Automotive

Model X P100D review: Does Tesla's electric SUV pass the practicality test?

Model X P100D review: Does Tes...
The Model X hauling uphill
The Model X hauling uphill
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Without an engine to cool, the Model X can do without a front grille
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Without an engine to cool, the Model X can do without a front grille
Tesla says the Falcon Wing doors work in just 30 cm of space next to the car
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Tesla says the Falcon Wing doors work in just 30 cm of space next to the car
New Atlas spends some time behind the wheel of the Model X
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New Atlas spends some time behind the wheel of the Model X
The Falcon Wing doors on the Model X delayed production significantly 
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The Falcon Wing doors on the Model X delayed production significantly 
The rear end of the Tesla Model X is tall and, if we're honest, a bit awkward to behold
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The rear end of the Tesla Model X is tall and, if we're honest, a bit awkward to behold
The liftgate on the Model X reveals a relatively spacious boot
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The liftgate on the Model X reveals a relatively spacious boot
The devil is in the detail with the Tesla Model X
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The devil is in the detail with the Tesla Model X
The Model X followed the S, but preceded the 3
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The Model X followed the S, but preceded the 3
That's not PLOOD, it's P100D
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That's not PLOOD, it's P100D
The pop-up spoiler on the Tesla Model X
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The pop-up spoiler on the Tesla Model X
The charging port on the Tesla Model X 
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The charging port on the Tesla Model X 
With no engine, there's a small boot at the front of the Tesla Model X
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With no engine, there's a small boot at the front of the Tesla Model X
The hood of the Model X is made of aluminum
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The hood of the Model X is made of aluminum
The boot of the Model X with third row seats in place
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The boot of the Model X with third row seats in place
The seats on the Model X are easy to fold 
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The seats on the Model X are easy to fold 
Bootspace in the Model X is useful, although not world-beating
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Bootspace in the Model X is useful, although not world-beating
The deep boot on the Model X
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The deep boot on the Model X
The Model X with bootlid raised
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The Model X with bootlid raised
The rear-view mirror on the Model X sits in the middle of a massive, panoramic windscreen
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The rear-view mirror on the Model X sits in the middle of a massive, panoramic windscreen
The new windscreen on the Model X has forced some interesting engineering solutions, including these sunvisors
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The new windscreen on the Model X has forced some interesting engineering solutions, including these sunvisors
Behind the wheel of the Tesla Model X
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Behind the wheel of the Tesla Model X
The second-row seats of the Tesla Model X
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The second-row seats of the Tesla Model X
22-inch wheels make the Model X stand out in a crowd
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22-inch wheels make the Model X stand out in a crowd
The headlamps on the Model X could have been borrowed from a Jaguar
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The headlamps on the Model X could have been borrowed from a Jaguar
The Model X roof with Falcon Wing doors in full flight 
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The Model X roof with Falcon Wing doors in full flight 
The interior of the Model X is a masterpiece of pared-back design
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The interior of the Model X is a masterpiece of pared-back design
The massive central screen on the Model X looks imposing, but it's easy to use
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The massive central screen on the Model X looks imposing, but it's easy to use
Broad wing mirrors on the Tesla Model X
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Broad wing mirrors on the Tesla Model X
Trim that doesn't match on the body of the Tesla Model X
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Trim that doesn't match on the body of the Tesla Model X
It's a small thing, but the door trim didn't match up on our Tesla Model X
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It's a small thing, but the door trim didn't match up on our Tesla Model X
The bold shape of the Tesla Model X 
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The bold shape of the Tesla Model X 
An Autopilot camera on the Tesla Model X
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An Autopilot camera on the Tesla Model X
Staring into the eyes of the Tesla Model X
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Staring into the eyes of the Tesla Model X
We don't mind the profile of the Model X, but some people don't like the way it looks
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We don't mind the profile of the Model X, but some people don't like the way it looks
The hunchbacked Model X lying silently in wait
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The hunchbacked Model X lying silently in wait
The digital driver display on the Tesla Model X
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The digital driver display on the Tesla Model X
The touchscreen in the Tesla Model X
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The touchscreen in the Tesla Model X
The touchscreen in the Tesla Model X
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The touchscreen in the Tesla Model X
The touchscreen in the Tesla Model X
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The touchscreen in the Tesla Model X
The touchscreen in the Tesla Model X
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The touchscreen in the Tesla Model X
The touchscreen in the Tesla Model X
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The touchscreen in the Tesla Model X
The Model X is quick in a straight line, but it isn't a corner-carving monster
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The Model X is quick in a straight line, but it isn't a corner-carving monster
The Model X is built on the same chassis as the Model S
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The Model X is built on the same chassis as the Model S
The Model X gets on the move
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The Model X gets on the move
The Model X is seriously quick for a four-wheel drive
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The Model X is seriously quick for a four-wheel drive
The Model X is like a taller, bulkier Model S
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The Model X is like a taller, bulkier Model S
The Model X hauling uphill
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The Model X hauling uphill
View gallery - 47 images

Elon Musk launched his vision for an affordable, attainable electric car earlier this month. But before the Model 3, the tunnel-boring, interplanetary businessman had an idea for an all-electric SUV. With supercar doors and acceleration to match, the Model X is unlike any other family four-wheel drive we've driven – but does it have substance to match the show-car sizzle? We spent the weekend in the Model X P100D to find out.

By now, you probably know a thing or two about how Tesla builds its cars. The lithium-ion battery packs are housed under the floor in a skateboard-style chassis, with motors on both axles for a unique brand of all-wheel drive in range-topping models. Any car with a D at the end of its name has dual-motor all-wheel drive, those without it are rear-wheel drive.

The other thing you need to take into account when playing the specification game on a Model X is the number on the badge. Our P100D tester had a 100 kWh battery pack, the base 75D has a 75 kWh battery. Based on our experience, people will care less about the battery capacity and more about the range on offer.

Range and how long you need to charge the battery are always top of the agenda with electric car newbies, because people do not trust batteries. Blame your phone, laptop, tablet – everything that runs on battery power seems to go flat at the worst possible time.

The liftgate on the Model X reveals a relatively spacious boot
The liftgate on the Model X reveals a relatively spacious boot

Mercifully, our range topping Model X offered more than enough range for most people, most of the time. The cheapest version will cover 417 km (259 mi) on a full battery, and our 100 kWh tester has a claimed 542 km (337 mi) of range. Given most people commute less than 40 km every day, range during day-to-day driving simply shouldn't be an issue. Unless you're the sort of person who goes out on a Saturday night with nine percent charge remaining in your phone, that is.

Here at New Atlas, we like to back up our words with action. So, rather than writing about the excellent range on the Model X, we decided to load it up with friends and head through the suburbs of Melbourne, into the city and then on to the Surf Coast for a plate of scones. At just over 300 km (186 mi), it's the sort of trip the Tesla should be able to comfortably cover. Should.

No early wakeup is nice, but the Model X provides plenty of toys to distract from the crisp morning air. The driver door automatically opens when you walk up, the mirrors extend and the rear spoiler pops up, ready for action. Those rear Falcon Wing doors don't need any introduction – they pushed production of the car back by almost two years, and make what should be a very simple process very complicated – but we defy you to watch their mechanical ballet and not be impressed.

The interior easily matches the overt showiness of those doors. The dash is dominated by a 17-inch touchscreen charged with controlling infotainment, climate control and all the different drive mode options. It can be daunting at first, especially for drivers accustomed to the systems in German luxury cars, but the learning curve isn't particularly steep. Tesla has absolutely nailed the interface, to the point where the vertically-oriented panel could be the latest tablet from Samsung or Apple.

The interior of the Model X is a masterpiece of pared-back design
The interior of the Model X is a masterpiece of pared-back design

Like the Model S with which it shares most parts, Model X has fantastic heated seats and a lovely chubby steering wheel. Drivers are faced with a digital readout which, though still impressive, isn't nearly as exciting as it was when the S launched. Blame the VW Group, which has since released its excellent Virtual Cockpit. No conventional car manufacturer offers anything like the massive swept-back windscreen in the X, though.

The internet was awash with people suggesting it would be a nightmare in direct sunlight when Elon Musk announced the car, but we didn't have any issue with glare during our time behind the wheel. We did find the curved glass caused an odd ghosting effect on bright, shiny objects from some angles though, to the point where multiple drivers noted oncoming head lights "floating" in low light. Strange, but not a show-stopping complaint.

If the futuristic cabin isn't enough to wake you, just punch the accelerator. In P100D spec, the Model X has something called Ludicrous Mode, the logical next step from Insane Mode. The 100 km/h (62 mph) sprint takes 3.1 seconds, but figures can't prepare you for the way this six-seater lunges off the line. One of our developers summed it up, telling me it "squeezes the leather smell out of the seats when you accelerate" with the wide-eyed excitement of a kid on Christmas morning. But not everyone was so verbose: the most common reaction to Ludicrous launches was just f#@k!

At highway speeds, there isn't much to spoil the serenity in the cabin. With no engine noise and very little tire rumble or wind noise, the Model X is a lovely place to spend time at highway speeds. The only real blight on its long-haul credentials is the fact Autopilot wasn't fitted to our test car. That means this shining six-figure beacon of futuristic motoring won't even maintain a gap to the car in front, something most entry-level hatchbacks will do.

The Model X is quick in a straight line, but it isn't a corner-carving monster
The Model X is quick in a straight line, but it isn't a corner-carving monster

After around an hour on the highway, our electric road trip swung toward the Great Ocean Road that winds its way along the coast of Victoria. Before sunrise and it's one of the best driving roads in Australia, but tourist traffic means you'd be lucky to get a clean run after about 8 am. We arrived at 11 am on a beautiful, clear Saturday.

Rather than letting the steady stream of white Toyota Camry rentals ruin the mood, we decided to play a see how far we could go without pressing the brake pedal. The electric motors become makeshift dynamos when you lift off the throttle in the Model X, pulling energy back into the battery for a handy range boost under deceleration. It's decidedly odd to start with, and new EV drivers are likely to find themselves pulling up well short of stop signs and traffic lights in their first few hours with the car – turns out, we spend a lot of time coasting in our internal combustion vehicles.

The regenerative braking – coupled with a 2,300 kg (5,070 lb) kerb weight – encourages a smooth approach to driving on tight, twisty roads, one where you back off the throttle and try to slow the car without leaning on the middle pedal. Ludicrous Mode makes the P100D feel like a sports car in a straight line, but you can never really escape the mass of those batteries when it comes time to live out your F1 fantasies.

After setting off with a full battery, we arrived in the seaside town of Lorne – our halfway point – with 57 percent charge remaining. Based on some rudimentary maths, that figure has us arriving home with 14 percent charge remaining. Given my near-new iPhone tends to die with 15 percent showing, and my MacBook Pro has been known to drop 10 percent charge on a whim, 14 percent isn't nearly enough to feel comfortable.

The digital driver display on the Tesla Model X
The digital driver display on the Tesla Model X

Turns out there was nothing be afraid of. Whenever you enter a destination into the Tesla's navigation system, it estimates how much battery you'll have left when you arrive. Pulling out of Lorne, it estimated we'd arrive back at the Supercharger station with 21 percent remaining – and it turned out to be incredibly accurate.

Our 301.7 km (187.5 mi) loop was completed with 20 percent of charge left, having averaged energy consumption figures of 240Wh/km. Based on that performance, real-world range sits somewhere in the vicinity of 375 km (233 mi). Before you jump into the comments and (in all capitals) that is almost 200 km (124 mi) short of the claimed range, try and remember the last time your internal combustion car matched the fuel use figures in the brochure.

Owners won't be taking cross-country jaunts without some serious pre-planning, but that range figure is perfectly usable for most people, most of the time. That's where electric cars are in their development. Some of the smartest minds in the world are working to squeeze better energy density out of lithium-ion cells – and charge them faster, which is arguably a bigger concern.

Running out of petrol isn't a huge issue because when you do, it takes five minutes to fill up. But running dry in the Tesla is a different story, because no matter how many charging stations there are, it still takes a long time to go from zero to 100 percent charge. This isn't a new problem, but the fact you need to stop for at least an hour when the range gets low is frustratingly prohibitive. Super-fast charging or battery swaps can't come soon enough.

There are also some tradeoffs involved in choosing Tesla over more established manufacturers. Our Model X had done 4500 km (2796 mi) but there was a persistent creak in the dashboard, and the Falcon Wing doors were noisy over uneven road surfaces. The door handles didn't line up on one side of the car, and the covered center console feels a bit cheap given the list price. More on that in a second.

The Falcon Wing doors on the Model X delayed production significantly 
The Falcon Wing doors on the Model X delayed production significantly 

The all-conquering cool factor that comes with owning a Model X means that these things probably don't matter to the early adopters at the moment. But the little things still make a difference, especially if Elon Musk wants to push into the mass market with the Model 3. We want to see Tesla succeed, but that means holding its to the same standard as other high-end luxury cars – and our Model X just fell short of the standard expected of a car that costs AU$288,995 (US$157,500 in the United States) drive away.

Don't think we didn't like the Model X. We absolutely loved it, and didn't want to hand the keys back after our all-too-brief stint behind the wheel. Ludicrous Mode never gets old, and the Falcon Wing doors are show-stoppers the whole family can enjoy. With Autopilot fitted, the car also is about the closest thing we have to autonomous driving right now.

There aren't many six (or seven) seat cars on the market capable of making a carload full of people giggle like school children as it accelerates away from a set of lights, or making a bunch of motoring-averse millennials clamour for photos. The Model X isn't perfect, but it has something missing from so many cars – a sense of fun. If that isn't something to be celebrated, we don't know what is.

Product page: Tesla

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7 comments
SimonClarke
Just a little comment on range. The guys a right about petrol cars not achieving the manufacturers MPG but electric cars are really affected by speed. Driving at 50 mph or 70 mph will make a Big difference on range.
One thing the test team could have done during their time at the beach was to simply plug the car in and gather miles as they gathered solar rays.
Excellent article.
Daishi
For a while I was pretty sure I would be an EV early adopter but now it seems a ways out for me. A post on greencarreports titled "Chevy Bolt EV: 800-mile trip in 238-mile electric car shows challenges remain" did a lot of put things into perspective for me. Tesla has the only charging standard that isn't terrible and without any other companies using it that's not going to change any time soon. Without the industry using Tesla's spec the amount of time it takes to draft a new standard, build networks, and replace fleets of cars using the current poor charging standard is ~10 years out or more. We already have a pile of standards, adapters, and plugs with pins added on later and this will only get worse before it gets better. Model 3 is closer but the idea that it doesn't need a driver display because it's going to be autonomous later anyway is likely an error as every set of aggressive projections about when full autonomy will finally be available to mass market will be wrong. Those dates will continually come and go and we'll grow to see those early predictions as naive.
watersworm
Great. It reminds me of the "rande rcord" with a Tesla, some more than 1.000 km . Great. Hum it was with a 40 km/h mean time. Great ? How many miles/km with a 10km/h mean time ??? (lol)
michaelblock
Setup allows you to choose 'rated range' or 'typical range'. Typical range in my experience is accurate.
IvanWashington
nothing about vibration, harshness and road bump impacts felt in the cabin. for that amount of money, it needs a REAL road test!
apprenticeearthwiz
A good article but before getting into a vehicle with unfamiliar technology it's probably a good idea to learn how to use it. You dissed the range but how many times did you play with ludicrous mode? What effect do you think that would have on range? Another thing you would learn is the term 'opportunity charging' which takes no time at all since you are doing something else, like hanging out in Lorne.
david74
From my first experience driving a Tesla at the Fremont Tesla factory & track, I was totally sold and knew I wanted to buy a Tesla. I spent a great deal of time driving both models (Tesla Model S & Tesla Model X), reading reviews and ultimately trying to decide which one would be the best for me. I was quite worried about the initial reviews of the Model X (not good!) and the Model S of course is one of the most loved cars of all-time.
It’s the big and the small details that really put Tesla in a league of it’s own. The responsiveness of the accelerator (no lag time) makes driving safer. The regenerative braking combined with standard anti-lock brakes allows the vehicle to stop more quickly than any other car. Overall the safety ratings for both Model S & Model X are as close to perfect as one could ask for. I’m driving my wife and baby around and safety and comfort is paramount. I love the sleek James Bond look of the Model S and also appreciate how insanely quiet the car is when driving. If you’re reading reviews you’re already aware of how fast these cars are and how amazing it is that Tesla can “push” updates to the car, something that none of my other cars have ever been able to do. Even little things like the “frunk” (front trunk) on both cars is something that sets Tesla apart (I am often in San Francisco and having a very secure space to leave a laptop bag is very much appreciated). Other “nice to have” things like the door that opens as you walk up to your car, the music that starts playing where you left off as soon as you start to sit down, the automatic “hands-free" parallel parking feature, the hands-free voice controls that allow you to enter navigation items as specific as “the Safeway in the Marina District” without knowing the street name or address…I could go on and on and on.
In case you’re interested, I ended up buying the Model X (although the noisier cabin on the freeway was almost a deal-breaker for me). I needed the extra storage space for stroller, suitcases, skis, etc. and I preferred being a bit higher up on the road. I chose the 6-seat configuration which is strangely similar to a mini-van in terms of access and comfort…but from the outside and from the drivers seat, this car is more like a hybrid of a rocket ship & an ultra lux SUV.
One last feature that was pretty sweet was this referral link. By using referral code I was able to get free unlimited supercharging and even got $500 credit. If you are considering buying a Tesla, or if you just want a chance to race one of the new Tesla Semi’s, click http://ts.la/david41503 and type in your email address. You’ll automatically be setup to get the best referral whenever you’re ready to buy your Tesla.