The electric propulsion pioneer takes aim at the seven-seat SUV market
Model tested: 90D Price: £89,680 Power: 416bhp Torque: 487lb ft 0-60mph: 5.2sec 30-70mph in fourth: na Fuel economy: 611Wh/mile C02 emissions: 0g/km
Tesla got off to a slow start with the Lotus-based Roadster, but a decade has now passed since we first drove that car – in fairly shabby two-speed prototype form, straight out of the gates of Potash Lane, Hethel, as it happened. And there has certainly been some water under the bridge since then.
The Roadster, now long discontinued, reached fewer than 3000 homes over its four-year life cycle; by way of contrast, Tesla delivered more than 76,000 other new cars last year alone. So while only a brave few were willing to risk their motoring happiness on an electrified sports car at the turn of the current decade, some 50,000 buyers a year are now switching their preference from fossil fuels to battery power and buying a Model S executive saloon.
Growth of that kind doesn’t tend to come easy, and there have, of course, been safety controversies, recalls and a few corporate scandals to keep the gossip mill spinning.
But the Model S has emphatically succeeded, and it is now a bigger-selling car than almost any other full-sized limousine in the world.
Tesla, being at once a long way from done and ever-keen to talk of its plans, has already told us about the Model 3: a compact saloon that will make Tesla ownership about twice as affordable as it currently is. It is due for production later this year.
By 2018,Tesla hopes to be making half a million cars a year. If it comes about, that’ll be a phenomenal transition: from Morgan-scale car-making to Volvo-scale volume production within just seven years. That’s one vehicle life cycle and a mere heartbeat in industry terms.
It won’t happen, though, if the world doesn’t take to the subject of this week’s road test at least as readily as it has to the Model S. The new Model X is the seven-seat SUV reimagined in much the same vein as the luxury saloon was by the Model S. A 2.5-tonne electric vehicle available with as much as 611bhp, the Model X is a car for which equally remarkable claims on acceleration (0-60mph in 3.2sec) and range (in excess of 300 miles) are being made.
We’re testing it in middle-rung 90D model trim. So will the luxury SUV ever be the same again?
DESIGN AND ENGINEERING 4.5/5
The lithium ion battery pack in the Model X is ostensibly the same as the one in the Model S,and it comes in a choice of 75kWh, 90kWh and l00kWh capacities. The bigger ones weigh close to 600kg, which is double what a typical engine and fuel tank would weigh in a conventional SUV.
The Model X, however, takes a fresh angle on SUV design and uses that extra weight to its advantage.
Its roof is lower than you might expect – the car is less than 1.7 metres tall, when plenty of rivals approach 1.8m – and it has most of its mass concentrated under the cabin floor, where that battery is carried. It’s no surprise that the car is heavy, but Tesla’s claim is that the Model X has a lower centre of gravity than any car in the large SUV class. In theory, that ought to translate into tidier handling than the class’s norm and also make it resistant to rollover.
The Model X is built on the same platform as the Model S, so it is predominantly made from extruded aluminium reinforced with boron steel. All versions of the car are four-wheel drive, powered by three-phase electric motors cradled between each axle. In the cases of the lower-end 75D and 90D models, those motors are rated for up to 259bhp each, although the peak power they make is governed by how much power can be drawn from the drive battery.
The 75D has a total power output of 329bhp, while the 90D we’re testing produces 416bhp, along with 487lb ft,available instantly and from a standstill. There is a 100D at upper-middle level and, for those for whom only ‘ludicrous speed’ will do, there’s the 611bhp, 713lb ft P100D range-topper. Its rear motor is swapped out for a bigger one with a peak of 503bhp.
The Model X uses the same suspension configuration as the Model S, with double wishbones at the front and multi-links at the rear. Steel coil springs are standard but can be upgraded to height-adjustable air suspension, the latter producing up to 211mm of ground clearance on request – a respectable amount for the very occasional off-roading the car is likely to do. Rarely for an EV, the car is rated for towing of more than two tonnes on a braked trailer.
Other features of note include the ‘canopy’ windscreen, which Tesla claims is the biggest of any production car in the world, fully motorised front doors and a pair of motorised and uniquely folding ‘falcon wing’ rear doors, hinged in two places, that are said to offer peerless convenience and easy access.