Tesla Model X (2017) review: Proof EVs CAN be used for long-haul driving
Driving long distances in electric cars used to be the stuff of nightmares. Range anxiety hung over you like a deadweight, a constantly nagging fear that you’re imminently about to run out of charge; that the nearest charger might be slightly out of range, or broken; that the cold weather might sap 40% of your already-mediocre range, and that if you ever reach the charger, and it’s working, and you have the right membership card to use it, the car would take eight hours to top up.
This, I’m pleased to report after taking a Tesla Model X from London to Cornwall and back, is now a thing of the past. Sure, that description used to be quite accurate – even for early Teslas – but the automotive landscape is changing quickly, and so too is the infrastructure used to keep it running.
That doesn’t mean there are as many chargers as petrol stations – there’s still a long way to go – and it doesn’t mean that recharging a car is as fast as filling one with diesel or petrol, but it does mean long journeys are perfectly possible and may cause you almost no stress at all. I even found that, in some ways, driving a Tesla long distances is preferable to taking a petrol car on the same journey.
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Tesla Model X review: Performance, but at a price
But before I get to that, a quick introduction to the car. This is the Tesla Model X 100D, which means it is an all-electric SUV with six seats (seven is also an option, while five is standard). It has a 100kWh battery – the largest Tesla currently fits to any of its cars – and the D signifies all-wheel-drive, which is standard on all versions of the Model X.
This is not the headline-grabbing, Ferrari-embarrassing P100D, which uses the same battery pack but trades a few miles of range for face-altering performance. Where the Model P100D hits 60mph in 2.9 seconds (yes, really, in a 2.5-tonne, seven-seater), my borrowed 100D hits the same speed in a still-impressive 4.7 seconds.
Prices start at £70,500 for the basic Model X 75D, but add a few options to the P100D – like the six-seat configuration (£5,700), Autopilot (£4,700), fancy red paint (£1,400), even fancier black wheels (£5,200) – and you can clear £140,000. Whichever way you cut it, this is not a cheap car.
That’s fine, though, because we all know by now what Tesla’s game plan is. Start by selling luxury electric cars with big margins, then earn enough to develop an electric car for the masses – that’s the Model 3, on sale in the US now and due in the UK in 2019 or 2020.
Tesla Model X review: Interior and differences to the Model S
Inside, the Model X is very similar to the Tesla Model S. The dashboard, instrument panel, 17in touchscreen and driver controls are almost identical on the two vehicles. They also have the same dual-motor configuration, the same smartphone app for setting the climate remotely and checking the battery level and the same (free for the first 400kWh per year) access to Tesla’s Supercharger network.
Driving the X doesn’t feel much different to the S. You sit slightly higher but not as high as “proper” SUVs like the Range Rover and Volvo XC90. The Model X has virtually no roll through the corners and it hides its weight extremely well, thanks to adjustable air suspension and how the heavy battery pack is in the floor, keeping the centre of gravity below that of all internal combustion rivals.
The differences between the S and X, however, are profound. Look up and you’ll see the Model X’s enormous panoramic windscreen, which extends back behind the driver’s head. It really is a stunning piece of vehicle design, and is claimed to be the largest windscreen in production today. I dread to think what it costs to replace, but my word is it impressive. It’s also gradually tinted to block the sun, which is handy because the sun visors, which fold out from above the side windows, are small, fiddly and feel cheap.
Tesla Model X review: It’s all about those doors and seats
Another unique aspect of the Model X is its falcon-wing doors, which rise up dramatically above the car, forming a giant T like some enormous, three-dimensional Tesla logo. They’re magnificently designed and engineered, and can shrug upwards more tightly to avoid accidents in busy car parks.
Some friends branded me a massive show-off for using the doors, while others recognized their intention – that they make it easy to install child’s seats and to clamber into the third row. This was made even more simple by the six-seat layout of the car I drove, where the second row is made up of two individual, non-folding seats with a large gap between them.
I love this seating layout. The second row just offers so much space and light, while even the third row remains suitable for adults. All six occupants are bathed in light from the massive windscreen, and also by glass panels in the roofs of the falcon-wing doors.
Tesla Model X review: Range and charging
I left London just after rush hour on a Friday morning and set the navigation for Helton, 280 miles away in southern Cornwall. If you look at the Tesla website and the Model X spec sheet, you’ll see that the 100D has a range of 351 miles. So I can get there without recharging? Not so fast. That 351-mile estimate is based on the New European Driving Cycle (NEDC) and is rather optimistic.
If you sit at 50mph the whole way on a nice warm and dry day – but not so warm that you need lots of air-con – then, yes, you might see 300 miles from the battery. On a frosty January morning, I left London with about 90% charge then stopped at a Supercharger at Norton Park hotel, Winchester for breakfast, and again at a Supercharger at the Arundell Arms Hotel in Lifton, Devon for lunch. I refilled to around 95% both times and arrived in Helston with 60% remaining.
I could have followed the car’s instructions – or Tesla’s new online route planner – and stopped only once, but neither takes into account a lack of charger at my destination. I needed enough capacity to run errands in Cornwall and cover the 60 miles back to Lifton on my way home.
The longest leg – about 160 miles over the course of three hours, from Winchester to Lifton – saw the battery go from 98% to just under 30%. Call it 65% for 160 miles, which means 100% would be about 245 miles. For most of the journey, I had the cruise control set at the speed limit (60mph or 70mph depending on where I was) and I didn’t once think about trying to save power. I overtook slower traffic whenever it was safe, I had the climate set how I wanted, I played music, and I switched on the air-filtration system’s “biohazard defence mode” a couple of times, purely for the sake of it.
What I’m trying to say is that I knew the car would comfortably make it to each charger, so I drove like I would in any petrol or diesel car. Despite the Tesla offering several ways to check on the battery’s performance and your estimated range, all you have to do is keep an eye on a single number on the satnav screen – the estimated battery charge remaining at your next stop. Keep that above 10% or so, and you’ll be absolutely fine.
Saying that, I panicked briefly on arriving at the Arundell Arms: turning into the car park, I could only see Tesla’s “destination chargers”, which are designed to refill a battery overnight. The brief kick of range anxiety subsided when I spotted a row of six Superchargers around the corner.
At this point, the Tesla driver has a choice. After plugging in, do you have a nap, listen to music from the car’s Spotify app, or maybe go for a walk? Another option is to chat with fellow Tesla drivers but, on this occasion, it was hailing and I had the charger to myself. So I headed into the hotel in search of a comfy seat and food.
For 30 minutes or so I rested on a comfortable sofa in front of a roaring fire in the hotel’s lounge – how’s that compared to your average grim motorway services?
I chatted with the owner, Adam Fox-Edwards, about his decision to install a set of glowing red Superchargers at his centuries-old hotel. He explained how the hotel once acted as a coaching inn, providing rest and refreshment for horses and their owners. Then, in the early 20th century, the hotel had its own fuel pump before petrol stations were common and now, continuing the theme, it offers electric car charging.
Tesla Model X review: A surprising lack of technology
Fast-forward a couple of hours and, as you might expect, the Model X fits somewhat awkwardly on the narrow Cornish lanes. It’s the size of a Range Rover, and while there are plenty of those around these parts, the Tesla struggles to fit in. The big X feels like it’s here on holiday from California and didn’t bring quite the right clothes.
While I’m being negative, I need to quickly address the interior. Tesla still wins the award for Car Interior Most Reminiscent of A Spaceship, but it lacks the quality, refinement and toys of a truly premium SUV. The car I’m driving costs £118,000, which puts it closer than you’d expect to the £135,000 Bentley Bentayga. Challenging exterior aside, the Bentley runs rings around the Tesla in the luxury stakes.
There’s also a surprising lack of technology in Teslas. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are both missing; there’s no heads-up display; you can’t opt for seat-back TV screens for passengers. You’ll also encounter the occasional gremlin, like when my seat would only move forwards no matter which direction I pressed the button.
Tesla Model X review: Verdict
Of course, in the X your money goes on the battery and motors, for which there is, for now, no direct competition.
I pull up at the local shop – which is inexplicably stocked with a finer whisky selection than Harrods – and feel a bit daft opening the big falcon-wing door. My disguise as a local is briefly restored as I let a muddy Jack Russell jump out, but inside I know people are looking in bewilderment at the silent spaceship blocking the high street.
In fairness, public reaction to Teslas is changing. While a Model X with doors splayed still gets stares in deepest Cornwall, they’re becoming increasingly common in London. Soon they’ll be “just another car” from John O’Groats to Land’s End – and that’s exactly the point.
Driving an electric car is so close to becoming normal, and while the likes of General Motors, Ford and the VW Group will soon take the lead, Tesla can rightly claim to have played an instrumental role in making that happen.