ONCE TESLA HAD engineered its model S saloon, with all-wheel drive and a flat-floor battery, it was easy to turn it into a crossover. But Tesla, full of dramatic ambition, didn't stop there. It added bizarre double-hinged powered 'falcon wing' rear doors, a panoramic overhead glass roof and seats on sculptural mono-pillar bases. As with the Model S, you interact with this highly connected car via a vast dashboard touchscreen.
What’s the interior like?
It's like no other car. Conventional paradigms have been re-thought all around the cabin. Not just because it's an EV, but because they could. Sometimes that's captivating. At other times, it's infuriating and you just wish Tesla founder Elon Musk could have accepted more often that something has been done in a certain way for a very long time for a very good reason.
The dashboard carries a vast tablet, but almost no physical switches. You can configure the screen to show Google maps, detailed energy consumption of the car, or music from online sources. It also acts as the switch panel to open and close the rear doors, turn lights on and off, adjust the climate control and squillions of other functions. The general control and menu logic is intuitive if you're a regular phone or tablet user. And the graphics are beautiful and responsive.
But it's not always a good way to control a car. There's no wrist rest, so you find your finger bouncing above the required position on the screen, jabbing inaccurately and often getting the wrong result.
Also it often takes a deep dive into the menus just to change something simple, like turning on and off the lights. Tesla would say you don't need to – they are automatic. But sometimes you simply do need to, and then it's three or four stages through the menus. Too hard, too slow, too distracting.
Still, this decluttering of physical controls gives the cabin a minimalist lounge feel. Materials are simple but mostly luxurious. The flat floor and huge glass area makes it very airy. The wing doors have overhead glass panels, and the windscreen arcs back above the front passenger’s heads, giving a gorgeous sky view.
Unfortunately, driving into a low sun you find the tiny visors do nothing to stop you being half-blinded through this vast glass. A simple roller blind arrangement, as on the Citroen C4 Picasso, could have solved this.
A menu on the screen allows the driver to open the back doors, or there's a blade-shaped touch handle on the outside. The door first motors outward by about 15cm, and then, thanks to the double hinge, it sets off more or less vertically. That means it will usually open even if parked next to another vehicle in a car park – it takes similar lateral room to a minivan sliding door. Unfortunately, it takes lots of height, so beware low garages.
Once open, the door does give you impressive access.
You just walk in. There are sensors to make sure the door doesn't hit things or people. On our test they didn't always work. They hit things. Or they stuck half-way even in open surroundings.
Our test car had six seats, which is an option over the standard five. There's also a seven-seater available. Six is the most luxurious set-up, as everyone gets their own comfy chair. The front and middle seats adjust electrically, not just for comfort but to open a path to the third pair.
The front and middle seats have shiny backs, which look beautiful but scratch easily and carry no map pockets. You notice that because the falcon wing doors have no pockets either, or they'd empty themselves when they got to the top of their travel.
The second-row chairs don't fold flat either, and their support legs get in the way of the feet of people in the third row.
The third-row seats do fold flat. Even when upright, there's still some boot space behind, including a well beneath the rear floor.
The Tesla's other storage trick, made possible by the absence of an engine, is the front boot. Known to Americans as the frunk (think about it), it'll hold two or three soft airline-size bags.
What’s it like on the road?
Don't press the accelerator unless there's a whole lot of clear road ahead. From a standstill or a low speed, this thing catapults forward, and it's deceptive because there's no noise or steps of gearshifts. So you just set off from here, and find yourself over there, without quite knowing what happened in between.
With acclimatization though, it's an enchanting form of propulsion. It's utterly smooth and predictable, and there are no delays while a turbo spools up or a transmission shifts down.
It's also ruddy quick. From rest the 90D gets to 100km/h in just over five seconds. Not enough? The faster P100D, which has the same front motor but a more powerful one at the back, and a modified battery to supply the electrical current, can do it in about three seconds. Don't bother looking for an SUV that's quicker – not from Porsche, not from Bentley, not from BMW M, not from anyone.
Mind you, beyond an Australia-irrelevant 120km/h or so, there's a definite softening of the acceleration, as the motors' torque falls off at those speeds.
It might weigh two and a half tonnes, but it's no truck. The body is aluminium and the battery lies below the seats. All of which keeps the centre of gravity low to the ground, so it doesn't roll much even when you pelt into corners.
Another advantage of electric motors' quick reactions is that the stability control system can be subtly calibrated to hold the tyres just below the traction limit without sharp power cuts.
There's another factor that lets you slip along a twisty road more swiftly than many sports car, too. Because you sit high, you get great sight lines through corners.
Thanks to all-round air suspension, the ride comfort isn't bad either. Certainly better than most of the fast-SUV opposition. Tyre noise, too, is low, a bit of a marvel given the 22-inch rims and ultra-low profile rubber fitted to the test car.
This is also the only EV that'll tow a trailer. As with a conventional vehicle, this is going to have a negative effect on energy consumption and range.
Quick driving will knock the battery range right down, but of course mostly your use of the performance is constrained by traffic or speed limits. In that case battery range is 400km-odd. Short trips in cold weather erode that, because it takes energy to get the battery up to operating temperature. But in warmer weather, that's less of an issue.
On a standard 11kW charger, it'll take about 10 hours to go from a depleted battery to a full one. That's fine because you'll be doing it at home or at work. Remember, in a petrol car you interrupt journeys to refuel because you don't have a fuel supply at home; in an electric car you 'refuel' while you're asleep.
For long trips, you'll be looking at Tesla's high-speed 'Supercharger' corridor which runs down the East Coast. By the end of the year they'll run from Melbourne to Adelaide, each roughly 200km apart. And another one in Perth. Each of which can give you 400km charge in less than an hour.
Also, many hotels, malls and other destinations have special Tesla-dedicated chargers (slower than the superchargers mind) where you can recharge while you get on with your business or leisure.
It takes planning, but a long-distance electric life is possible.
What about the safety features?
Neither the Model X hasn't been tested by ENCAP or ANCAP. But Tesla claims its "own internally conducted crash testing indicates that Model X should be the first SUV to receive the highest safety rating in every category".
The three-row layouts include four sets of ISOFIX points.
Tesla's other big safety claim of course is its assisted-driving features. The model X can be fitted with the sensors, radars and cameras for 'Full self Driving'. However, because the system is so new, almost all its features are disabled while Tesla verifies and calibrates them.
Conventional lane-keeping and speed-adaptive cruise control will be enabled pretty rapidly, and in a wider range of conditions. But the more advanced stuff will need laws to change first.
Thing is, you don't have to do anything to get these improvements. All the updates happen overnight, when the car is in range of your home wifi. As they drive, Teslas harvest knowledge about roads and corners and junctions. This uploads automatically to the company's servers (provided you've ticked the data sharing box), and used to update the cloud mapping. It's then distributed back down to all the cars each night.
So your Tesla gets more competent day by day, learning about roads you've not even yet driven down.
But it's critical, so far anyway, that you regard these systems as driver support, not driver replacement. You have to carry on with your eyes on the road and hands in the wheel. The systems can't yet detect or interpret many critical situations. You want to be able to spot those dangers as they develop. Otherwise there will be a delay before you intervene, while you dial your concentration back in and get the measure of things. By then it could be too late.
Smooth, almost silent and blisteringly quick, the Model X could convert you to electric propulsion. But you'll have to think ahead about charging its huge battery, unless you use it as a commuter car and charge overnight or at work. Although roomy and capable of towing, its cabin is compromised – style and luxury rule over SUV practicality.
2017 Tesla Model X 90D
Pricing From $188,528 (90D, five seats, no autopilot)
Warranty four years, 80,000km (vehicle) eight years unlimited km (battery)
Engine Front and rear electric motors Power 280kW Torque 440Nm at 0rpm
Drive four-wheel drive
Dimensions 5052mm (L); 2271mm (W mirrors out) 2070 (W mirrors in); 1685mm (H)
Seats 5 (6 or 7 optional)
Kerb weight 2439kg
Battery capacity 90kWh
Thirst 21.6kWh/100km (combined cycle)
Fuel electricity Spare no