The Tesla Model X has arrived, catapulting electric car pioneer Tesla into the global SUV market. Tesla boss Elon Musk unveiled the new Model X to the world at a special launch event in California, revealing the key features of a groundbreaking car that he hopes will make a similar impact in the premium family SUV market to that which the Tesla Model S has had in the executive car sphere.
The Tesla Model X is an all-electric, all-wheel-drive SUV that tackles the problem of building a high-riding family vehicle with the clean-sheet-of-paper approach for which Tesla has become renowned. The car is designed first and foremost as a family utility vehicle with seven seats, class-leading interior space and practicality, married to strong safety credentials centred around active collision avoidance technology. Beyond that, it's got 'falcon wing' rear doors, a bioweapon defence button and the top-spec model will surge from 0-60mph in 3.2 seconds.
Speaking at the Model X launch event, Musk explained that he had set out to prove that any car could go electric. With Tesla's Roadster, Model S executive car and now the Model X he's well on the way.
Musk has already gone on record in saying that the Model X would double Tesla's global sales volume and that's with the company planning to sell 55,000 vehicles in 2015. A further boost will arrive when the Model 3 compact executive car goes on sale in 2017.
Pricing has yet to be revealed, but the Model X is predicted to be priced at similar levels to the Model S when it goes on sale, putting it in the £50,000 to £90,000 bracket. The first UK deliveries are due in 2016.
Tesla claims that the Model X is the safest SUV ever. With US crash tests awarding it a 5-star rating in every category and a probability of serious injury in a high speed accident of only 6.5%, the stats appear to back that up. The firm also expects a maximum 5-star rating when the car is subjected to the Euro NCAP crash tests.
Key to the safety credentials of the Model X is the electric powertrain and its positioning under the car's floor. With no engine block to compress into the passenger compartment in the event of a collision and much more space for protective crumple zones, occupants are that much further out of harm's way. "It's like jumping into a pool or jumping into a pool with a rock in it. You don't want the pool with the rock in it," explained Musk.
In the standard US side impact intrusion test, the Model X achieved cabin intrusion of just 215mm, which is half that of the next best car tested – Audi's Q5 hybrid. It also performed extremely well in the roll-over test, with the low centre of gravity resulting from the floor-mounted powertrain and batteries helping give the Model X half the roll-over propensity of any other SUV.
You'd expect Tesla to fit advanced active safety technology and, sure enough, the Model X gets automatic emergency braking as standard. But there's also an innovative side collision avoidance system that uses sensors to detect and steer the car away from an impending collision to the side.
The doors have been a big Tesla Model X talking point since the car was first announced, and they seem to live up to expectations. Before we get to the 'falcon wing' rear doors, there's an 'auto presenting' front door that detects your angle of approach, predicts which door you're looking to enter the car by and opens that door for you so you can climb inside without ever touching key fob or door handle.
The spectacular 'falcon wing' doors to the rear of the Model X will instantly solve any problems parents have in persuading their kids to get in to the car; the young 'uns will be dying to see these doors in action. Forget Lamborghini's scissor doors or DeLorean gullwings, these might just be the coolest car doors yet. But they're a solution to a problem rather than a flashy marketing ploy. As Musk explained, the unique rear doors neatly solve the problem of accessing the third row of seats if you have child seats fitted in the second row.
The wide aperture created allows the outer seats in the second row to tilt forward from the base at the touch of a button, taking any child seat that's attached with them. This creates easy step-through access for an adult to get at the two extra seats in the rear. With the falcon wing doors lifted up and out of the way, it's also possible to fit a child seat and strap a child into it while standing upright; there's no need to bend over and strain your back.
The doors look like an accident waiting to happen in tight parking bays or multi-storey car parks with low ceilings, but the unique double-hinged design means they open almost vertically, so only a few inches of side clearance are needed beyond the car's wing mirrors to get them open. They need even less space than the sliding side doors on some MPVs. When it comes to overhead clearance, the car senses the roof height above and deploys the doors in different ways to prevent bumping them. The ultrasonic sensors that achieve this are mounted in the doors themselves, but no evidence of them can be seen outside the car as they're under the surface and able to see through the metal.
The architecture of the Model X allows maximum interior space, with this mid-sized SUV offering seven seats, lots of cabin storage and large boots front and rear. Each of the super-slim second row seats offers enough storage space underneath for hand baggage, just like an airline seat. The auxiliary boot under the bonnet of the car is big enough for a pushchair, which means that you can carry significant amounts of luggage in the car, even with seven people on board.
If that kind of carrying capacity is not enough, there's the potential to pull a trailer of over 2,000kg, making the Model X the first electric car with anything approaching that kind of towing capacity. Tesla has also designed a special bike rack for the Model X. The rear mounted device can be attached in less than 10 seconds and carries up to four bikes or six sets of skis.
In the front seats, visibility and light levels are enhanced by a panoramic windscreen that extends up and over the driver and front passenger. Tesla's trademark 17-inch touchscreen dominates the control interface, but there'a also voice control and functions mirrored on the instrument cluster to help keep the driver's eyes on the road.
Another neat feature is the unique phone pocket that lets the driver plug in their mobile blind, without having to scrabble around with cables. The special slot with power adapters for every every type of popular phone theoretically lets you slide your handset in to charge without diverting attention from the road ahead. We can't wait to try it.
And of course the Model X follows the lead of the Model S with blistering performance that will eclipse most supercars in terms of 0-60mph acceleration. The 562bhp Porsche Cayenne Turbo S takes 4.1 seconds to reach 62mph, so the 3.2-second 0-60mph time of the 762bhp Tesla Model X P90D in 'Ludicrous Mode' makes it the world's fastest accelerating SUV by some margin. Even without Ludicrous Mode, the Model X will cover the sprint in 3.8 seconds and reach the same 155mph top speed. With 967Nm of torque, it promises to deliver more shove than owners will ever find a use for.
Once again, the underfloor positioning of the Model X's powertrain and batteries and the low centre of gravity they create are said to bring advantages, this time in terms of handling and responsiveness on the road. With a drag coefficient of 0.24, the Model X is also officially the most aerodynamic SUV ever, with an active spoiler that deploys in three different positions according to the car's speed to aid performance. Counting against it is a substantial kerbweight of 2,468kg, putting the Model X at the heavier end of the large SUV scale.
The maximum range is quoted at 257 miles, with Ludicrous Mode only officially cutting that to 250 miles, although repeated hard acceleration will inevitably put a dent in the batteries' reserves.
Tesla launched the Model X in a week when the Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal has hit hard across the global car industry, and Elon Musk couldn't resist underlining what he sees as the strong environmental credentials of the Tesla all-electric powertrain.
As well as keeping the air clean with zero exhaust emissions, the Model X features technology to protect owners from other people's smog. It features two HEPA air filters, the larger of which is 10 times bigger than filters found in most conventional cars. This delivers an improvement in air filtering capability of up to 700 times.
Musk claimed that the Model X cabin has "air cleanliness levels comparable to a hospital operating room", and then revealed another of those tongue-in-cheek Tesla party pieces: the Bioweapon Defence Mode button. It's a real button that engages full air filtering capability to prevent any of the horrors lurking in the city air outside the car from making their way into the Model X's interior.
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