Dropping kids off at school is usually a quick and drama-free task. Not in the Tesla Model X. Pull up to the curb, hit one screen-mounted button, and the passenger door magically extends out to let out my teenager. But kids in the yard don’t notice that. What they do notice is this gunmetal grey family hauler’s rear falcon-wing door lifting straight up, then folding out, like a futuristic spaceship unveiling its cosmic villain.
Mash the throttle at a green light, and the acceleration is so fierce and instant that it’ll interrupt any conversation mid-stream – and often raise its volume immensely!
Or in this case, my bespectacled 10-year-old.
The stir wasn’t quite the instant congregation of ogling kids brought on by a bright green Lamborghini Huracán, but then again, Tesla’s all-electric Model X SUV also didn’t require two trips to take two boys to school. And even three years after the Model X hit the market, it still feels very much like a futuristic spaceship brought back to Earth through some mysterious rip in the universe’s space–time continuum.
Robo-entry on, mostly
Even before stepping into this top-line Model X P100D for the first time, once the liquid black Model S-shaped key fob was in my pocket, the Model X morphed into a Star Wars character. Walking up to the locked driver’s side, the door will automatically extend out to welcome the driver, with sensors in the door only allowing it to open as far as the car or fence next to it will allow.
Turn this robo-entry function off, and the doors open with a double push of the flush chrome door handles, instead of the S sedan’s power retractable handles. All four doors plus the tailgate can also be opened or closed from the huge 17-inch, vertical touchscreen inside – which seems ready for duty in the Millennium Falcon, never mind a leather-lined crossover. That’s in addition to all the other functions it controls – enough for an hour’s worth of explanation at the local Tesla store, with the sense that this was just the introduction to a long list of intergalactic capabilities.
Back down on Earth, the presence of an automatic door opening function makes it somewhat surprising that an SUV this advanced – and pricey, at $110,000 to start in Canada for the 75D, and $181k+ for a P100D – doesn’t offer a similar auto-open function for the tailgate, either with a foot-sweep or just by standing behind it for a few seconds, as many current – and much more affordable – all-wheel drive crossovers offer.
It’s not for lack of hardware: there are cameras mounted in the fenders and each B-pillar, for the advanced AutoPilot systems; as well as various sensors mounted within the doorframes and body to automatically stop those falcon-wing doors if it detects a person or impediment underneath them.
And you’ll get used to such space-age ease of access quickly. So quickly that once you’re accustomed to the Model X opening and closing the driver’s door for you, walking up to the tailgate with both hands full of packages and having to fumble for the touchpad or the key in your pocket seems like a jarring yank back into the automotive past.
Futurism continues once inside
Once you’re seated, the dash lights up and a welcome chime sounds, alerting you that your Tesla is now ready to drive, with no start button anywhere to be found, never mind pressed. As on the Model S, there’s some switchgear familiar from former Mercedes-Benz models, but overall, the look is futuristically minimalist, with only two hard buttons: one to the right of the massive touchscreen, to open the glove compartment; and another on the left for the mandated hazard light switch.
Though attractive and high-tech, there isn’t the richness of trim materials one will find in similarly priced German or British luxury marques. Instead, what impresses most is the plethora of surprise-and-delight features, such as the front glass that extends the entire windshield well into the roof of the X, above the heads of both front passengers. This glass is tinted to help keep the interior cool in sunny weather.
There’s even a Cabin Overheat Protection mode that automatically turns on the A/C when interior temperatures reach over 40 degrees Celsius (105 F), such as when you’re parked out in the blazing summer sun. The system can run for up to 12 hours at a time, plugged in or not, and is even smart enough to turn itself off once the battery hits 20 percent – you don’t want your Model X left outside at the airport to strand you after leaving it for a week.
As lovely as that cascading windshield is, it’s the massive 17-inch vertical screen that visually dominates the Model X’s interior. The main climate controls appear on a largely static strip along the bottom of the screen, including front seat heater controls, while large icons across the top provides your main choices between Media, Navi, Calendar, Energy, Browser, Camera and Phone menus. While any one of these can take up the entire screen – the full-screen map setting is particularly visually arresting – it’s easy to mix two of these menus together in a split screen format.
Unlike any other current non-Tesla, the embedded 4G LTE allows you to browse the web, with no lockout even as you drive. For safety reasons, the software won’t allow videos to play. But with otherwise full social media and browsing capability, as well as easy access to a long list of web radio and online podcasts easily accessible from this screen, combined with limited steering wheel controls, and there’s a lot of potential distractions on this screen.
Speaking of comfort, the Model X rides admirably for an all-wheel-drive SUV on 20-inch winter tires. It offers a standard air suspension that can be raised to five different levels, from Very Low to Very High, when you really want to clear a large speed bump or steep driveway. It’ll automatically adjust itself depending on your speed, but if you raise it to the top two settings, it’ll save the location in your GPS to automatically raise it next time you encounter the same driveway or obstacle.
The spec sheet that came with this car listed some fabulous looking 22-inch black onyx wheels, at a hefty $7,200, but the winter rubber on this tester came on the Model X’s standard 20-inch rims. Which made me realize that whether you opt for the base Model X 75D that starts at roughly $110,000, or an extra-fast P100D performance model that tops out closer to $200K, only Tesla badge spotters will be able to tell any difference visually.
Ludicrous mode = warp speed
Considering that the Model X P100D weighs a hefty 2,487 kg (5,483 lb!), it’s an engineering marvel of the highest order that the car can actually hit its rated 0–100 km/h acceleration time of 3.1 seconds. There are tons of videos of the X lining up next to and beating various Italian and German supercars at drag strips, as well as a 707 hp Jeep Trackhawk more recently, where a Model X with the Ludicrous+ over the air software upgrade (no dealer visit required) achieved a new quarter-mile SUV record time of 11.281 seconds.
This was perhaps the X’s greatest party trick. Mash the throttle at a green light, and the acceleration is so fierce and instant that it’ll interrupt any conversation mid-stream – and often raise its volume immensely! And yet it’s the silence combined with such instant suction to the seat that makes it feel like a tractor beam somehow turned up to warp speed. Kids cackle and yell for more, while more nervous types reach for non-existent grab handles in panic.
Despite this fierce acceleration, and the P for Performance appellation, this Model X is more straight-line monster than actual dynamic superstar. Those brakes have a huge task hauling that much weight and momentum down to legal speeds, with a feel that’s not going to make the brake engineers at Porsche worry for their jobs anytime soon. It’s a similar story for handling, where it’s clear that comfort and refinement are the priorities compared to something like a Cayenne Turbo S, though likely closer to the handling dynamics of one of the next quickest SUVs on the market, the 12-cylinder Bentley Bentayga.
Clearly, heavy acceleration runs like this will eat up the range offered by the P100D’s massive 100 kWh battery. On a full overnight charge, but in Ludicrous mode (which is optimized for max acceleration, not range), this Model X showed a total range of 456 km in late winter weather that included some snow. Over my four days with it, those were clearly optimistic range numbers, but then again, that was with plenty of heat and Ludicrous-mode fun.
That acceleration is all the more incredible when you look at the annual fuel cost numbers. The Canadian government estimates that a year of driving that 12-cylinder Bentayga will cost $3,625, or $3,260 in the more similarly priced Cayenne Turbo S. The electricity cost to cover the same distance in the Model X P100D? A mere $640, according to the government’s standardized estimates, or roughly half of what it costs to fuel a base Honda Civic for the year.
Sure, folks who can afford 200 large for an SUV aren’t buying it to save fuel money, but it’s still incredible nonetheless. And it highlights the cost-saving possibilities of pure electric cars right alongside the performance ones.
Practicality and safety still key in the future too
This particular Model X came with five individually heated seats, with a fold-flat second row and massive cargo area, but there are also six- and seven-seat versions available. Finding cargo room figures behind the second row of seats in Tesla’s official info or owner’s manual proved fruitless, but considering there’s a yawning 2,487 L worth of space with that second row folded, and a sizable 357 L even behind the third row of seats when so equipped, there’s no lack of people or cargo room in the X.
Plus the fact that there’s no engine up front in X’s nose, just like in the Model S sedan, means that the frunk can also hold another 187 L worth of gear. Space in a people-mover is key, clearly, no matter where – or when – you are in the universe.
Convenience-wise, there’s a Tesla app that brings the usual EV capabilities to the Model X, such as pre-heating or cooling the cabin, and checking the charge. But the most incredible trick is a unique Summon function, which allows you to truly let out your inner Michael Knight, and call your Tesla to silently move forwards or backwards to you, say if folks have parked super-close on either side of you at the mall. The sight of your car without anyone in it rolling to or away from you is somewhat nerve-wracking, but it’s smart enough to slow down or stop if it senses anyone moving behind the car.
From a safety perspective, the Model X has the latest AutoPilot software, and although you can’t remove your hands from the steering wheel for as long as you can with Cadillac’s SuperCruise system, it’s clear that this is one of the most advanced of such highway auto-accelerating, braking, and turning programs. The system will follow along on almost all well-marked highways, though like all such current systems, you have to pay attention still at the wheel, as there was one highway curve that the system couldn’t quite keep up with.
It was also a little less smooth in both braking and turning linearity compared to SuperCruise, and without the light-up steering wheel of that in the CT6 Cadillac. However, the Model X does have its own unique party trick with its lane-change function, which puts you into the indicated lane all by itself while in AutoPilot once you activate the turn indicator.
And of course, features like automatic emergency braking and collision avoidance systems are also part of the active safety package, with future software updates (delivered over the air) promising more advanced safety and autonomous systems for years after your Tesla purchase. Plus Tesla says its large, heavy, floor-mounted battery means the X has a rollover risk half that of any other SUV on the market.
If this is the future, take me there
Considering the practicality, straight-line speed, quiet, and high-tech conveniences offered by this top-line Tesla Model X P100D, there really isn’t much it doesn’t excel at in the overall tallying up of its scores. In fact, Tesla’s Model X could easily be one of the best answers to the existential car enthusiast question: “If you could only have one car, what would it be?” This gunmetal grey starship from the future just warp-drived its way up my own personal list, at true Ludicrous speed.
|Engine Displacement||Front motor: 193 kW; Rear (P) motor: 375 kW|
|Peak Horsepower||603 hp|
|Peak Torque||713 lb-ft|
|Fuel Economy||2.8 / 2.7 / 2.8 Le/100 km city/hwy/cmb, 25.4 / 23.6 / 24.6 kWh/100 km city/hwy/cmb|
|Cargo Space||Front 187 L; Rear 491 / 2,300 L seats down|
|Model Tested||2018 Tesla Model X P100D|
|Price as Tested||$190,800|
$7,900 – Enhanced AutoPilot $6,600; Premium Grey Paint $1,300