Model X, an SUV that’s as radically different from any SUV as anything yet. And it isn’t just the looks, the cabin, the propulsion system, the doors, the seats, or a host of other equally silly and fun features. It’s everything. Unlike most SUVs the Model X has a low nose or bonnet, for low drag. The skinning is nice and clean, and those thick daytime running lamps stand out like white ‘kajal’. Since there’s no need for massive airflow though the cowl, and no big radiator, the front aperture is slim. This helps make X the slipperiest SUV in the world, according to Tesla. The coefficient of drag is just 0.25 Cd. Around the rear, the design of the Tesla X is more BMW X6 like, with a fastback rear. The tail-lights are rather ordinary though and, for all intents and purposes, look like they have been plucked out of someone else’s parts bin. A lot of that weight comes from the massive lithium-ion battery pack. Similar to the one in the Model S, it comes in most markets with a choice of 75kWh, 90kWh and 100kWh capacities. The bigger ones weigh close to 600kg, double of what a typical engine and fuel tank weigh.
All Model Xes get electric four-wheel drive, with power supplied by the ‘Tesla’ or three-phase electric motors cradled between each axle. This 100D has a power output of 557hp. You can get a more powerful X now, however, and the new ‘ludicrous mode,’ (now renamed Plaid mode) gives you a simply insane 1,020hp and a superbike-matching 0-100kph time of 2.5sec (with rollout subtracted). Then there are the fully motorised front doors and the unique double-hinged ‘falcon wing’ rear doors that open with so much drama and pomp, you feel you are exiting the hatch of a spaceship. Brings out the child in you. The falcon doors are practical too. They offer effortless ingress and egress, and the manner in which you can ‘walk’ into the third row without having to crunch down below the roof is just superb.
There’s also no starter button. No seriously. The car comes alive as soon as you get in and put your foot on the brake, and if the driver’s door is open, it shuts automatically. All you need to do now is select ‘D’ for drive on the Mercedes-Benz-like gear selector stalk, put your foot on the accelerator (can’t quite call it the gas pedal) and pull away. What’s also incredible is just how well the traction control seems to work; it allows power to flow though, but stems any wasteful wheel-spin. Electric traction control systems can be cycled (on and off) much faster.
The performance isn’t just spectacular from rest, put your foot down at almost any speed and it has the ability to just reel in the horizon. This feels surreal, almost like I’m piloting a Bullet train. The illusion for me is further reinforced by the fact that the road ahead is dead straight, we are flanked by Armco on one side, and every time I give it some stick, the median blurs almost instantly. A quick V-box run, with the car in ‘standard’ mode (not the more relaxed ‘Chill’), proves how quick the Tesla is; 0-100kph takes just 4.4sec; and that’s well into performance SUV territory.
The Model X even drives superbly when you are just taking it easy. It’s torquey, smooth, refined (of course), and the power is actually easy to meter compared to other electrics. And, importantly, it doesn’t always feel like it’s ‘chomping-at-the-bit.’ The all-electric advantage isn’t everlasting. By 150kph, some of the Model X’s competition start to haul back the advantage, and then, importantly, the rate of acceleration slopes off marginally. Nevertheless, that sledgehammer-like initial torque in a velvet glove remains Tesla’s calling card. And can you imagine what the 1,020hp Plaid version will be like?
There are many good things about electricity powering a vehicle, but the fact that the battery and motor combination weigh twice as much as a regular engine and gearbox, are not one of them. This makes managing the ride and handling compromise a bit difficult. So, despite having air suspension, the Model X’s ride is firm, and over uneven patches, you get tossed around a bit. Could this have been done better? Sure, you only need to look at Merc’s all-electric EQC that rides, well …. like a Merc.
Like almost everything on the Model X, the cabin too is unique. The dash is almost entirely monopolised by the vast portrait infotainment screen. And then because it has that panoramic windscreen, there’s a heightened sense of space up front. It isn’t just a sense of space. There’s actually loads of shoulder room up front, there’s acres of space in the back with only two seats on the second row, and if you are medium sized, you can even sit comfortably on the third row. Ingress and egress into the rear is also much nicer, with no roof to duck for. The 6-seat configuration we have, however, is a bit odd; individual seats on the second row aren’t spaced evenly. The gap between the left and right seat is huge, and this is because of the large hinges and shroud for the falcon wing doors that sit above your head.
As long as the move is natural, not forced and non-disruptive, the benefits are likely to be huge. And with sales of luxury cars increasing steadily, Tesla could be moving in at just the right time. But where exactly will Tesla setup its plant and when will India’s assembled cars begin rolling off the production line? We’ll have the answers soon.