Tesla’s next-gen Model X: A frustrating €95k drive – but everyone else will love it
It reaches 100km/h in 4.6sec, but the gadget-laden Model X isn’t much of a driver’s car
Model: Model X
Date Reviewed: January 22, 2020
My family sees cars come and go. It’s the life of a professional motoring journalist; and no, I’m not looking for sympathy. My point is that shiny new cars are so commonplace in the lives of my children and my wife, that they have become inured to it all. They’re hard to impress, as apt to be annoyed by the fact that they don’t know which car outside Lidl is ours as they are to notice that it has some new, whizz-bang innovation. Mostly, they just don’t care what I’m driving.
Except for this one. This one, the Tesla Model X, has struck a resounding chord with all members of my family. From my youngest son, the car nut, to his older brother, who has less than zero interest in cars, to my wife, who loves her Mini and doesn’t really think about cars much beyond that. Even my dog, the lanky black greyhound, loved it, and all (I’m making an assumption on the part of the dog, here) were disappointed when I announced that it had to be returned to Tesla.
An abnormal familial reaction, then, but then the Model X is not what one might call an ordinary car. An egg-shaped people carrier masquerading as an SUV; a car with gull-wing rear doors more akin to a Mercedes 300 SL or DeLorean; a battery-powered car that can be “refuelled” in mere minutes, and travel across country on a single charge.
It’s also different; different to the first-generation Model X that we drove a couple of years ago. The styling hasn’t changed – such is the Tesla way – but the way it operates has. Tesla has this year given it the Raven update (named for the character in the X-Men comics) which means it has a new, more efficient, front electric motor, and a 100kWh battery pack that gives this Long Range model a theoretical one-charge range of 507km.
It’s also fast, covering the 0-100km/h sprint in just 4.6 seconds, thanks to a massive 750Nm of torque from those two electric motors, and the tractive abilities of four-wheel drive. The Performance version goes even quicker, but quite why you would need to is beyond me.
The cabin is also mostly unchanged – it’s still dominated by the massive, portrait-oriented central touchscreen. Unlike the smaller Model 3, the Model X still has an instrument pack in front of the driver, a fully digital one that combines sat-nav and infotainment displays, along with a “live” radar-and-camera-fed animation of what the car is doing, what lane it’s in, and what other vehicles and pedestrians the system can see. Clearly, it’s there as a representation of the theoretical powers of Tesla’s “Autopilot” driver-assistance system, but as we shall see, it’s often writing cheques that the software cannot actually cash.
Our test car had the optional six-seat layout – four individual seats in two rows, followed by a split-folding two-seater bench in the back. It’s not the most practical layout; space in the third row is limited, and equally space in the middle row is not as luxurious as you might expect, but it had one major benefit. The space between the individual middle-row seats made for an ideal spot for my dog to lie down. More conventional five and seven-seat layouts are also available.
The update giveth and the update taketh away, though. Such options as ventilated seats and a panoramic sunroof are no longer available. In fact, the only options you can order for the Model X are paint, upholstery colours, the seat layout, and hardware for supposedly fully-automated driving, once Tesla gets around to perfecting such.
You have to stay alert and attentive, and the system is easily upset by Irish weather, shutting down entirely during heavy rain
That may be a pipe dream, certainly on the basis of how Autopilot works at the moment. Essentially, it’s a conventional radar cruise control and lane-keeping steering. Within those narrow terms, it works well enough, and the automated lane-changing system works well too – spookily moving the car from lane to lane when you activate the indicator and gently nudge the steering. It’s not actually autonomous, though; nothing like it. You have to stay alert and attentive at all times, and the system is easily upset by Irish weather, shutting down entirely during heavy rain.
Perhaps it’s better just to drive the Model X yourself? Well, yes, but then it’s not much of a driver’s car. In spite of the updated adaptive air suspension, the X isn’t much fun from behind the wheel. Even in sport mode, the steering is numb and distant, and the sheer weight (2.5-tonnes, empty) means it’s no sports car in the corners. The suspension is curious, actually – the overall ride quality, as in how it absorbs bumps, is quite good, but the noise isolation is not, so the suspension creaks and thumps as it works, which sounds unpleasantly cheap for a car costing €95,000.
Then again, much of that price is ploughed into the battery. Tesla’s claim of 507km on a single charge is believable, but if you’re on the motorway a lot that will probably drop to a more realistic 400km or thereabouts. Still good, but there’s better news when it comes to recharging. The Raven update has allowed the Model X to charge at faster speeds, and it’s now able to draw 200kW from Tesla’s own-brand Supercharger system. Plug in, and within 15-20 minutes you’ll have another 150km of range on board. It’s actually quite startling, and stands in stark contrast to the snail-mail efforts of ESB’s 50kW “fast” chargers. This is what electric motoring is supposed to be like, and hopefully will be like as/when/if the charging network improves.
Not that my family was interested in that. They were more taken by the refinement of the Model X as it cruised along, or by the onboard video games that can be played on the big central screen (chess, anyone?), or by the fact that you can stream Netflix when parked up, or even that there’s a built-in karaoke function so you can belt out Abba tunes on a long journey. Trivial? Perhaps, but like the silly whoopee cushion function, Tesla knows that these little touches engage people with the car, in ways that other manufacturers tend to ignore. And we haven barely mentioned the dramatic Falcon rear doors, which arch majestically skyward when you open them. Again, they’re a touch pointless and silly (and one wonders how much they’ll cost to fix in the event of a breakage, ditto the big touchscreen), but you’ll love using them and people will come up to you to ask about them. A small touch of Star Trek on the street.
Tesla still needs to work on its finer details, the stuff that other carmakers asking €95,000 have ironed out long ago
There are still issues, though. Aside from the creaky suspension, the Model X still suffers from using two-generation-old cast-off Mercedes switchgear, the front seats are too narrow and too upright for true comfort, the rear-view mirror wouldn’t sit still in one position, and while the big touchscreen looks impressive and gets over-the-air updates, it took about a dozen tries for it to successfully connect to my phone. Tesla still needs to work on its finer details, the stuff that other carmakers asking €95,000 have ironed out long ago.
Still, there’s something about the Model X. It’s not as polished a product as the smaller, cheaper Model 3, nor is it as good to drive. But it is fascinating, it is interesting, it is intriguing and it is a rare modern car about which we can say that. Perfect? No, but at long last, a car about which my family wants to talk to me.
Tesla Model X Long Range: The lowdown
Price €102,500 as tested; Model X starts at €95,500
Top speed 250km/h
Claimed range 507km (WLTP)
CO2 emissions 0g/km
Motor tax €120
Our verdict Still flawed, but still fascinating