Tesla is an interesting company on an undeniably interesting path. It has a handle on the tech required to drag the motor car into the next phase of its development, but it doesn’t have 100 years of manufacturing to lean on when it comes to executing said motor cars.
Also, despite the smothering of the fan boys and girls, Tesla hasn’t quite worked out how to make sustainable money from manufacturing motor vehicles yet either. Which, makes the 2017 Tesla Model X – the company’s first SUV platform – all the more interesting.
Straight up, this Tesla Model X P100D probably isn’t the one to buy. Why? It’s not cheap. In fact, it’s not even remotely affordable in the overall scheme of things – with pricing starting from $275,598 before on-road costs.
Sure, ‘Ludicrous’ mode is a riot – the first few times. After that, you’re going to be questioning whether the capability of the P100d is really necessary in a family SUV that's directed more at driving the kids around town than winning (and dominating) drag races.
Read our full price and specification story, but in short, pricing starts from the aforementioned $275,598 before the usual on-road costs and standard equipment highlights include; free supercharger network usage, real time mapping, electric AWD, side collision avoidance, highway-speed autonomous braking, blind-spot monitoring, LED headlights, electric tailgate, keyless entry, those Falcon Wing rear doors, panoramic windscreen and smart air suspension.
The optional six-seat cabin adds $8300 to the cost, while the Deep Blue metallic paint on our tester adds $1400, and the 22-inch Onyx Black Wheels are an eye-watering $7600 addition to the equation. That all jacks the starting price up to $292,898 before the usual raft of on-road costs.
In theory then, you get plenty of standard kit and capability, but at this end of the pricing spectrum, perception is a large part of the buying equation. No one ‘needs’ to buy a $300k vehicle of any kind, SUV or otherwise. That doesn’t stop people buying them in large numbers though. Why? Badge credibility, status, build quality and that critical word – perception.
The whole ‘early adopter’ theory is something that interests me. Lining up to be the first to get a new phone you can walk into the store and buy on the spot a week later. Leaving a deposit on a car you haven’t even seen let alone driven. Bragging about how your smart watch is more up-to-date than your mate’s. Weird. It’s one thing to burn $1200 on a smartphone that ends up being a glitchy lemon, but dropping hundreds of thousands of dollars into something that doesn’t quite meet your expectations is a different matter entirely.
It’s fair to assume most Tesla buyers currently still fit into the early adopter category, buyers who want to get ahead of the curve, and drive the future before everyone else. And if that’s the main game, and they need a family-friendly SUV, then the Model X is the start and finish. No one else is offering anything to match the Tesla’s futurist platform.
Perceptions, early adopter or otherwise aside, let's get into the nitty gritty of the P100d. How does it stack up as a, well, an SUV?
Visibility from the driver’s seat is similar to any other SUV in the segment, and the driving position is excellent. The way you can customise the vehicle’s setup is also the way of the future, with aspects like saving your driving profile. Very clever.
It’s also clever how, when the front driver’s door opens, the audio system is already active and the car is effectively active too, in that, it’s ready for you to drive off with no starting routine. You simply put your foot on the brake, the door closes on its own, select a gear with the steering wheel-mounted stalk and you’re ready to go.
The Mercedes-Benz-sourced gear selector is easy to use and fast to engage, but until you get used to it, you’ll go looking for the indicators on that side. The selector is excellent once you get used to it though, and as we’ve noted with Mercs, great around town and for quick for three-point turns for example.
One issue for the Model X inside the cabin is the fact the trim feels cheap. The dash trim and the finer details don’t look, or feel, plush nor expensive and there’s a generally 'basic' feel to the execution of the cabin design. The front electric doors work well enough, although it’s a little disconcerting letting them pop open and do what they like with a wall in the way for example. We never had any issues with them hitting anything, though.
The rear doors are a little harder to work out. They open at random heights sometimes for no reason, but once you get the hang of the speed and the way they open, it’s easy enough to account for.
The steering wheel controls feel pretty basic and the driver’s instrument display isn’t a great feature of the infotainment system either. There is a clever lightning charger for iPhone, which also acts as a mount and there’s plenty of storage. The door pockets are large – there are proper bottle holders – as well as a deep bucket ahead of the armrest with two cupholders, and a shelf for larger phones above that bucket.
The audio system and the Bluetooth connection are both excellent and the system itself is both simple to use and easy to understand. Spotify worked seamlessly for us on test, but the mapping system proved to be a little glitchy at times. It would go blank, drop out, and then take a minute or two to get back in sync. Not a major deal and perhaps a software update away from being ironed out, but still something worth mentioning in a circa $300,000 car.
Our test example is set up with the six-seat option, meaning you can use it to truck the family around – with a caveat. If you have fully grown adults in the second row, you’ll find the third row doesn’t accommodate anyone other than small children. Further, if you move the second row forward, there isn’t quite enough headroom in the third row for tall adults.
The Falcon Wing doors make getting in and out of the second row easy but the doors are slow to open. It wasn’t raining during our week with the Model X, but it would be a little painful if you were trying to get the kids in during a downpour. Second row headroom is good though, so it’s definitely comfortable for adults.
We loved the way the third row seats fold flat to liberate a huge luggage space, and you can also fit longer items (like a bicycle for example) down into the cabin through the gap in between the two second row seats. With the third row folded flat, there’s more than enough for a family SUV, but with all seats in use, there’s precious little luggage space.
While we understand the choice for what is a heavily photographed press car, the white trim in our test example is completely useless for families, in that it will get way too dirty with kids clambering in and out. Keep in mind too, on the flip side of the storage argument, that there is more storage in the front boot, which is useful and you’ll use it when you’re loaded up with people and gear.
There’s also a handy hidden storage bin under the rear floor as well, which is ideal for keeping valuables out of sight. The suede headlining feels expensive though, somewhat at odds with the rest of the interior trim selection.
Accessing the third row is made significantly easier thanks to the two seats in the second row. It means you can simply climb into the third row by effectively walking through. There’s enough flexibility to mount a case for the Model X as a clever six-seater so long as the four occupants of the back two rows aren’t all around, or over, six-feet tall.
When the battery in our key fob died, a quick call to Tesla head office in Melbourne fixed the problem, the vehicle opened and started for me remotely via the Tesla app. Yes, I learnt my lesson and installed the app on my phone shortly after, and then discovered a wealth of interesting info on it. You can beep the horn, or flash the high beams if you've lost your Model X in a car park, you can unlock and start the vehicle, you can preset the cabin temp before you get in, monitor battery charge, locate its position via the mapping software, and enable valet mode.
The driving position itself is solid and one benefit of the huge expanse of glass across the windscreen is the visibility it affords. A negative though is the utterly stupid sun visor arrangement, which tucks back into the roof pillar and barely shields any sun when employed. It seems like an afterthought and doesn't really make any sense at all. In a country like Australia, where the sun is as harsh as it is, expect to get roasted through the screen in summer.
Acceleration is, as expected, that of the rollercoaster variety. The Model X is nothing less than savage off the mark in ‘Ludicrous’ mode, rocketing out of the hole and thundering on beyond 100km/h with consummate ease. It’s so fast, it scares passengers who don’t quite know what is going on, as we’ve shown on video numerous times before. The acceleration and lack of lag offered up by electric motors is, quite frankly, staggering.
Once you’re moving and the lunacy of Ludicrous mode has worn off, the steering is good and the general ride decent, if erring on the side of firm. It’s by no means uncomfortable, though. The brakes require some serious pressure to pull the Model X up from speed, more than we’d like and it's a little unnerving until you get used to it. It could be something to do with the regenerative aspect of the system, but the brakes require some heft through the pedal.
There’s enormous grip even under full tilt launches and there are plenty of customisation options though the menu system to tailor the drive experience. The aforementioned driver profiles come into play here and make a lot of sense in a modern, technically advanced vehicle. We found the Model X can carve through corners quite easily if you want to, but that isn’t what this car is directed at.
Around town, especially with the optional 22-inch wheels and tyres, the ride is firm. It’s never uncomfortable in that it bangs and crashes through every little rut in the road surface, but it is definitely firm. Buyers who have never driven a Tesla will have to get used to a completely different experience from behind the wheel; it’s not like driving any conventional car in the way the accelerator pedal, brakes and acceleration feel.
We have to take issue with the Model X’s battery range on test. The average range we saw from this particular SUV across its life was 294km, and we only just managed to beat that on a cycle without Ludicrous mode being used at all – with an indicated 320km before we would, potentially, run out of power. You’d like to get a lot closer to the manufacturer’s claimed 500km+ range for the P100d to be truly happy.
If you buy a Tesla on the perception of technological advancement and prowess, and a window into the future, you’re onto a winner. There’s nothing backward about the way the Tesla moves forward. Everything, from the way the doors open, through to the fact you can access the vehicle via a smartphone app when your remote fob battery goes flat, to the stunning off-the-line acceleration and drive experience, is way beyond 2017.
However, if you’re accustomed to the execution of a 300-grand vehicle from any mainstream manufacturer, the perception is going to be slightly different to the reality. The switchgear seems like an afterthought, the interior is spartan and not especially luxurious, the seat trim feels cheap and the seats themselves are hardly those of a ‘luxury SUV’.
The panel gaps and the build quality in general aren’t at a level I’d be happy with, either. That will improve as Tesla builds more cars, but we’re not assessing the future here, we’re assessing the vehicle in front of us and $300,000 simply feels a bit rich for the Tesla Model X P100d.
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