2016 Tesla Model X driven: the SUV of the future is here

remember, when I was young, being captivated by the DeLorean DMC-12. There were many reasons, its ability to travel through time undoubtedly being one. But above all, it was those doors.

Let’s face it: the effect that upward-opening car doors have on small children is akin to telling them they get to eat nothing but ice cream for the next five years. They get even fully-grown men excited.

So imagine my delight when I discovered that Tesla, the company that has already proven how exciting an electric car can really be by making its Model S ludicrously fast (no, really; it actually has a setting called “Ludicrous Mode”) was going to fit gullwing doors to its new SUV.

What doors, though. The Model X’s rear doors (Tesla calls them “Falcon Wing” – obviously gulls are passé these days) don’t open so much as unfurl, taking a section of roof with them as they glide upwards before pivoting outwards and over the tops of neighbouring cars.

Tesla Model X
The rear doors are impressive, but be careful in height-restricted car parks

The official line is that they’re there to make access to the rear easier in tight spaces than either a conventional or a sliding door. But it’s hard to believe there wasn’t at least one meeting at Tesla wherein someone making the case for the doors said: “Plus, they’re really cool, too.”

Doors aside, the Model X shares much in common with the Model S saloon. And why not? The S is already making some fairly large waves among executive saloons, so Tesla has simply taken a winning formula and re-worked it for SUV buyers. This market, it says, is two-and-a-half times larger in Europe alone than the market for the Model S – more than enough reason for it to get involved.

Tesla P90D Autopilot car reviewPlay!04:28

Inside, the Model X feels futuristic, with that vast touchscreen dominating the dash and a glorious panoramic windscreen stretching up into the roof à la Citroen C4 Picasso. There are some cheap-feeling plastics around, though, and the second-handMercedes switchgear feels a bit… well, second-hand.

Tesla Model X
Five seats are standard. This is the six-seat version, with a seven-seater option also available

You get five seats as standard, but you can upgrade to six or seven, both in three rows with a rear pair that folds flat. And because the Model X has no engine to take up the space, you also get a boot under the bonnet, as well as in the rear, making this easily the most spacious SUV in its class.

The Model X is big on the outside, too – 20cm longer than a BMW X5, as well as 5cm wider. It looks for all the world like a Model S that someone’s taken a balloon pump to. You might love it, but there’s an equal chance you won’t.

Cleverly, the batteries sit in the base of the car, dropping the centre of gravity far lower than any other SUV. That means the Tesla is less prone to rolling over than other cars of this type, and it feels far less top-heavy through corners.

It also means Tesla can get away with softer damping, which results in a smooth high-speed ride. Around town, though, the large wheels and slim tyres seem to pick out drain covers and ruts.

Like the Model S, the steering is a touch on the slow side, but it is at least consistent, and the grip is tremendous. There’s simply no shaking the Model X from its line – point it where you want and it’ll go, carving its way around a corner without fuss.

That’s all the more impressive given the power on offer here. The top model, which also comes with Ludicrous Mode, has an hilarious 525bhp. More salient, though, is the instantly-available 713lb ft of torque.

Squeeze the throttle, and you’re catapulted forward, the acceleration blurring your vision slightly as it thumps your brain against the back of your head. It’s here that the Model X feels at its most futuristic, with all that power accompanied by nothing but a faint whine, of the sort you’d expect a Star Trek turbolift to emit.

Tesla Model X
There’s a huge amount of space with the seats folded, plus another storage area under the bonnet

That lack of engine noise, combined with the soft ride, will make the Model X deeply tranquil on a long trip. Of course, on a motorway you can almost leave it to drive itself, too, thanks to Tesla’s Autopilot system. And let’s not forget that, like all Teslas, the Model X will get software updates that download automatically overnight, making it drive better and adding functionality while you sleep.

A maximum towing weight of 2,268kg isn’t up there with the true workhorses of the class, but it’ll be more than enough for a decent-sized caravan. Don’t forget, though, that you’ll have to find a way to charge your Model X when you get to the campsite – and that those fancy doors preclude the use of a roof rack.

There are more pressing lifestyle matters to consider, though. We still haven’t quite resolved the dilemma that presents itself with electric cars: thanks to their range and the length of time they take to charge, they work best with a driving mix of short hops and occasional medium-range journeys; for city dwellers, in other words.

Tesla Model X
Comfortable seats combined with electric propulsion mean that the Model X is tranquil on the move

But you also need a driveway, or at least a parking space with a guaranteed electrical socket near your home – and in most cities such things are still few and far between.

Then there are those doors. Lovely as they are, you need space above the car for them to unfurl fully; in a height-restricted car park, you might have a problem. That’s without mentioning their complexity, which is already proving to be an issue as early adopters in the US report problems with the doors’ reliability.

Tesla says the issue is software-based, and that UK buyers will benefit from upgraded software which will solve the problems. But it pays to remember that this is still a very young car company working through a few teething quality issues, of which this seems to be one.

For all that, though, the Model X is still an impressive thing. It feels like the SUV of the future, even if it’s a future that the rest of our infrastructure hasn’t quite caught up with yet. But if a Model X does work in your particular situation, it’s a compelling proposition – quick, quiet, practical and cheap to run, especially for an SUV. Plus, of course, you can pretend you’re Doc or Marty every time you open the rear doors.


Tesla Model X P90D Ludicrous

Tested: front- and rear-mounted electric motors powered by 90kWh lithium-ion battery, four-wheel drive

Price/on sale: TBC (est £112,000)/now

Power/torque: 525bhp/713lb ft

Top speed: 155mph

Acceleration: 0-62mph in 3.2sec

Range: 290 miles

CO2 emissions: 0g/km

VED band: A (£0)

Verdict: Tesla goes super-size, with an SUV that feels every bit as futuristic as the Model S saloon. There are some niggles, but its effortless pace, vast interior and low running costs will surely make it a hit

Telegraph rating: Four out of five stars

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