Tesla's Model X is the company's first SUV and like their other vehicles is fully electric. Tesla's mass-market vehicle, the Model 3 relies heavily on the profits, research and development from their existing vehicles, which means Model X owners are helping fund the future.
While the car's first prototype was unveiled to the world way back in 2012, released in the US in September 2015, in Australia in August 2016, but they're still a rare sight on our roads. While we wait for the Model 3 to arrive next year, it's a great opportunity to learn more about the X, compared it to the Model S we reviewed a couple of years ago. I've now lived with the Tesla Model X P100D as my daily driver for a week and it's time to share my thoughts.
The review vehicle was brand new when I picked it up, it had driven just 250km before I got behind the wheel, by the time I dropped it back, there was quite a few more.
Beautiful outside and in
From the second you sit in the Model X, you can't help but notice the massive windscreen that consumes your vision. That love for glass extends through car to provide a big, open feeling. The rear passengers get their own skylights with windows to the world above, providing a great view while being tinted enough to protect your (and your kids) from the sun. Our review was the 6-seater variety, offering 3 rows of 2 seats, with the 3rd row folding down flat, for those times you have extra storage and less passengers.
Our review vehicle had stunning white leather heated seats throughout. This looks amazing, but everyone who seen the car had the same thought, they're a little impractical for everyday use. I'm assured they are easy to maintain, but if you have kids, or just careless adults in your life, then it would make you nervous. After seeing the alternative, black interior, I have to say the blue/black exterior with white/black interior is a massive success, contrasting beautifully.
The other interior surfaces include glass (lots of it), carbon fibre trims, silver trimmed air vents, and steering wheel surrounds, along with black carpets and with some really unique angles this car feels dramatically different than anything else you've sat in.
The ride is definitely a comfortable with the seats wrapping you nicely and the seats offering great electronically controlled height, angle and lumber control and even an electronically adjusted headrest. That's one of those moments where you think, come on now, that's ridiculous, but when you can, why not, especially at this premium end of the market, luxury is a big determiner. Many cars offer the ability to save your driver preferences now and the Model X is no exception, any time you make a change to your seating arrangement, it prompts you to save the change on the touchscreen.
The leather-wrapped steering wheel is a great size and uber comfortable. The car will do most of the work for you while you drive, but when you do, you want a great feeling in your hands and on that front the Model X with its moulded areas for your hands work perfectly for giving you confidence, especially if you're powering through turns or performing an overtake.
I found storage to be well addressed in the cabin, with each row getting drink holders and the elimination of a traditional transmission means between driver and passenger up front, there's extra storage compartments than what you'd normally expect to find.
As you cruise around in the Model X people around you fall into 1 of 2 camps. The first are people who think that's a slick knew SUV and are puzzled about what brand it is for a second before returning to their lives. The second group are people who know what it is, know what's it is capable of and are immediately impressed to even see one. Those friends and family who got up close appreciated the massive 22" Turbine rims but it's easily the falcon wing rear doors that are the stand out feature here.
The vehicle's shape is aerodynamically efficient as to reduce drag and increase range, it's really like a big blue jelly bean and there's really nothing offensive, with headlights, tail lights all fairly expected. Its this simplicity that will let the car appeal to a broad audience of male and female owners.
On the Model X, there's nothing done that's simply for design aesthetic, with every aspect also having an engineering motivation behind it. The large rims mean more rubber which helps make the contact patch with the road larger and provides better stability and traction, the rear wing helps create down force, inlets in the front bar push air down to cool the batteries. Even the underside of the car is smoothed out and grooved to create efficient, low-drag airflow under the vehicle.
Falcon wing doors
When you open the rear doors, wherever you are, heads turn with wonder. If you're someone who craves attention from the vehicle you drive, forget about the big red, orange, green or yellow colours from other brands, these falcon wing doors in any colour are your immediate keys to conversations with strangers. This effect often had me feeling part salesman, part owner (even if for a week) as I explained the features of the car, the doors are just the attention grabber.
The reality is that the dual-hinge doors are designed to allow easier entry for passengers in rows 2 and 3 of the vehicle. They're smart enough to modify they way they arc up based on the available space, leveraging sensors to determine distance away from obstacles. I once parked under a tree with relatively low branches and when my friend on that side of the vehicle opened the door, it intelligently stopped in an act of self preservation, as to not scratch the door, smart.
The same is true if you have the car in your garage, as long as you have the minimum space available, the doors will open, in less space horizontal space than a traditional door. This does confuse some people as the handles suggest the rear doors are suicide, not falcon wing, but that just adds to their surprise.
After experiencing the capacitive touch luxury of the door handles on the Model S, the handles on the X felt a little less luxurious. While having to press the flush chrome hands to make them spring to life is certainly a first world problem, I do wish they'd kept the simple touch to reveal slickness of hands on the S. When you approach the car with the key in your pocket, the driver's door opens, not just the handle, but the entire door, so handles are kind of irrelevant here. Having the door automatically opening to greet you, and close when you put your foot on the brake, is just one of the many great experiences of owning this vehicle.
When it comes to closing the doors, there's couple of options, you could have each occupant take care of it themselves, or do the smart thing, leverage the fact you have a big battery underneath you, and use 'close all' button on the big display. This closes all doors and the boot with a single touch. Naturally it has sensors to determine if an object, like a human is in the way. The syncronised closing of the doors is like a well-rehearsed orchestra, playing in harmony to reach the same goal. This is one of those moments where the car gives you a taste of something a bit special, a bit magical, something not available elsewhere.
The full realisation of a computer on wheels
If there was ever a better expression of technology on wheels, I haven't seen it. The Model x is literally built on a technology platform that looks like a skateboard, housing the large array of lithium-ion battery cells that power everything.
Every automotive manufacturer who'll be around in 10 years is working on developing technology to enable level 5 autonomy, that's where the car requires no intervention from humans to travel from A to B.
Right now, many of these systems are at level 3 or 4, where they assist the driver some of the time, but still require human intervention. To achieve this autonomy, the vehicle needs to understand its own dimensions and capabilities, while building a 360 view of the ever changing environment around it.
There's a lot of clumsy prototypes out there, with many manufacturers building their technology stack on lidar sensors, but Tesla took a dramatically different direction, one that achieves most of its smarts in software. The car is full of hardware sensors and cameras, but these have been elegantly worked into the body and unless you go looking, you wouldn't know they're there. The good news is that all the hardware necessary for a full level 5 driverless experience is already on-board new Tesla vehicles.
These include: A camera is mounted above the rear license plate, ultrasonic sensors located in the front and rear bumpers, a camera is mounted in each door pillar, 3x cameras are mounted to the windshield above the rear view mirror, a camera mounted to each front fender, a radar mounted behind the front bumper on the right side of the vehicle.
If you pony up for all the right hardware, this hardware, combined with great software, enable the following driver assists to make driving the Model X, unlike any other car on the road.
Lane Assist, Collision Avoidance Assist, Speed Assist, Auto High Beam, Traffic-Aware Cruise Control, Autosteer, Auto Lane Change and Autopark are all among the long list of technology assists on offer in this vehicle.
Touchscreen / Infotainment
There are two displays in the Model X, the large 17" touchscreen, conveniently angled a few degrees towards the driver, along with the digital instrument cluster you see through the steering wheel.
The large touchscreen handles a majority, probably too much of the vehicles operations. Vehicle configuration, climate controls, entertainment and mapping are controlled through the center control. Tesla's own apps can be run in full screen, or you can drag and drop apps to the top or bottom half of the display, making great use of the size of the display.
Day-to-day I found myself with the rear view camera and the music apps running, while trips to locations I was less familiar with, I changed to Music and Maps (driven by Google Maps and Tesla routing).
Given so much of the control of the vehicle is managed by the largest display, the digital instrument cluster felt a little anaemic in terms of features. Sure you can use the buttons on the steering wheel to access your phone and make calls, adjust the fan speed and get access to your trip data, but you can't pull up something basic like music controls. Given this display is right in front of the driver's eyes and the bigger screen forces you to look off to the left, its a good thing Tesla are working hard on removing the driver's requirement to focus on the road at all.
With a navigation route set, the instrument cluster does provide great, detailed images for lane guidance when entering or exiting freeways. This shows a great integration of the 2 displays running from a single, core Tesla OS that powers the experience. While that's absolutely helpful, I miss upcoming turn information on the instrument display available on other vehicles. I also don't understand why you can see what's playing, but the buttons on the wheel offer interaction with your music, other than the voice command which you shouldn't be forced to use just to change a station or playlist.
With a 3G sim card build into the car, the Model X can communicate with the Mobile app, enabling functionality not available with other, non-connected vehicles. With the mobile app, you can check the charge of your vehicle, you can lock and unlock the doors, you can control the climate control or even move the car with one of the most unique features, Summon. This allows you to move the car forward or reverse with nobody inside which at first is completely insane, but after using it, makes lots of sense.
The Summon feature enables you to move the car out from tight spaces, like if someone parked too close to you, or more commonly, if you have a tight garage. Once moved out of the garage or parking spot, passengers can get in the vehicle without squeezing into a tight space. If any of the passengers have health conditions that effects mobility, this is a massive win. While manually controlled, it does give us the first sense of driverless car arriving to pick you up and that's a future I can't wait to arrive.
When you own a Model X, you'll engage in a variety of driving tasks. You'll have a daily commute, trips to the shops, road trips on the weekend and family holidays. This means you need to consider and plan how you're going to achieve that.
Tesla has done a better job than any other auto maker in rolling out recharging infrastructure across Australia with a network of superchargers and destination chargers. Day-to-day you'll top up at home and for the big recharges, you'll head to a supercharger, assuming you live in range of one.
Tesla recently announced they're investing in building another 18 supercharger locations along the east coast, meaning this should be more commonly the case.
When you travel in a Tesla, the mapping will always advise you if you can reach your destination with the charge remaining. Where you can't, it'll let you know what the charge time looks like, usually 10-15 minutes in my experience. This means only if you ignore the warnings, would you ever find yourself out of energy. Much like watching the petrol gauge of a combustion vehicle, you'd really have to try to run out.
Officially the range of the Tesla is 542km, however in practice you're unlikely to ever achieve that number. The best case is almost never the case, you'll drive the car at all temperatures, with the climate control on, with extra weight on board, all of which count against the range.
In practice, I found the range to be around 90% correct. Given the speed at which the supercharger feeds kilometers into the car, typically the 10-15 minutes you stop to grab coffee and a toilet break is about as long as you need to reach most destinations. Given you'd make these stops anyway, the whole equation works, without having to start turning things off in the vehicle.
When you drive the Model X, you'll quickly work out that regenerative braking begins the second you lift off the accelerator. This regeneration feeds the kinetic energy of your vehicle's motion, back into the batter pack, which means you can achieve distances unthinkable without this technology. This grab for extra power slows the vehicle as you lift off the accelerator, this means you can, for the most part, drive without using the brake pedal.
Of course there's the occasional time where other drivers do random things and you have to press the brake, but it ultimately is a very different driving experience when you're able to leave your foot on one pedal. The standard mode is fairly aggressive and if you don't like that aggressive drag when you lift your foot, you can turn regenerative braking to low, but be aware this will effect your range.
Speed without the noise
When you stand on the accelerator, the Model X instantly puts the power down with complete traction and the launch is exciting, exhilarating and like a rollercoaster. The mental thing about it is that power is just there, all the time, ready to use whenever you want it. There's multiple power modes depending on your configuration, of course these selected from the touchscreen. Drive modes include Chill, Standard, Sport, Insane and Ludicrous.
Personally I didn't spend much time out of Ludicrous mode, only enough to tell you the Chill mode really does calm things down, offering a smoother and gentler ride, but personally I'm happy to regulate the aggressiveness of the acceleration with my right foot.
Every person who rides in the Model X has essentially the same reaction to the ludicrous acceleration, slight fear, exhilaration, followed by elation, usually expressed by a dumb smile on their face as they feel a 10 years old at a theme park again. It never gets boring, despite the car tipping the scales at around 2,500kg, it feels light, nimble and bloody fast, thanks to those brilliant electric motors between the wheels at the font and the back.
The Model X propels itself from 0-100km/hr in just 3.1 seconds, that's supercar fast. In fact, to perform the perfect launch, you need to tap the 'Max Battery Power' text on the driving screen, this will heat the battery to the optimal temperature for maximum acceleration.
Most of the time this is enough to press your head firmly into the headrest, but if you're after the best launch possible, you'll want to engage Launch Mode.
With the brake pedal still pressed, you press and release the accelerator, the driver display will then indicate you're in launch mode. You then have 8 seconds to once again press the accelerator, then the car readies itself for the launch, one final thing left to do, release the brake and hold on.
If you choose to do this (in a controlled environment) its the most complex thing you'll ever do in the Tesla. The most amazing thing about the car is that despite the car's ridiculous acceleration and speed, its amazingly simple to drive, thanks to the vehicle sensors and computers working together to help the driver remain in complete control. There's no burning rubber, that's all inefficient, instead, Tesla engineers design the system to deploy every bit of power available to the task of propelling the vehicle down the road with the best traction control system I've seen.
One of my fondest experiences during my time with the Model X was pulling up next to a yellow Lamborghini and the driver and passenger point at the car I was driving, clearly impressed. While we never got to compare notes at the end of the quarter mile (read freeway entrance) its amazing to know that the car I was pretty much as fast, while also having the capability to carry 5, 6 or 7 passengers, not 2.
The Model X can be purchased with smaller wheels, but our review unit had the top spec, 22" rims wrapped in Goodyear Eagle F1 Asymmetric 3 tyres which are 265/35R22 102W at the front and 285/35R22 106W at the rear. When you understand there is no spare tyre (presumable for weight reduction) then its important to understand how Tesla resolves this. The tyres are known as runflats, meaning that even if you miss the pressure sensor warnings, they will still be derivable even with a puncture. This is also important in terms of safety as run flat tyres don't suddenly loose pressure like traditional tyres, meaning you'll still have control of the vehicle.
You'd think having 22" tyres with this sophistication would mean replacing them would be hideously expensive. Expect to pay around $350-$400 per tyre, relative to the price of the car and reduced running costs, tyres are one of the few things you'll need to replace over the life of the vehicle. Of course you can get the Model X with smaller, 20" wheels, but the 22"s definitely provide a difference, tougher stance to the vehicle, hinting at the performance that lies within.
Active rear spoiler
Some variants of the Model X feature an active rear spoiler. Continuing the efforts for optimal aerodynamics, the Model X's active spoiler, changes position depending on the status and speed of vehicle. This isn't a new concept, just not something typically seen on an SUV, you're much more likely to find it on million dollar hypercars like the McLaren P1 or Bugatti Veyron.
When you accelerate past 72 km/h, the spoiler lowers to provide the most effective aerodynamics. If you're parked and lock the vehicle it also retracts, when Model X is powered off and locked, the spoiler retracts. The car also does smart things, like dropping the spoiler when reversing to provide maximum visibility behind Model X.
An SUV with purpose
The Model X is an SUV and while a higher driving position is one of the benefits, they key benefit over a sedan is its ability to transport more people and more luggage. In terms of moving people, the cabin offers a generous amount of space. The front row is incredibly comfortable, but impressively that doesn't change in the second row. The second row seats don't have the lumber control of the front, but they are bucket seats with plenty of room either side, remembering this is the 6-seat configuration with space between the seats. The rear seats also fit adults of average size, so transporting 6 people is no worries for the Model X.
If you don't have rear passengers, the 3rd row of seats fold down flat to enable you to store plenty of cargo. In the seven seat variant, the 2nd row also folds down. I tested with a baby stroller and a couple of suit cases and the Tesla boot easily accommodated. There's also another storage compartment under the rear section and this is where your 240v charger is stored. In reality, you won't fit much in here, maybe a picnic blanket and an umbrella, but it does need to be accounted for in the storage calculations. With the rear seats up, you'll fit a couple of backpacks or maybe the groceries. Remember this is an EV, so the rear of the Model X isn't the end of the storage story. The front trunk also provides some extra storage, large enough for a decent sized overnight bag, also great if you want to transport food and don't want the smell to emanate through the vehicle.
Our review vehicle didn't have a tow bar, but the Model X can tow 2250 kg of weight behind it. If internal storage isn't sufficient, then external storage is available with the tow kit, which is an optional extra.
As good as it is, this car isn't perfect
I was blown away by the Model X, even though I have reviewed the Model S and many cars since, there's just nothing like it on the road. While the car is incredibly well featured and designed, there are some build quality issues that need to be addressed.
For a vehicle at this price, I'd want it to be basically perfect. This vehicle is made on a production line, even if in increasing numbers, it falls into a place that's high-end, but not the multi-million dollar hand-made vehicles from Italy. When you order a car from Tesla, at least for now, there's no way to see it before you buy it, you place the pre-order and then some months later you pick it up and that's your car, regardless of how perfect or not the car.
I'd read about build quality issues in Tesla online, but never seen it in person before. Now I have. For the most part, the car is great, but there's a few instances like the miss-alignment of doors on the passenger side. While it may be less than 1mm difference, you'd expect it to be right and the machines that build it are supposed to provide a super-human level of accuracy, so what happened here?
No Android Auto / Apple CarPlay support
Tesla’s massive 17″ touchscreen continues to be powered by their own proprietary software and so far have resisted the calls to add support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The industry as a hole has largely put up the white flag and either added support or completed replaced their infotainment system with the mobile platforms. The difference with Tesla is their software is actually good, so unlikely many others, the default experience for a new owner is a good one.
Being a technology company, Tesla has software engineers that actively develop and improve the software in their vehicle, so should they enable Android Auto and Apple CarPlay? I believe the answer is yes, as giving owners an additional option is surely the most consumer-friendly thing to do. There are some fairly important differences between using Tesla or mobile OS.
At the end of the day, Tesla may be resistant to allowing other platform support on their vehicles, but unless they can match feature parity, its something they should open up to. The list of auto makers who know support Apple CarPlay (more than 200 models) and/or Android Auto (more than 400 models) is massive and growing all the time. There’s a lot of reasons to buy a Tesla over another brand, but if mobile support is a deal breaker for someone, it may be enough of a reason to look elsewhere.
Yes the integration needs to be secure and structurally separated from Tesla’s systems, but that work is already proven to be possible elsewhere. When brands like Mercedes-Benz, Mazerati, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Bentley, Audi, Aston Martin, Koenigsegg and many more have added the ability to BYO phone and have a great experience, it’s time for Tesla to reconsider their position.
PRICE & AVAILABILITY
How much and when can you get one ?
The Model X is available now and is on offer in a number of variants. If you order a Model X today, you could have it by August this year. First you'll need to choose your battery pack, 75, 90 or 100KW which impacts the range you can achieve with the car. You'll then select from single or dual electric motors. Finally you'll select your seat configuration, 5, 6 or 7 seats and even with that, there's another layer of options. If you select 6 seats, you then choose if you want space between the seats, or a center console that provides arm rests to the passengers in row 2.
Now for the price. Given the capabilities of the Model X, you'd expect it to be priced accordingly and it is. You can get into a Model X for as little as $170,000, but the top of the line model with all the options will set you back the best part of $300,000.
Now let's break that down. This car does things that no other car on the road does. The price is made up of the raw costs like massive battery, electric motors, up to 7 leather heated seats, falcon wing doors, the 17" touchscreen display, air suspension, 22" wheels and tyres, then there's the R&D that went into developing the vehicle and ongoing development like the autonomous driving upgrades as well as shipping, import duties, luxury car tax, on-road costs and of course Tesla has to make some profit.
While the Model X P100D is firmly in the luxury car segment of the market, the whole time I was in it I kept thinking what a shame that is. A car this amazing deserves to be driven by a lot of people and unfortunately right now, very few Australians will get to experience it. I feel like as an industry, or as a country, we should pool our resources and work out how to reduce the price of this vehicle, or vehicles like it so more people get to experience the performance, safety and technology on offer.
Consider an out of the box solution for a second, the WA Government just approved a lithium mine, one they're actually invested in. This mine extract lithium from one of the world's largest deposits. Given that raw material is destined for batteries, I suspect Mr Musk will be keen on getting some of it to his Gigafactory.
Federal and State Governments have be slow and often completely missing from investments in EV recharging infrastructure, so instead, perhaps we could trade our raw commodity at a discounted rate in exchange for a discount on vehicles. Extending this concept, Tesla Powerwall's that store energy from solar panels on your roof, could also benefit from the same idea.
Currently some State Governments offers a small discount on the luxury car tax for EVs, but that should be scrapped entirely to encourage adoption, not just for Tesla, but for all fully electric vehicles.
For more information head to the https://tesla.com
So after all that, the big question is, should you buy one ? To answer a question with a question, can you afford it? If you can, then the answer is simple, absolutely, what Tesla has created here is brilliant, its like nothing else on the road right now. While competition will come at them, Tesla are leading the industry, dragging them into the future and if nothing else the Model X represents what's possible with an EV.
The Model X has the performance, the range and certainly the technology smarts, so there's one remaining parameter that needs work and that's the price. For people who can't afford it, save, save hard and may someday you can work out how to buy this vehicle. Ultimately if you're in love with what the Model X can offer, it may tempt you to join the cue for Tesla's cheapest vehicle yet, the Model 3, you just have to be comfortable moving your expectation from an SUV to a mid-sized sedan.
I'm always amazed that companies ship anything, especially vehicles given their insane complexities. EV simplifies the drive train and allows engineers to focus on improving the driving experience. As we've seen so many times with the Model X, there's experiences possible with a battery and connected vehicle that just aren't on offer elsewhere. Finally I'd just remind you that Tesla vehicles continue to get better with time, thanks to over the air software upgrades. With each new release, they gain new capabilities and in terms of Autopilot, the required hardware for the car to drive itself without human intervention, is already embedded in the vehicle.
The Tesla Model X is a brilliant bit of kit, expensive, but absolutely brilliant.
- Some build quality issues