We are big fans of the Tesla Model S – it mixes style with performance and technology to bring a luxury electric car with few compromises. So surely a bigger version of the Model S, catered to families would be a no brainer?
To make sure, we put the electric Tesla Model X 75D through a week-long test covering a stack of everyday family tasks expected of an SUV.
For those of you who don't have your finger on the automotive pulse – Tesla is a company that burst on to the scene seemingly from nowhere, and in only a handful of years has managed to release a sports car, a luxury sedan, a luxury SUV and an entry-level affordable sedan for the masses.
The proposition and pitch is that any Tesla is an electric vehicle that doesn't fill you with range anxiety on every drive and isn't compromised in terms of features and technology.
I'll be the first to admit, the Model X isn't the prettiest SUV on the market. While it looks okay from front on, the rear view is a little, well, ghastly. Actually, a lot ghastly. I'm not the last word on style, but I'm yet to come across anybody (that doesn't own one, or work for the company) who thinks it looks good. It's certainly unapologetically different from the rest of the SUV market.
In terms of where the Model X 75D sits in the range, it's right at the very bottom. Pricing kicks off from $138,100 (plus luxury car tax and on-road costs) and that gets you the Model X 75D in five-seat form mated to an all-wheel drive drivetrain that uses two electric motors and a 75kWh battery pack, along with height-adjustable air suspension.
That purchase price also gets you 400kWh of free annual Tesla supercharger credit. In real terms, that's around 2200km of free driving each year. If you elect to pair your home power to solar, that power comes free, or there are some energy plans on the market that cost $1 per day for unlimited electric vehicle charging.
If there's one thing that makes the Model X stand out, it's the 'Falcon Wing' doors, which use an array of sensors to vary their opening aperture. They can open in tight spaces (they only need 30cm width between the door and the car) and fully open in larger spaces, plus they look ridiculously cool when your second row passengers make a rockstar exit on the high street.
While the starting price may seem reasonable, it doesn't take long to get carried away with options. There are only a few to choose from thankfully and they're not overly expensive in isolation.
- $8300: Six seat interior
- $8300: Six seat interior with centre console
- $4100: Seven seat interior
- $8300: Premium upgrades package. Includes: HEPA air filtration system, self-presenting front doors, custom audio system, heated seats for each passenger, heated steering wheel and heated wiper blades and nozzles
- $6900: Enhanced AutoPilot. Includes: An increase in the number of cameras, plus extra computing power and additional sensors, plus 360-degree camera (more on this later)
- $4100: Full self driving capability (Enhanced AutoPilot option also required). Includes: All features of Enhanced AutoPilot, plus an additional four cameras and the future ability for full self driving functionality (also more on this later)
- $1100: Tow package
Our test car had the seven seat interior, tow package, premium upgrades package, enhanced AutoPilot, black leather interior and pearl white paint, totalling $26,000, with an on-road price in Victoria of $188,212.
Before we get into how the Model X drives, it's worth briefly noting how significant the enhanced AutoPilot features are.
These options will give the driver an ability – in the future – for the vehicle to completely drive itself. The hardware here is activated but will need a software update over the air at some point in the future when legislation allows the vehicle to drive on its own.
This hardware makes it physically possible for the car to do this, which means that even if the car is 10 years old when Australia joins the 21st century, it'll still function as a fully autonomous vehicle. That's exciting stuff and nobody else can boast that at the moment.
Step inside the cabin (the doors self present if you've ticked the option box) and it's a simple and clean affair. The leather-clad dashboard sweeps over to a huge 17-inch colour touchscreen that is arguably the centrepiece of this interior.
The infotainment screen manages everything from satellite navigation through to music streaming and climate controls. It's a very functional screen that doesn't take long to get used to, but it can be a bit tricky to use on the move, requiring quite precise button presses.
It's backed by a decent voice recognition system that requires a single press to input a range of audio comments; from calling contacts to entering satellite navigation addresses.
Anybody who listens to the CarAdvice radio show each Monday night will be horrified to hear that Tesla has removed the AM band from the infotainment system.
Thankfully, you'll still be able to listen to the show by using one of the built-in music streaming services. Spotify and TuneIn Radio both allow streaming of audio over GSM. The quality of this streaming has improved immensely over previous versions of Tesla's firmware.
In addition to streaming over the internet, users can also stream music over Bluetooth or USB. Two USB ports for the first row are backed by an additional two USB ports in the second row with all four functioning as USB device chargers.
One of the best things about the in-built Google Maps is the currency of data. Because streets and street data are updated all the time by Google, there's never a need to upgrade map data. It's also extremely accurate when it comes to traffic delays and arrival timing.
The screen in front of the driver that displays the speedometer and 'tachometer' can be modified to present a range of information, but the key functions relate to AutoPilot, which is activated using the cruise control stalk.
But here is the problem. While we had the car on loan, all the data collected by 'Hardware 1' Tesla vehicles is obsolete. Hardware 1 was Tesla's first iteration of cameras and sensors used for AutoPilot, autonomous emergency braking and radar cruise control.
Now that the camera and sensor count has increased, all of that 'self learning' data is wiped and new data needs to be collected. With other car brands, they test this technology first, implement their learnings and release the vehicle to market. Tesla, instead, uses its customers effectively as test pilots until it has enough data to enable those features.
That means our test car didn't have features like autonomous emergency braking, automatic high beam lights, automatic windscreen wipers, side collision warning, lane departure warning, high-speed automatic steering, automatic lane change, semi-autonomous parking and Tesla's Summon self-parking feature.
You read that right – this car, with an on-road price tag of over $180,000 doesn't have automatic windscreen wipers. That's technology standard on a $20,000 Mazda 2 – even the entry-level $14,990 Mazda 2 has autonomous emergency braking as standard.
We don't really care what excuses Tesla has for this technology being non-existent at the moment, it's not good enough. It's not good enough for a $50,000 car, let alone one worth almost $200,000. Even the top-specification Model X P100D worth over $300,000 doesn't have this technology. You're kidding, right?
That lack of technology was teamed with a Model X software revision in July to fix a 'minor' issue from a third party provider that prevented the passenger airbag from deploying.
Yes, Tesla is a company that has made huge advancements in recent years and is arguably the leader in automotive technology, but it's things like this that simply wouldn't get by at Audi, BMW or Mercedes-Benz, not by a long shot.
While we're on the topic of things Tesla needs to do better, let's look at the build quality. The panel gaps on our test car were astonishing. One of them was big enough for my pinkie finger, while another wouldn't be acceptable on a five-year old city car, let alone a $180,000 plus luxury SUV.
It's certainly a thing Tesla is working on and we witnessed this when we drove the Model 3 in California recently, but it's certainly not good enough at the moment.
Negatives aside, the interior is a really great place to be. There's plenty of leg- and headroom in the first row, which is helped by the awesome windscreen that sweeps all the way over the first row passenger's heads, leaving this open and airy feeling.
Second row passengers will love how easy it is to climb in and out of the car. Even with the doors in their narrowest setting, it's easy to climb in and out of the second row. If there's enough room for the doors to fully open, you can easily stand in the second row to climb in and out, something you can't do in any other SUV.
The second row of seats slides electrically on a single pillar that's surrounded by carpet. It's quite cool to look at and is totally different to any other car in this segment.
To test out the Model X's load carrying ability we put it through a number of tests. First up was loading the car with seven adults, two in the first row, three in the second and two in the third.
Getting in and out of the third row is super easy. One touch of the seat back pushes the second row forward and tilts the seat back to make entry easy. Again, you could easily stand in the second row to climb in and out, making entry and egress easy, even for taller adults.
Once nestled in the third row, it was slightly cramped but there was enough room to sit comfortably with enough air flow to keep third row passengers cool.
The standard air suspension made the ride comfortable enough for all three rows, even with a few speed humps thrown into the mix. The intelligent suspension varies its height depending on the passenger load to cater for comfort.
When you're not carrying passengers in the third row, a single press of the seat back drops the third row into the floor creating a flat boot cavity that stores 2495 litres.
There's also a storage area at the front that Tesla refers to as the 'frunk'. Tesla only offered the total capacity of the cargo area in five-seat configuration.
Shortly after our loan, Tesla increased the Model X 75D's performance capacity with an over-the-air update. It'll now move from 0-100km/h in just 5.2 seconds, making it a pretty quick machine.
Like all electric vehicles, torque is delivered instantly with a stab of the throttle. From a standing start it propels with a great deal of pace and while it tapers off as it reaches legal road speeds, it's still quite an intoxicating experience.
The second test we put the car through was a towing test. Our car was optioned with the $1100 towing package, allowing it to tow up to 2250kg with a braked trailer.
We stuck Mandy Turner's custom-built trailer on the back, which weighs in at around 600kg. A towing mode on the infotainment screen is selected to adjust the air suspension to cater for the extra load out back.
We were surprised with how effortlessly the Model X towed with a load. Granted Mandy's trailer is a lightweight in comparison to the Model X's towing capacity, but it was so effortless, it felt like there wasn't actually a trailer on the back.
The only thing we did notice was the amount of chatter through the tow hook. It must be connected to the body through a rigid link without insulation. Every time the trailer hit a bump and the tow ball moved around the coupling, it could be heard through the cabin.
After dropping the trailer off, we set the navigation for some country and gravel roads to see how it would cope with the type of driving some Aussie families still do.
The air suspension coped well with the rutted country roads we threw at it. It soaked up bumps nicely and erred on the side of sporty as opposed to comfort when the bumps became undulations.
Its suspension system needs to cope with a number of factors – the most obvious being the weight. Weighing in at just under 2500kg, there's a lot going on beneath the skin to cater for a smooth ride, but it does well over a variety of road conditions.
The gravel road we chose to test its higher speed ride was rutted and poor quality, which we were certain would upset the car. The ride was excellent and while we had a few thuds through the cabin, it wasn't dissimilar to the ride we experienced in the Mercedes-Benz E-Class All Terrain, which we drove across the same roads only a week earlier.
Despite loose gravel underfoot, sudden throttle inputs were dispatched without a fuss. The traction control does a great job of dealing with sudden torque demands, even on sketchy surfaces.
In and around the city, the Model X's light steering makes it easy to park and manoeuvre, while the rear-view camera provides clarity to spot vehicles and pedestrians around the car. Front and rear parking sensors also offer centimetre accuracy for close-contact parking.
Tesla claims an NEDC range of 417km for the Model X, which covers a variety of highway and city driving conditions. While we found the range accurate around the city, throw in some highway and country driving and that number disappears fairly quickly.
We travelled around 300km in a day during testing when leaving with full charge only to find that range well under 100km when we finished our trip. Granted, that included a lot of highway driving, but I'm certain we wouldn't have been able to travel 417km with a single charge.
So after spending a week with the Tesla Model X 75D, it does a huge amount well, but its positives are outweighed by a long list of negatives.
We are absolutely 100 per cent clear on why the car is missing most of the technology it is, but that doesn't excuse it. The same goes for build quality – Tesla isn't a company mature enough at this stage to have the expertise to mass manufacture cars to the same quality levels as some German manufacturers.
That type of thing is absolutely not good enough when spending this type of coin. It's not chump change and buyers should expect more from the company.
I also need to be clear on the fact that I'm not a Tesla hater. I personally love what the company is doing, but it's misses on detail items like these that will see it being overtaken by mainstream automotive brands.
Lift your game, Tesla. You're better than this.