23rd August 2017
Dad of two, Steve Tooze test drives the Tesla X on a family trip to North Cornwall and Camp Bestival in Dorset
Let’s get the testosterone-fuelled Jeremy Clarkson bit out of the way right here at the beginning. Don’t want any petrol-head readers dozing off early because it’s an electric vehicle on the starting blocks.
Phwooooar, this car is quick!
I don’t mean quick for an electric car. I mean quicker than anything that I’ve ever driven before. I was about ten minutes into my first lone drive when I discovered the pulse-pounding possibilities of the Tesla X.
Slipping into the cockpit – and trust me that’s just what it feels like: a vast bubble of glass windscreen that stretches way over your head giving the interior the ambience of a combat fighter rather than a family car – I knew this was going to be good from the second I touched the accelerator.
The response was instantaneous. Zero delay between goosing the pedal and the car positively flinging itself forward, leaving me with slightly sweaty palms until I got used to the lack of any time lag.
Then on the first red light on a nearby dual carriageway came the dream moment.
With a complacent grunt, a Porsche pulled up alongside, the driver revving his engine in anticipation of a fast pull-away.
Amber…green…touch accelerator…Porsche is a small, insignificant dot in the rear-view mirror…
I want to tell you that I didn’t punch the air, whoop, and, in my best Tom Cruise voice, drawl: ‘I feel the need for speed.’ I want to tell you that. But I would be lying.
Ok, deep breath and lose the silly grin. Time to put the 18-year-old me back inside his 50+ box, and talk about the many other good things that this pioneering piece of automobile encapsulates.
A bit of back story first. Elon Musk, the Silicon Valley tech billionaire, is the man behind Tesla.
Musk is a man on many missions: to put people on Mars in the 2020s, to build a 700MPH Hyperloop train system across the US, and build a battery that will fuel every home from renewable energy sources.
Tesla is his tool for turning the electric car into the mainstream transport of choice for all of us, and consigning the petrol car to the dustbin of history in the process.
The Model X is Tesla’s proof that ‘family car’ and ‘electric drive train’ can go together to create a vehicle that combines maximum sustainability credentials with sheer, unadulterated design sexiness and driving pleasure.
So, your question is: have they done it?
Well, driving pleasure I think I’ve dealt rather breathlessly with above. I should probably just add that the ‘beat a Porsche off the lights’ super-power of the Model X has practical ‘guy with two kids’ applications too.
In this car, you never, ever have that sinking ‘oops, I’ve pulled out of that junction/overtaken on that motorway a bit too late’ feeling. The instantaneous pick up on the accelerator gets you out of trouble in anything less than a driving decision of sheer idiocy.
It’s backed up by solid and yet responsive steering, and an intelligent braking system that feels supportive and reassuring, rather than bossy and second-guessing.
As for design sexiness, I need say no more than: falcon-wing doors. Yes, rear doors that fold up and out like something more suited to a Bond villain’s getaway car than a family saloon.
My 10-year-old son Fin’s initial wide-eyed reaction was simply: ‘OMG’. Groups of teens would assemble at motorway service stations to watch in admiration, and grown-men would amble over to ask if I could open them again.
Better still, they (and all the other doors and the boot) can be opened and closed with the huge touch screen next to the steering (which controls everything from temperature to sound system to navigation and is pretty much Tesla’s only nod toward a conventional dashboard).
Oh, and better still again, the falcon wings can be opened in the smallest parking space because they are full of sensors that detect a nearby car – or person – only allow the doors to unfold outwards once they have cleared the offending object.
Inside, the car has acres of leg room for its six fabulously-comfortable leather seats – two of which fold down to create more boot space. And because there is no engine (just a battery and electric drive chain under the car), there’s another boot at the front too.
You can probably tell by now that I had something of a love affair with the Model X. In fact, after a week in her company, I was still so deep in the honeymoon period that I felt the one major niggle was not even really her fault – it was mine. And the government’s.
Let’s call it recharge anxiety. That itchy feeling you get in an electric car as the touch screen counts down the miles before you need to power up again, and you wonder whether you’ll make it.
Fully-charged, the Model X has a 250-ish driving range (depending on how fast you drive, and how many electrical devices such as smartphones you have plugged in). And Tesla has started to build a network of super-fast chargers – 30 – 40 minutes plug in while you have a leisurely coffee at the services – and the in-car navigation system guides you toward the nearest one as the power gets low.
Our initial trip to Cornwall was a dream. Tesla chargers were easy to find on M5 service stations, and our hotels, Watergate Bay and Bedruthen Steps, were equipped with them too.
Things got slightly more hairy when we looped into Dorset to take in Camp Bestival on the way home, and, on the 1am trip back to London, I realised that I’d miscalculated the number of miles ahead.
Getting into a minor flap which involved forgetting how to use the navigation to find a charging point, I arrived at the front door with just 12 miles of charge left.
My fault on several fronts, I think we’ll have to agree: Not checking the charge level when we set out, and not having a charger at home like a real electric car owner.
Also getting into a sweat with technology and forgetting that – in a total emergency – I could have knocked on a door and used a kit in the car to simply plug the Model X into a house socket.
The government’s fault for dragging its feet on pouring money into creating a super-fast national charging network to speed our inevitable transition from gas- guzzlers to their electric counterparts obviously hasn’t helped either.
My close charging call did nothing to damp my ardour for the Model X. The break up when I took her back to the dealers near Heathrow was painful, and I still think longingly about her every day.
At an eye-watering £99,000 on the road, she’s way too high-end for me.
But Tesla – pursuing their mission of electric cars for the masses – have just released the Model 3 in the US with a more manageable price tag of £26,650.
Waiting lists are growing fast in the UK, and I’m already fantasising…
Model: Tesla Model X 90D
On the road price: £99,230
Co2 emissions: zero
Range on a single charge: up to 351 miles
Top speed: 155 MPH