Hands On: Tesla Motors Model X

The Tesla Motors Model X. (Image: Mediateam)

14 June 2017

OK, we are fibbing a little with the title for hands on a Model X. We did indeed drive a Model X for most of a day around various routes in Ireland, but the drive coincided with the launch not only of Tesla’s official operation in Ireland, but also the opening, with Topaz, of its first super charging station and a new destination charge point.

Tesla Motors now has an official base and show room in Sandyford, Dublin, in the heart of what has rapidly become Dublin’s motor quarter. Not only can you see the models on offer in the Bracken Road showroom, you can also step through configurators, see and touch trim options, finish details, and colours in the flesh, as it were, but you can also call up your own, home configured Tesla model and refine it before you sign on the dotted line.

The first drive of the launch day was from Sandyford to Ballacolla Topaz service station on the M8 at Junction 3 in county Laois. This was for a ribbon cutting ceremony to open Ireland’s first Tesla Motors Supercharger station, where up to 12 vehicles can charge simultaneously at their fastest rate.

Gordon Lawlor, Topaz fuels, cuts the ribbon for the Tesla Motors fast charge station at Ballacolla Topaz, with Tesla director of Western Europe, Georg Ell (right).

The Ballacolla supercharger is strategically positioned to facilitate long distance journeys across the country, as it combines with an existing network of 10 Destination Chargers, at places such as hotels and resorts for convenient charging away from home. That said, the Model S 90D set out with a full charge of 340 km range, to arrive with some 64% charge remaining, demonstrating that these are, for use in our fair isle, a perfectly practical option.

Tesla said its Supercharger and Destination Charging network has become a powerful, unique benefit of Tesla ownership, and the programme continues to expand worldwide. In addition, it said that Ireland’s public charging is one of the best in Europe with access to 1,200 charging units across the country. The Brooklodge Hotel at Macreddin Village, Wicklow is the latest addition to the Destination Charger network.

And so, to the Model X.

Model X
Tesla Motors knew that the Model S was never going to be the right electric vehicle for everyone, and a more family friendly offering had been talked about for some time. The Model X is described as an SUV, but in actual fact, is more akin to the Urban Crossover class of the Nissan Qashqai, Mitsubishi ASX, Ford Kuga et al.

Its overall dimensions mean that it sits nicely within this familiar form factor, and yet, its advantages in terms of drive train and propulsion mean that more of the space internally is available to the passengers with a choice of five, six or seven seats in 2/3, 2/2/2, or 2/3/2 lay outs respectively.

Tesla says the platform benefits from the battery’s location in the floor, which gives both Model S and Model X an extremely low centre of gravity, greatly reducing the risk of rollover while at the same time enhancing handling and performance. Without an engine at the front, a Tesla has a crumple zone much larger than other comparable vehicles, to absorb the energy of a front end impact.

The Model X is aimed at families with adaptations such as its ‘falcon wing’ doors for easy access in tight spaces. (Image: Mediateam)

Weight issues
However, the Model X does have some weight penalties, which are all but unnoticeable in normal usage. When pushing on though, any rapid change of direction asked of it reveals the inertia as result of that extra weight. But the active air suspension does a superb job of handling it, with the resultant effect of it coming under the heading of ‘character’ instead of ‘handicap’.

With two motors, one in the front and one in the rear, the Model X digitally and independently controls torque to the front and rear wheels. The result, says Tesla, is unparalleled traction control in all conditions. Unlike conventional all-wheel drive vehicles that sacrifice fuel efficiency for increased traction, Tesla’s Electric All Wheel Drive system increases efficiency. This has certainly been an Achilles Heel of more conventional all-wheel drive vehicles, and something the Model X turns to its advantage, but again, it is more comparable to a Qashqai than it is a Land Rover Defender in this respect. However, if you search for Model X off-roading, the Internet will provide you many fine examples.

Usage modes
The Model X comes with various modes of usage too, with a configurability closer to a smart phone experience than a car. For example, drivers used to the slight creep of a conventional automatic car when lifting off the brake, can have that familiar characteristic if they so desire with a mere option selection. All of this is via the now familiar 432mm (17”) central touch screen and Tesla OS that enjoys frequent over the air software updates.

More importantly, there are steering response modes of comfort, standard and sport, as well as acceleration modes of sport and the now famous ludicrous. The suspension too can be set to automatically lower itself for faster driving when ground clearance is not required.

However, the standard driving experience is very good. This was aptly demonstrated as the particular car driven was taken from County Laois to Macreddin Village in Wicklow without even checking to see which modes were set. Despite this, the drive, from primary routes and urban bypasses to country roads and into boreens, was reassuring, responsive and comfortable.

The fast charger stations are strategically placed to allow easy cross-country journeys. (Image: Mediateam)




Country roads
After a stop in Wicklow, the review car, an X 90D, was driven on rather small roads from Macreddin down to the N11 and back to Sandyford in a mix of spirited and sedate driving styles. This allowed the full range of its driving characteristics to be assessed. Despite its size, in terms of its tall stature, the X was well behaved at every turn and facilitated overtakes with its instantly available torque that I would not have attempted with anything less than a supercar or a litre sports bike.

This aptly demonstrates the fact that there are no major vices to its handling and its advantages far outweigh any penalties of the formula.

But the real party trick of the Model X is the rear door action. Described as ‘Falcon Wing’ doors, or gull wing, if you are of a certain generation, they are hinged longitudinally on the roof line and have their major pivot inboard, near the centre line. Their opening action, activated by button, is to lift slightly upward and outward before rotating up and in. The benefit is that the rearmost seats are accessible for even the largest passenger, or a full-sized child seat can be easily lifted in and out with no restriction. But the opening arc is so contained as to allow the X to use even the tightest of shopping centre spaces. There have been criticisms that the action is too slow, but on the model tested, no such complaint could be levelled.

Charging network
So, now supported by a vast public and growing vendor charge system, an official showroom and support infrastructure and that SEAI grant, we come to the sticky bit—the price.

Tesla Motors has stated that they are not a conventional auto company. The stated aim is to bring economies of scale and production advantages direct to the customer. The model S, now in full production costs less now than when first offered. But, the Model X, being brand new and three times oversubscribed in terms of pre-orders, has not yet achieved these benefits. This is a roundabout way of saying it is eye-wateringly expensive in the category.

The tested model, am X 90D with extras such as 559mm (22”) Silver Turbine Wheels (€6,400), six seat option (€3,450), Black interior with carbon fibre upgrade (€4,200), Premium Sound option (€2,900), and pearl white paint (€1,800) came to a somewhat staggering €150,325, including the SEAI grant of €5,000.

This is a very large amount of cash for what this is an electric SUV, even if it is probably one of the best urban SUVs available.

But, early adopters may care less, and may also have deep pockets.

The Tesla Motors Model X is an excellent vehicle and a superlative electric vehicle. It is just a pity that for the majority of Irish drivers who would benefit most from it will find it, as yet, unobtainable.



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