Review of: 2017 Tesla Model X 5dr SUV
2017 Tesla Model X: Rocky start
By Matt Bubbers
Apr. 3, 2017
Tesla’s first SUV, the Model X, got off to a rocky start in life.
The all-electric seven-seater was perpetually delayed, first scheduled for 2014, then early 2015. It didn’t arrive until the fall of 2015 and when it did, there were issues.
Owners reported faulty falcon-wing doors that wouldn’t open or close properly, sometimes detecting obstacles in the way when there weren’t, and sometimes hitting obstacles. The fancy double-hinged doors opened and closed too slowly.
The gigantic front windshield, while marvelous, caused drivers to see in double-vision at night. Bright lights would cause ghosting. It has been an issue with other cars, but this is a luxury vehicle that starts at $123,000 and can be optioned up to well over $200,000.
Tesla issued a precautionary recall to fix third-row seats which might not have withstood a crash, and users reported the central screen freezing. Wired magazine has published a good summary of the issues.
But demand was high and the wait times to get a new one were long. The Model X remains a hot ride, made more exotic by the fact it is such a rare sight.
Perhaps these issues are why it’s taken us until 2017 to get a test drive of a Model X. Whatever the case, driving the Model X for a few days proved to be an utterly unique adventure.
Pros & Cons
- + Acceleration
- + Usable technology
- + Fuel economy
- - Ride comfort
- - Pricey base model
- - Value for money
Tesla continues to do some of the most avant-garde design work in the automotive industry.
As one car designer recently pointed out to me, Tesla has created an entire visual identity for its lineup without resorting to the usual visual tropes: there’s no front grille, for example. Of course, electric motors don’t need an air intake like combustion engines do, so a front grille isn’t necessary. Tesla has pared everything back to the bare minimum. The door handles retract flush with the doors. The spoiler retracts into the bodywork. The Model X is made up of big surfaces, with proportions defined by the need to package seven occupants.
The result doesn’t look beautiful; it’s a bit like a jellybean on wheels, but it won’t get mistaken for anything else, and it turns heads.
Judged against other $123,000 family vehicles, the Tesla feels empty. There’s no transmission tunnel to impinge on seat space. Seven can fit in relative comfort. The middle seats move forward electronically to let people into the rear seats through those carnivorous falcon-wing doors.
The leather is buttery soft. But looking around, you wonder where all your money has gone. For $123,000 you could get Mercedes’ biggest SUV, a GLS 450 or 550, loaded with options. In the Tesla showroom that money gets you a bare bones Model X, without enhanced Autopilot, without seven seats (five are standard), without a heated steering wheel and more. The interior feels too basic for what you pay.
The central console is a giant vertical touchscreen, as seen on the Model S. It controls every function from the sunroof to drive modes to navigation and radio. Physical buttons would be less distracting for frequently-used functions, but in general the touchscreen is done well.
How far can you drive on a single charge? It depends on what size battery you can afford. The 75D is rated at 381 kilometres (in EPA testing). The top-line P100D starts at $193,200 and gets 465 km/charge. Cold weather will diminish range significantly, as it will on any electric car.
I didn’t get a chance to go through a full charge, but with the temperature hovering just above freezing, our P100D was estimating range at 380-400 kilometres, certainly enough that the vast majority of drivers could use this as their only car. (As long as you’ve got a place to charge it.)
Autopilot is similar to the semi-autonomous driver-assistance systems you’ll find on a Mercedes E-Class or high-end Audi models. It won’t drive for you. The driver is always responsible, but on the highway it works reasonably well to keep you in your lane at a safe distance behind the car in front. Still, you should never rely on it. Autonomous technology is not good enough to trust yet.
What’s it like to drive? Amazing, and weird.
It’s off-the-charts quick. Not only for an SUV, but for a supercar. In a dash from 0-100 km/h it will get beat by a Ferrari 488, but only by one tenth of one second. The ferociousness of the Tesla’s instant torque combined with all-wheel drive traction will put a massive grin on the face of everyone who experiences it. There’s no gear change to interrupt the raw acceleration either. At first it’s terrifying, like being in a bank-vault shot from a catapult. Then you learn to laugh.
On a smooth road, there’s a serenity to the Tesla experience you don’t get in anything this side of a Bentley Bentayga. The one-pedal driving takes a minute to get used to. You only use the brake pedal under 10 km/h, or for emergency stops. Otherwise you modulate your speed entirely through the accelerator.
You never have to turn the car on or off, simply get in and drive, and get out a lock it. Keys suddenly seem dated.
Never having to go to the gas station is nice too; Tesla is slowly expanding its Supercharger network throughout Canada.
The ride is a problem, though. The Tesla weighs well over two tonnes and it feels like it. It smashes into potholes and tries to steamroll speedbumps, jostling occupants over bad roads. Its air suspension can’t cope. It would be acceptable on a Chevy Suburban, but it’s not at all in keeping with the Tesla’s luxury character and price tag.
But what else can compete with the Model X? It is the only all-electric seven-seat SUV on the market. Burning fossil fuel is harmful to the planet and human life on it. Audi, Mercedes and Jaguar have all-electric SUVs of their own coming in the next year or two. They’ll likely cost less, but for now the Model X is your only choice in this particular automotive niche.
Over my few days with the Model X, it seemed like Tesla has worked out most of the issues. The falcon wing doors opened quickly enough. Occasionally one of the doors wouldn’t open all the way, perhaps detecting an obstacle that wasn’t there. At night, the windshield would cause on-coming headlights to ghost, making two lights look like four, but it wasn’t too distracting. The touchscreen never froze. It’s not perfect, but most of the big kinks seem to have been ironed out.
The Model X is for early adopters, those who must have the latest, flashiest, hottest gadget. If that’s you — and you have the money to burn — you’ll just have to live with the minor headaches that come with being an early adopter.