IAIN ROBERTSON 

If indulging in six-figure cost motorcars, states Iain Robertson, you can expect a blend of standards-altering features and elements of ‘unobtainium’ that will bamboozle lesser mortals and even some cognoscenti; enter Tesla Model X.

Busting preconceptions is everyday fodder to a firm like Tesla. It demands re-education and serious contemplation. Yet, it was fascinating to chat with Luke Harnell, Product Specialist, and his colleague, Kathryn Mathers, Store Coordinator, at the Leeds brand centre for Tesla. Bear in mind that a visit to Tesla is closely akin to visiting an Apple store, thus you are greeted by a non-commissioned, knowledgeable ‘genius’, as opposed to a pressurised sales medium. The charm initiative is intentional; it is non-slimy, mildly inquisitive and so judiciously pitched that, at no time, are the questions when, what, or where asked…the potential customer will provide those details willingly, rather than by sales-style interrogation.

While all visitors to the Tesla shop are welcomed, as there remains enormous curiosity to be satisfied, the much-vaunted ‘customer experience’ is key to the process. Face it: Tesla is different. It is a technology firm, not a car company. It has an enormous ground-breaking and perception-broadening task to complete, which it achieves largely by evangelical means. While a Lotus Elise-based Roadster model established some early parameters (high mileage potential, supercar performance and familiar styling), it has been the task of the Model S, semi-luxurious saloon, to crack the markets around the world, which it does with its high mileage potential, supercar performance and a design stance that makes Jaguar, Lexus and the Teutonic Threesome (Audi, BMW and Merc) look sorely lacking.

While Model S was available originally with rear-wheel-drive, installing a synchronous electric motor on the front axle now makes it 4WD (better for stability, traction and control). Yet, a vital ingredient, something that would satisfy an apparently unceasing desire for the ubiquitous SUV, was missing…Tesla needed one in its range. It might not be a carmaker in traditional terms but it recognises market demands. Model X is the answer for the go-almost-anywhere brigade.

Naturally, Model X could hardly be ‘conventional’…it had to defy convention, by rote. Tesla’s SUV has ‘gullwing’, or, as it prefers to describe them, falcon-wing, rear passenger doors. When opened electronically, they present a polyhedral outline, of sorts. However, these doors are clever. In conjunction with in-built lateral cameras and sensors, in really-tight parking situations, these far-from-space-saving doors need only around 30cm clearance (on either side of the car being opened), as the doors travel upwards and then outwards (once clear of obstructions) to provide unrivalled access for rear-seat guests and no dents on adjacent vehicles.

While the rear pair of doors is special, so, too, is the front pair…not as ‘trick’ but electronically impressive. Apply pressure to the centre of the flush-mounted chrome door handle on either side and the doors pop open on hydraulic assist struts. Cabin access is unparalleled, while egress demands neither Swiss Army knife flexibility, nor a knowledge of callisthenics. The test Model X is equipped with grey leather on its six individual seats (seven are available) and there is space in abundance thanks mainly to plenty of foot and legroom, let alone headroom, even though the Model X is taller than many SUVs but shorter than a Range Rover.

Incidentally, while key-fobs for cars are becoming almost as multi-functional as most steering wheels these days, that for a Tesla Model X, while possessing a tactile car-like outline, features a number of tap-able touch-points on its glossy surface. A double-tap on the ‘roof’ centrally locks and unlocks the vehicle (the actual priority and parameters can be altered via the enormous dashboard touch-screen, more on which momentarily). Tap its left, or right, ‘side-windows’ and the rear passenger doors open like a bird of prey kickstarted into action. Do the same on the boot and bonnet sections and, hey presto, the car raises, or opens them accordingly.

Enter the cabin and its ambiance is dominated by the 17.0-inch portrait-format touch-screen that controls virtually all aspects of the vehicle, other than actual driving (although elements of autonomous self-driving do form part of Tesla’s advanced features). However, the ‘largest windscreen in the car scene’, a sensuously curved and UV-tinted glass structure, reaches from the almost unreachable front edge of the dashboard up to and beyond the heads of front seat occupants, to meet the crossbar that provides vital strength and integrity to the roof section.

Having never experienced such an airy cabin, other than in a drop-top sportscar, considering that the X is one, large, all-enveloping motorcar, the lack of folding rear seats hardly seems to matter. The rear boot is impressively accommodating, with a deep trough below its false-floor, while a front boot, or ‘frunk’, as Tesla people call it, supplements carrying capacity, with enough space for the weekend, family shopping trip. It is an impressive trick, made feasible due to the lack of conventional engine and the use of the underfloor to contain the Lithium-ion battery pack.

With hefty electric motors mounted between axle-lines fore and aft and a cradle carrying the batteries between them, the car’s centre of gravity is exceptionally low, which ensures that its stability is almost unparalleled. Of course, despite the use of aluminium alloy and boron steel in the construction of the car, it is a heavy beast. Yet, contrary to expectations, while its kerbweight of near 2.5-tonnes is hard to disguise, the driving experience is exceptional, the car seeming to shrink-wrap itself around the driver and occupants, making it feel wieldier than it ought to, while providing surgically accurate responses to steering and brake inputs…not that you need to touch the brake pedal very often, due to the car’s throttle-off energy recovery system. Its overall handling, on air suspension, is agile, while the ride quality is firm but compliantly comfortable and the ride height can be raised for those occasional off-road forays.

While there are less potent electric motors available in lesser versions of the car, that of the test X is in 100D specification, which means that mind-warping electric performance is available, on-tap and instantly (as a comparison with a ‘conventional’ petrol engine, it develops around 417bhp and 487lbs ft of torque, enough to make towing a 2.0-tonne trailer viable). There is also a P version that can provide the ‘ludicrous’ performance setting, although the chunky Model X 100D still cracks the 0-60mph benchmark in a cool 4.6s, before topping-out at a restricted 155mph. Tap consistently into the punchier resources and the actual driving range will dip into the mid-200s but, behave, and around 350-miles of rechargeable range is available. A 35-minutes lunch-stop, at any of the available network of Tesla Superchargers that the on-board sat-nav will direct the car to, will take the capacity from near zero to 90%-plus, to make long-distance expeditions an EV-SUV reality, if not quite as efficacious as a lighter Model S would be.

All Tesla models are provided with enough free charges annually (around eight) to enable a good driver experience and to build early confidence using the Superchargers. Subsequent public recharges cost up to around £20 each, although a domestic home-charger for overnight trickle charges equates to around £10 cost per use, an equivalent of around 151mpg. Factor in a road tax of £310 (free after five years), because of the high list price, although it is only a fifth of the rate applied to a Range Rover Autobiography, and the actual operational costs are still low, as there are no other taxes, or road charges, to account for.

Service charges are negligible, because many typical enhancements can be carried out using the car’s 4G-enabled on-board diagnostics and downloadable upgrades. If it needs brake pads, to replenish fluids, or recharge the air-con, a dealer visit is recommended and reminded via the screen to the driver. The list price of the test car is a whopping £106,550, which includes £950 for the paint job, £5,200 for the 22.0-inch alloy wheels, £5,700 for the six-seat cabin, with £3,100 for the black hide, and you appreciate that the cost of premium-grade, high-tech modesty is not exactly low-level affordable. Yet, while a Model X has notional rivals, none of them can match its mastery of mystical attraction.

Conclusion:    For the ultimate ‘look-at-me’ SUV, complete with adjustable ride height, the Tesla Model X takes some beating! Blistering performance, accompanied by little more than tyre and minimal wind roar, is an expectation in a well-detailed and spacious multi-functional motorcar.