If you’re a purist, someone who loves the sound of fuel noisily transmogrifying into thrilling power and crappy carbon dioxide, then the very existence of the all-electric Tesla Model X is a giant, oddly shaped lump of bad news on wheels.
Not just because it’s another cautious step towards a world in which we no longer burn fossil fuels in our cars, but because it is, surprisingly, better to drive, in many ways, than anything 130 years of internal-combustion-engine technology has ever come up with.
If you’re a futurist, or just a devotee of Geek God Elon Musk (who created Tesla, SpaceX and PayPal, and inspired Tony Stark/Iron Man), the Model X is a solid, loveable and useable piece of tomorrow that you can buy today. Which is why, for some people, it’s worth the $200,000+ asking price.
Perhaps the most shocking lesson that an electric vehicle like this delivers is just how quiet our driving future will be. The fact that EVs make hardly any sound at all (just a distant whine, like a child complaining about something two rooms away) is enough to make an old-fashioned purist howl, but what will make them smile despite themselves is the truly electric performance of this offering.
The P100D version of the Model X can deliver all of its staggering 1074Nm of torque from effectively zero revs, and has only one gear rather than many. What this means is that from the moment you hit the throttle, it leaps off the line like some kind of sci-fi spaceship achieving warp speed, and it continues to accelerate without hesitation.
This very large and slightly lumpen SUV can fly from zero to 100km/h in a slightly disturbing 3.1 seconds, which would be fast for a sports car, let alone something this spacious, which can be ordered with a choice of five, six or seven seats.
This very large and slightly lumpen SUV can fly from zero to 100km/h in a slightly disturbing 3.1 seconds.
The P100D, which does sound more like the name of a photocopier than a car, is the super-fast version of the Model X, which means it comes with a ‘Ludicrous’ mode and, obviously, a sense of humour.
In some countries, you can already buy a Tesla fitted with ‘Autopilot’ technology, an autonomous-driving system that uses a combination of eight cameras to drive your car for you, including tricky operations like changing lanes, and entering and exiting freeways.
The company also offers a system called ‘Summon’, which enables the car to park itself and then return to you, without you in it. Regulations on autopilot’s use differ widely from country to country, of course, and in Australia it is still not legal to use the system.
Select the Ludicrous Plus option and an on-screen message flashes up saying: “Are you sure you want to push the limits?” with two options: “No, I want my mommy!” or “Yes, bring it on!” Bring it on, which inevitably you will, and the result is the kind of thrust that realigns the vertebrae in the driver’s neck, and the lunch in the stomachs of any passengers.
And it’s not just fast fun in a straight line, either, because the Model X’s low centre of gravity (no big engine under the bonnet, and all the batteries hidden under the floor) means it can corner remarkably well for something this size. Even the steering is surprisingly sharp and involving, creating a vehicle that goes, and handles, like nothing else of similar dimensions.
The force of futurism is strong in the interior as well, with a beautifully lush, hugely clever and coffee-table-sized touchscreen display that dwarfs anything any other car company has produced. Children tend to stare at this screen in open-jawed awe, before declaring Tesla “the coolest thing ever”.
Bioweapon Defence Mode
Continuing its love of sci-fi-sounding names, Tesla also offers a slightly overkill air-filtration system with a bioweapon defence mode that creates positive pressure inside the car to produce a highly sterile internal flow of oxygen.
Tesla has compared the resulting air quality in its cars to what you’d find in a hospital room, but also claims it is so advanced it can protect passengers from biological weapons. “We’re trying to be a leader in apocalyptic defence scenarios,” says founder Elon Musk.
The cabin is also hugely roomy and comfortable, and rear passengers get to experience the strange sensation of being stared at like arriving celebrities or aliens every time they exit through the vast and unique Falcon Wing doors (I can’t believe they resisted the urge to call them Millennium Falcon doors).
Push a button and these wondrous devices slide up and out, making it look like you’ve bought not just a forward-thinking EV but the world’s first hover car. The concern with buying any electric vehicle in Australia, of course, is that you might suffer from what’s called “range anxiety”, or the fear of being stranded with no juice in your battery in a country with very few charging stations.
Your giant touch screen will navigate you to the nearest one if needed, of course, and Tesla has also started installing free rechargers at select restaurants around Sydney. Most vitally, though, the Model X is offered with a claimed range of 542km, which is more than enough for a week, or two, of commuting. Driving from Melbourne to Darwin is something that petrol purists will be able to claim as their exclusive domain for a while yet, however.
In Australia, the Model X starts at $201,100, but the addition of a few options to our very fast, all-wheel-drive P100D test vehicle quickly sees that price climb to $305,809. Yes, you could almost have a super car for that money, but with its wild and crazy doors and increasingly admired badge, the Tesla will get you just as much attention, and you can take your whole family along for the ride.