2017 Tesla Model X review: First drive

The world's fastest and arguably coolest SUV has finally arrived in Australia. We take a closer look.

You know that feeling you get, when the scissor doors of your Lamborghini Aventador are opened on the side of the road, and every passing driver has a quick glance? No...? Okay, neither do I, but I'm pretty sure it’s the exact same feeling we encountered this week in a Tesla Model X.

Humour me for a few minutes, and let's just ignore the fact that this is a pure electric SUV. Really, at this point in time, its drivetrain is merely a bonus. The fact of the matter is, the Tesla Model X is just… cool (in a geeky kind of way). But it doesn’t come cheap, with a starting price of over $167,643 on road for the now base model 75D.

In reality, this car goes up against the like of the full size Range Rover and Mercedes-Benz GLS. It may not be as big in terms of boot space or actual exterior dimensions, but interior space - at least in our six-seater configurator test car - is pretty impressive and would make an ideal choice for those looking to make use of the six seats regularly.

Ok, so, let's get to the Model X's trump card: the doors. Yes, they're not exactly what you think would be practical for an SUV and, before you chime in with the obvious questions, let me answer them for you. Firstly, the doors can open in multiple ways: it can go further out and slightly up, or just straight up and a little out. This allows you to get out of the car in a tight car park relatively easily.

Each door has more sensors than most cars feature across their entire exterior. It can detect a low roof or other objects nearby and – though we didn’t have the opportunity to position it for a thorough test – the system seemed undeterred by low roofs in the shopping centre car parks.

Tesla says the doors need just 30.5cm of horizontal clearance to open. Think about that for a second. Apart from a conventional minivan with sliding doors, the Model X’s ‘falcon wing’ doors are pretty darn practical and, well, rather cool.

My five-year-old best referred to it as a spaceship door, and they even make that spaceship-door opening sound you hear in sci-fi movies. I'm not sure if that’s as designed, but all it needs is a small smoke machine and the full effect will be there.

Another interesting feature of the doors is that they can remember a safe area if you visit it frequently (your garage, parents' home, etc) and once it has opened cautiously once, it will remember for next time that it can open faster in that particular location. It will always be monitoring, though, in case the environment has changed since it last visited. (Watch them in action, here.)

From a more technical perspective, Tesla has made use of two coiled springs per door that operate in torsion mode, instead of in compression. If you look carefully, the magnesium spine that runs down the centre of the Model X’s roof is actually the housing for the springs. The springs themselves provide most of the lifting force, with actuators mainly used to get the process started.

Apart from looking extremely epic when fully opened, the Model X’s rear doors allow far more convenient entry to the third row than any other six- or seven-seater car we’ve encountered. The second-row seats simply move forward with a press of a button on the seat itself, and not having to contend with a roof means you can basically walk into the third row, rather than having to fold yourself in half.

All doors open by pressing the handle in. The driver door can be shut by pressing the brake pedal when inside the car (though our test car seemed to have some issues doing so repeatedly). Overall, there’s an awful lot to love about the doors, and if you tick the convenience pack option, all doors can be remotely opened and closed. There’s even an option on the gigantic 17-inch screen that lets you close all doors with the press of a button.

After we had goggled at the doors for some time, we installed our two child seats, one in the second and one in the third row (both had ISOFIX anchor points) and got underway for our quick test drive.

Our test car was a 90D, which means it has a 489km range on a single charge and can go from 0-100km/h in five seconds flat. Being electric, torque is immediate and the feeling of acceleration is rather enjoyable. If you’ve never been in an electric car before, prepare to feel a little shocked at first. It’s fast.

It’s not the crazy 3.2 seconds to 100km/h of the P100d (which costs around $271,658) but for a family SUV, it’s still crazy fast. To put the numbers in perspective, the fastest of the lot, the Porsche Cayenne Turbo S ($284,300 plus on roads) does the dash in 4.1 seconds. Similar sized vehicles like the Mercedes-AMG GLS 63 ($217,900 plus on roads) does the run in 4.6 seconds.

But let's get something straight here: this isn’t a sports car. The AMGs, Porsches and BMW M SUVs will feel far more sporty and dynamic to drive. The Tesla Model X is not about dynamics. That’s not to say it doesn’t drive well, because it does. With the air suspension option ticked (mandatory for six-seater cars) the ride height can be adjusted significantly. And, when at its lowest position on the 22-inch ($8,000 option) wheels, not only does it look insanely mean, it still rides relatively well.

We didn’t get much of an opportunity to push it hard into any corners, but in the few that we did try, the Model X behaved as we expected. It absolutely will not disappoint in its regular duties of being a practical SUV. If you intend to do things with it that it’s not meant to do, like go flatout around a twisty bit of road, you will probably find its limitations rather quickly, but we will wait to actually do that first before confirming.

At the end of the day, this is a big car. It has a kerb weight of around 2390kg, and that’s a hell of a lot. A lot of that is obviously the batteries that sit in the floor of the car, but, to give credit where it's due, the interior fit and finish is rather special and no doubt a contributor to its heft.

The new-generation seats are very nice to touch and sit in, and although this particular car had the black interior, the white seats would be our pick as they are very stain resistant and offer a much brighter interior than otherwise possible.

The six-seater configuration is undoubtedly the best option, unless you absolutely need seven seats. With the two-two-two seating, it’s easy to walk from the second to the third row (no transmission tunnel, either, as there is no transmission) and taller passengers sitting in the very back can use the space between the two middle seats for extra leg room.

The infotainment system is identical to the one in the Model S. It’s fast, easy to use and undoubtedly the most advanced in the business.

Our test car – like all Australian-delivered Model Xs – was equipped with Tesla’s Hardware Two system, which increases the processing capacity of the car by 40 times. This, in combination with more cameras, radar sensors and no longer a reliance on lidar. The idea will be that this new generation hardware will support Tesla’s autonomous driving future for years to come.

The cost is about $12,000 for the software, which enables the already-equipped hardware to allow for Enhanced Autopilot and also – eventually – full autonomous driving. This will all depend on regulatory approval. Our test car didn’t even have basic adaptive cruise control enabled, as the Enhanced Autopilot software comes in one big package and should be here before most customer delivered vehicles – including mine – arrives.

Overall, this short exposure to the Tesla Model X was mostly very positive. It’s a truly unique car and, in the world of SUVs, if you want to stand out, there’s never been a more obvious choice.

It’s hard to know how - after the initial fascination has ran its course - the Falcon Wing doors will go with a vehicle that you must live with day-in and day-out, but we hope to find that out along with plenty of other things, when our very own Model X arrives in April.

Even so, expect a more comprehensive review of the Tesla Model X range in the coming weeks with a full rating.

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