre front trunk for smaller items. 

There is also a distinct lack of door bins and you have to pay an extra £4,500 for the six-seat interior if you want a centre console in the back. Go without though and you can stretch your legs.

But you do at least get 2,180 litres of boot space with the third row of seats folded down, in addition that the aforementioned front trunk for a total of 2,367 litres.

At five metres long and 2.3 metres wide, some parking spaces will be an issue. The physical act of parking is easy though, because of the amount of visibility, rear parking camera and sizable door mirrors.

Tesla Model X: Running costs and UK price?

Each car gets 1,000 miles of free Supercharger access per year, while the cost of home charging should around a tenner for empty to full, depending on your electric tariff. That makes it cheaper to run than just about anything else in its class.

In the real world you will get around 260 miles of range from the 100D, which means you will need to plan some of your longer journeys. Luckily the navigation system factors in your battery level and shows you the nearest charging point – and even if it is currently in use. About 170 miles can be topped up in 30 minutes using a Tesla Supercharger.

A lot of people are quick to complain about range anxiety, but realistically how often do you drive for more than fours hours without stopping? If the answer is a lot, the Model X is a bad idea. If the answer is rarely at most, you will be fine once you adjust to nightly plug-in routine.

A big plus is the zero emissions it generates locally. Not only does this make the Model X exempt from the annual road tax bill (but being above £40,000 means it does pay the 'nice things' tax of £310 a year for five years), it helps reduce air pollution.

The downside is the battery cell is extremely expensive and is covered by a warranty for eight years, after which you are on your own. That means depreciation is going to be a problem – a potentially bigger one than for its more conventional rivals.

"A lot of people are quick to complain about range anxiety, but realistically how often do you drive for more than four hours without stopping?"Then again, Tesla routinely updates the software in its cars over the air to make them better, faster and able to drive further on a single charge, which may counter the issue somewhat.

You could also argue tyre wear is going to be noticeably fast and those 22-inch rubbers will hardly come cheap, but electric motors are generally simpler to repair and less likely to go wrong. How much Tesla charges per hour for maintenance work will be a bigger factor.

Every Model X comes with all-wheel drive so you only need to choose which battery size you want. Prices start from £75,400 for the 75D, £90,800 for the 100D we are testing and, wait for it, £135,600 for the P100D.

Yes, that is a lot of money but then a hybrid Volvo XC90 seven-seater is more than £60,000 and you will have to fill it up. A Range Rover Sport starts from £60,015 and is arguably more trendy. But then a top-spec Model X is substantially faster than anything else.

With that said, a few extras bumps up the Model X price very quickly. Our test car, for instance, comes in at £110,730 thanks in part to the £5,700 Premium Upgrades Package.

As for the warranty, a Tesla Model X is covered for 50,000 miles or four years. The battery and drive-unit warranty is unlimited mileage for eight years.

Tesla Model X: Should I buy one, then?

The Model X is more versatile than the Model S and everything that made the saloon so capable has filtered down into the SUV. But it also feels a tad less accomplished because of the inferior ride quality and a few build quality issues.

That and the fact you can get superior practicality and handling elsewhere for less money makes the price tag harder to justify. Then there is the added hassle of having to plan your longer journeys and rely on the current UK charging infrastructure, which needs improvement.

But you would struggle to find a car that gets as much attention (let alone a family wagon) and, even though the Model X is pricey, your annual fuel bill will be substantially lower and the school run less polluting. All while having up to seven seats and the straight-line performance of a hypercar.

The simple fact is that there is nothing else like the Model X. It may not be able to fly, but this is as close to the Jetsons as you can get – and that will be all the persuasion some people need to buy one.

Key Specs

  • Dual electric motor
  • 417hp
  • 487lb/ft
  • 0-60mph in 4.7 seconds
  • 0g/km of CO2
  • 351 miles EPA on a full charge
  • From £75,400 (£110,730 tested)

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