Tesla's Model X is like no other luxury crossover SUV -- here's why

Tesla Model X Road TripMatthew DeBord/BISay hello to Elon’s brain on wheels.
  • The Model X is like no other luxury crossover SUV.
  • We finally got a chance to properly review it.
  • It did not disappoint, but it had some quirks.

At Business Insider, we’ve driven every car Tesla makes, from the original Roadster to the Model S sedan to the Model X SUV and even the new Model 3 (briefly).

But we’ve never really reviewed a Tesla vehicle. I thought we could change that up by taking a closer look at the carmaker’s top-of-the-line Model X P100D, a luxury SUV that was so well-optioned that it would likely cost about $US150,000.

I took it on a family road trip, and that meant we had plenty of time to evaluate the Model X’s charms and quirks.

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We got our first look at the Model X when it was revealed in Los Angeles in 2012.

Screenshot via YouTube

A few years later, after numerous delays, the vehicle was spotted testing in closed-off locations.

Screenshot via YouTube

And on actual roads!


Then in late 2015, Tesla threw a massive party to officially launch the Model X. CEO Elon Musk was the master of ceremonies.

Getty Images

A bit later, Tesla brought a Model X to rainy Manhattan, and my colleague Ben Zhang and I spent some time driving around.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

We didn't get a proper Model X test car until this year, however.

Matthew DeBord/BI

It was the top-of-the-line P100D, with a sticker price somewhere in the neighbourhood of $US150,000.

Matthew DeBord/BI

The cheapest Model X is the 75D, which goes for $US85,500.

Those spectacular 'falcon wing' doors were in the house.

Matthew DeBord/BI

This feature is a signature of the Model X, but it wasn't easy to pull off. Gull-wing-type doors are always tricky, and that's why they're rarely seen. The doors on the Model X are motorised and have special sensors so that they can vary the way they articulate, depending on whether the car is in a parking lot surrounded by other cars or in an owner's garage.

The doors almost delayed the Model X launch back in 2015. Tesla has to redesign them at the last minute.

Our Model X's doors performed flawlessly and garnered a lot of 'oohs' and 'aahs' when I did things like pull up to the dropoff line at my second-grader's elementary school.

Another signature feature: a spectacular windshield that sweeps up to the roofline, providing an incredible view.

Matthew DeBord/BI

The Model X can access Tesla's nationwide Supercharger network. The charge port is concealed behind the left rear tail light. The hatch opens when you're ready to plug in.

Matthew DeBord/BI

The P100D has two motors -- hence the 'D' for 'dual motor' -- giving it all-wheel-drive. The 'P' stands for 'performance,' and the '100' refers to the battery pack, a 100 kilowatt-hour unit.

With 'Ludicrous Mode' engaged, this all produces a 0-60 mph time of about 3 seconds, which is bonkers for an SUV that can seat seven passengers.

That 100 kWh pack provides about 240 miles of range on a single charge, and the Model X's onboard computers can figure out how much charging you need to do between stops on a long drive. It isn't necessary to fully recharge every time you plug into a Supercharger.

But if you do, a completely depleted battery can be back to 100% in about two hours.

Level 2 charging, the next step down in speed, is available at numerous 'Destination Chargers,' as Tesla calls them. These are located at hotels and restaurants, for example, so you can plug in overnight, or just for longer periods than at a Supercharger.

There's also regular wall-socket recharging -- Tesla's come with a charging cable -- but it's incredibly slow, only about a mile of range per hour of charge. For emergency use only.

Cargo space for the Model X is considerable. Because there's no traditional engine, the 'frunk' is there to swallow up gear.

Matthew DeBord/BI

So is the rear cargo area. The third-row of seats can also be folded down.

Matthew DeBord/BI

The interior, all white leather, contrasted vividly with the black exterior. The Model X's cabin is a study in automotive minimalism. The vibe is premium, not overly luxurious or blingy. Silicon Valley chic.

Matthew DeBord/BI

The second row. Seating for three, but more comfortable if it's only two.

Matthew DeBord/BI

And the third row, with room for two more. Overall, the seats were quite comfortable -- they felt as if they were made of memory foam. And they held up to three kids, two adults, and a dog on a weekend road trip.

Matthew DeBord/BI

The instrument cluster to the driver looks like something you'd find on a spaceship. The information display is clean and simple.

Matthew DeBord/BI

The real action is with the massive central touchscreen, which controls almost all vehicle functions.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Navigation, charging and battery performance, climate control, drive modes, audio, Bluetooth pairing and smartphone management, customisation, even opening and closing doors -- all handled from this nerve center.

Matthew DeBord/BI

It changes colour at night!

Matthew DeBord/BI

If that's not enough tech for you, Tesla also has a smartphone app to manage some basic features and monitor battery life and charging. Yes, our test car was named 'Lil' Scrappy.' Yes, you can name your Tesla.

Matthew DeBord/BI

What about Autopilot?

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Autopilot operation is by now pretty well understood. I think it's the best adaptive cruise control system on the market, although it's not quite as good on very well-defined highways as Cadillac's Super Cruise, which I also recently sampled.

You engage Autopilot when it makes itself available, and then it can maintain speed, brake, accelerate, change lanes, and auto-steer the vehicle. Taking your hands off the wheel for more than a few moments isn't something I recommend. And in any case, Autopilot will prompt the driver to get his or her hand back on the wheel if hands-free driving is attempted.

Ignore the prompts and Autopilot will shut itself down until the next charge cycle.

So what's the verdict?

Matthew DeBord/BI

There's really nothing like the Model X on the market, even though crossover SUV buyers have many choices. The Model X specs, as an SUV, can compare with other luxury SUVs, but this is an all-electric machine, with as many motors as Tesla can put in it, and as big a battery as the company makes.

As with all electric cars, some behaviour modification and advance trip-planning is required. You can't just swing into a gas station and get another 400 miles of range in ten minutes. However, if you use the Model X for typical suburban duty, hauling kids and gears and running errands, the substantial range means you won't recharge that often. Tesla will assist you in setting up a Level 2 home-charging system, so even if you do drive a lot, you can plug in overnight.

The performance in straight line is stunning, but three-second 0-60 mph runs can get old. Where the Model X's warp-speed acceleration comes in handy is actually on the freeway, when you want to speed away from traffic or swiftly pass semi-trucks.

Otherwise, the driving isn't as robust or engaging as it is with a Porsche, BMW, or Maserati SUV. You don't experience the Model X behind the wheel, as you would a competing luxury crossover; the steering feels electric, the power feels electric, and the 5,000-lbs.-plus heft of the thing means that laying into corners isn't really the way to go. Towing capacity is segment-consistent 5,000 lbs. -- not great, but not too bad, either, and the electric-motor torque does come in handy when pulling stuff.

I could never escape the impression with the Model X that I was driving a road-going spacecraft. The Tesla Roadster felt electric, but as it was based on a Lotus sports car, it was incredibly engaging to drive. The Model S is lower to the pavement and has more a suave presentation.

But the Model X is a summary of everything that Tesla could think of to throw into an SUV. It was supposed to stand apart, and it did, it both good and bad ways, as the company struggled to assemble it initially. Musk said it was so complicated that Tesla probably shouldn't have built it.

I've generally been impressed by the complexity, right down to really out-there features, such as 'Bioweapon Defence Mode' hospital-grade air-filtration. When I finally spent a decent chunk of time in the vehicle, I was still impressed, but also at times perplexed. The Tesla-designed audio system, for example, is wonderful.

The charging algorithms are faultless and should be trusted absolutely (the car always knows how to get you to where you're going without stranding you). The cabin is quiet and comfortable. When you get on the accelerator, the Model X goes 'Whoosh!' The smartphone app is quite useful.

Tesla thought of everything with the Model X, but that thinking at times distracts. The vehicle kept opening the driver's side door for me whenever I walked by with the key fob in my pocket. And there's a definite learning curve to the touchscreen, although after a day or so I had it pretty well figured out.

More than any vehicle I've driven lately, the Model X feels borrowed from the future. It's ahead of its time, mostly to its benefit. Ultimately, I felt as if I were driving around inside Elon Musk's brain: a save-the-world car that's stylish as heck and crammed with technology, thinks it wants to go to Mars, invites questions from the curious public at every turn, flat-out looks cool, is crazy fast, and has some neuroses but is still brilliant.

In the end, I'd have to say it made more of an impression than any Tesla I've ever driven. It's so special that it's impossible to forget.

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