Tesla Model X

Elon Muskís family bus outblasts a Ferrari

BEN OLIVER

IS THIS the yearís most significant new car?

Wall Street thinks so.

Tesla only made 50,000 cars last year while GM made nearly 10 million, yet Teslaís stock market value is twothirds that of GM ($US30b versus $US44b). Wall Street has clearly swallowed Elon Muskís promise to grow output tenfold Ė tenfold! Ė in just two years, as the cheaper Model 3 hatchback goes on sale.

First we get this Model X SUV, Teslaís second volume model after the Model S sedan, and itís expected to more than double Tesla sales.

The first thing youíll want to know about is those mad, doublehinged ĎFalcon Wingí rear doors, intended to require less space to open than conventional doors and give better access. Instead, theyíve given Elon a headache.

Getting them to work delayed the launch, early US customers have reported problems, and thereís FIRST OVERSEAS DRIVE already been a series of over-theair software updates.

Our test carís doors opened and closed with a wobble, and if I stood in their way they pushed me with sufficient force to take a step back before they figured out there was an obstacle. Their practicality is dubious (no roof rack, and good luck if thereís snow), reliability remains to be proven, and the Model X just doesnít need such kerbside theatre when everything else about it is so good.

The conventional driverís door powers open as it senses you approaching, and closes automatically when you touch the brake. Okay, thatís another gimmick, but the biggest windscreen in any production car Ė it arcs over your head like a fighter-jet canopy Ė really isnít; the effect is sensational.

The rest of the cabin is familiar from the Model S, so thereís minimal switchgear because pretty much everything is controlled from the massive central touchscreen that remains hands-down the best user interface in the car industry.

In the Model X, it also includes an optional Bioweapon Defence Mode (thatís its actual name), which uses positive cabin pressure and a medical-grade air filter to scrub the cabin air 400-times cleaner than the particulate soup outside. Itís intended for the worst city pollution, but Tesla claims it will actually protect you from a bioweapon attack. I didnít test it.

Thereís also the option of five, six or seven seats. The third row will take a six-footer, just, and leaves a huge boot when folded flat. The second row doesnít fold but each seat is mounted on a single post, allowing space for bags or third-row occupantsí feet. Itís a clever system, but SUV buyers might prefer them to fold.

But why are we talking boot space with an SUV that out-paces a Ferrari to 100km/h?

Dynamically, the Model X feels little different to a Model S. The batteries deliver a range of up to 490km and are in the floor so the carís centre of gravity is low. As a result, the taller, heavier SUV body makes little difference to its astonishingly composed, agile and refined ride and handling.

Choose the full-house P90D version with Ludicrous mode (itís Muskís geeky Spaceballs reference) and this seven-seat all-wheel drive will use its 396kW and 967Nm to crack 100km/h in 3.4 seconds.

Motors on each axle deliver colossal traction, balance torque and grip beautifully, and of course produce all that torque instantly.

The Model X is as fast as a Ferrari, and over the first few metres feels like we expect the Bugatti Chiron will. So long as his doors keep working, Elon wonít have any strife shifting them.

PLUS & MINUS

Slow rear doors; second-row seats donít fold; expensive Acceleration; refinement; charisma; space; smart technology

The price of being cool

Even though Model X deliveries have started in the US, Australian customers who paid the $6000 deposit first will be lucky to get theirs by the end of this year. Prices have yet to be finalised but are likely to start from $150,000 for the 75D, rising to about $220,000 for the top-spec P90D. Beware the options list, though. In other markets, Ludicrous mode, the self-driving Autopilot system, Bioweapon Defence and a third row of seats are all pricey upgrades.

OR TRY THESE...

BMW X5 M $185,510

With no other electric SUVs in the segment, BMWís brawny X5 M represents a reliable alternative if you like the Model Xís pace but prioritise range and ruggedness over Elonís smooth torque.

Mercedes-AMG GLE63 S $189,900

Not quite as fast (4.2sec to 100), though with a great soundtrack.

Lacks the Teslaís surprise and delight onslaught but that blistering V8 shows thereís still a lot to be said for internal combustion.