Tesla Model X Review : First Impressions

Our first look at the new Tesla Model X SUV

The Tesla Model X has launched at last, and while there is much for fans to be excited about, it hasn't been all smooth sailing for the new electric SUV.

Revealed first as a concept in 2012, the final production car was initially due to go on sale in 2013. Development delays pushed that launch out first to 2014, and then again to 2015. Third time's the charm, it seems with the Model X making its US market debut last week.

CarAdvice was on the ground in California to see Tesla founder Elon Musk unveil the Model X and to be among the first to see the new electric SUV in the metal.

While the Tesla Model S is, by general consensus, a handsome hatchback disguised as a sedan, the Model X is a little more polarising. Impressions from the earlier concept were not flattering, with the Model S’ design aesthetic not coping well with the X’s extra height.

In the flesh, the production version of the Model X is a little more appealing, but we’re definitely not rushing to affix adjectives, like 'beautiful' or 'handsome', to it.

Due to circumstances beyond our control, we weren’t given any time behind the wheel of the Model X, although we were given a brief ride in the car around the back lot of Tesla’s California headquarters.

Despite the fact that our driver didn’t floor the accelerator fully, the X felt impressively quick for a vehicle that weighs 2468 kilograms.

At launch, two models are offered: the Model X 90D and P90D. The 90D has a 193kW motor for the front wheels, and another 193kW unit for the rear axle. The P90D has an unchanged front motor, while at the rear there’s a more powerful 375kW engine.

According to Tesla, the 90D can cover the 0-60mph (0-97km/h) sprint in 4.8 seconds and hit a top speed of 250km/h.

The P90D reduces that time to 3.8 seconds, but P90D buyers who feel they have the need for more speed can pony up an extra US$10,000 for the ability to access Ludicrous Mode, which can decimate the 0-60mph dash in 3.2 seconds.

In the US, the Model X 90D has an estimated range of 414 kilometres, while the P90D is capable of 404km on a full charge. By way of comparison, the Model S P90D is quoted with a range of around 431km.

The fully optioned Signature Edition models that will trundle down the production first ride on 22-inch alloy wheels with 265/35 tyres up front and 285/35 rubber at the rear. On Elon Musk’s version, which we spent some time with, the alloy wheels have a matte black finish.

As a piece of theatre, the Model X’s 'Falcon Wing' doors are impressive. With through-the-metal ultrasonic sensors the car is able to detect the distance to obstacles, such as ceilings, other vehicles and walls. The opening and closing mechanism is always on the look out for objects and will actively avoid hitting them.

In concert with its two articulation points, the Falcon Wing doors are able to adjust their opening arc as surroundings dictate. On stage, Elon Musk, Tesla’s CEO, demonstrated the doors' ability to operate even when hemmed in by a people mover and an SUV. It’s claimed that a minimum gap of 30 centimetres to the side is required for the doors to open. No figure has been placed on minimum vertical clearance.

Tesla says that the doors were not designed entirely for art, but to allow easy ingress and egress, especially to the third row. They also allow parents to attend to kids in baby or child seats without needing to stoop unnecessarily.

An electric slide and tilt function for the second row, operated by buttons on the seats’ sides, help to provide a little bit more space when clambering in and out.

There are numerous ways to open and close the door, including via the touchscreen, buttons on the door’s exterior and underside, and on the car’s B-pillar.

As with almost all third-row seats, the Model X's rear space is best suited to children. With compromised headroom, thanks to the car’s sloping tailgate, and tight leg space, adults will want to keep their occupation of the rear pew to a minimum.

In our experience, access to the second row is improved by the Falcon Wing doors, with event attendees up to around 1.8m tall barely needing to bend over on entry or exit. The bucket seats in the first and second row look great, and make a good initial impression, but the piano black seat backs already had a few dings and scratches from a night of, admittedly, unusually high use.

At the launch, Musk touted the ability to store small bags underneath the freestanding second row seats. While this is certainly a plus, these seats are mounted on a single pole each and can only be moved and tipped forward, but not folded down, limiting load lugging ability.

Although it’s an imperfect solution, the six-seat version of the Model X does offer a little bit of cargo space as the middle seat in the second row is deleted.

The third row can be folded down flat to maximise boot space. With the third row setup for passengers, the rear trunk is deep enough to fit duffel and shopping bags, as well as small suitcases. A false floor also allows some items to be hidden away out of sight. Alternatively, the false floor can be removed completely to increase storage height.

As the car’s front electric motor is significantly smaller than its internal combustion counterparts, there’s also a front trunk (or 'frunk') that can hold some more gear.

The design of the dashboard doesn’t stray far from that of the Model S. As before there’s a noticeable lack of buttons on the dash, as a large 17-inch touchscreen controls every imaginable function, from door operation to climate control and sat nav.

With the standard panoramic windscreen, the Model X has a massive sweep of glass that stretches from the base of the A-pillar up to around the rear of front seats. The portion above the driver and front passenger is tinted, but there’s no slide-out screen that enables light from above to be fully blocked out.

All the vehicles that we saw were fitted with “ultra white” leather, which looked and felt wonderful, but will no doubt be hard to keep clean if the stated target market of families with kids turns out to be the car’s main buyers. Tan and black leather options are also available, and might be the smarter option.

So far, only a smattering of Tesla Model X cars have been delivered to investors and fans. It will be interesting to see how well the company ramps up manufacturing, given the vehicle’s difficult gestation and Elon Musk’s reported statement: “I'm not sure anyone should have made this car … there are so many more features and difficult-to-build parts on it than is necessary for us to sell the cars”.

In the US, the first models that will be delivered to customers will be the limited edition Model X P90D Signature Edition, which, according to a leak, is priced at US$132,000 ($188,000). For comparison’s sake, a Model S P90D with all the options except Ludicrous Mode retails for US$123,500 ($176,000) stateside.

Reports indicate that once the order backlog has been somewhat cleared, the company will introduce lower priced variants that will feature a premium of around US$5000 ($7000) over equivalent Model S sedans.

As we were afforded little time with the car, we’ve decided not to allocate a score. Suffice to say, if you can live with its styling, it should pique the interest of anyone who wants to carry seven people or large loads in an electric vehicle.

Regardless of what you think of Tesla, you could never accuse the company of resting on its laurels, and until Audi’s Q6 arrives in 2018, it will have the high-riding electric vehicle market all to itself.

Either way, be prepared for a wait. American buyers who place their orders now for the Model X, won’t receive their cars until the latter half of 2016, at the earliest. For Australian buyers, a second-half 2016 launch is likewise expected.