Tesla Model X: Australian Hands-On

All images: Campbell Simpson

Today, Tesla starts selling the Model X in Australia. It's a $130,000-plus all-electric SUV that seats up to seven adults in comfort, can travel nearly 550km on a single charge, and can accelerate up to 100km/h in just over 3 seconds. Like the Model S, you can charge it for free at Tesla's network of Superchargers.

Where the Model S was based around a relatively simple concept, though -- a luxurious car built around a huge battery and electric motors -- the Model X integrates that technology into every door and panel. It's one of the most complicated cars you can buy, and you'll start seeing it on Australian roads soon.

Tesla Model X: Chassis, Design And Exterior

The Model X is built upon the same skateboard chassis as the Model S, with all the vital components -- two electric motors between the front and rear axles, high-performance DC to AC inverter, and a flat battery pack ranging from 60kWh to 100kWh in capacity -- sitting in between the four wheels. That gives the vehicle an extremely low centre of gravity, low enough that Tesla had trouble tipping the car for its rollover safety test. The base Model X 60D will cost around $130,000 on the road in Australia, while a fully-loaded Model X P100D will cost north of $300,000 once options are added -- full pricing is available here. The car rolls on 20-inch wheels as standard, with optional 22-inch rims an extra expense.

Despite the same floorpan as the Model S, the Model X has more room inside, being physically larger (5029x1999x1684mm vs 4976x1963x1435mm) and heavier (approximately 2550kg vs 2250kg) as well. With up to seven full-size seats available -- five are standard in a 2-3 configuration, but 2-2-2 six-seat and 2-3-2 seven-seat options can be added -- the X's doors will see more use, and it's the rear entrance that forms the car's signature feature. Tesla calls the Model X's high tech rear doors a 'falcon wing' design, with an additional point of articulation over a regular gullwing, and they're electrically operated with two electric motors integrated in the hinges. Everything is controlled by buttons, and it does this:

The Model X's design looks relatively bulky alongside a lower, sleeker Model S, but seen in abstract -- especially from a difference -- it can be difficult to tell the two apart. That's even harder again now that the Model S has an identical front fascia thanks to its recent facelift. That front bar is optimised for the lowest possible aerodynamic coefficient of friction, without the radiators of an internal combustion engine to cool, although the Model X does have an extremely powerful HEPA-grade 'bioweapon defense mode' air conditioning system that requires some front air intake. Different headlights and daytime running lamps distinguish the X from the S, too, as well as a much flatter rear boot area.

The car's windscreen is one of its most distinctive features from the inside, but from the outside you can barely notice it. It's the largest piece of glass used in any car, and it stretches all the way from the bonnet to behind the front seats, where the falcon wing doors open -- inside the car, it gives the front passengers an unparalleled view of the road and sky ahead. We get a lot of sun in Australia, and appropriately the level of tint on the glass goes up as it stretches back, and there are also fold-out sun visors in the car's A-pillars and clip-in sunshades are hidden away in the lower boot space.

Tesla Model X: Interior, Technology And Safety

The Model X doesn't have any protruding door handles, unlike the Model S. Instead, a quick press on the door handle unlocks and pops the front doors and kicks the rear doors' electric falcon wing motors into action, opening them. Those doors, electric as they are, also incorporate ultrasonic sensors -- and so won't open into any objects in their path. The falcon wing doors also only need 30 centimetres of space alongside the car to open vertically, Tesla says, and allow a much larger minivan-style aperture for middle row and rear seat passengers to enter or exit through. Optional automatic front doors, too, will open electrically when the driver gets close to the Model X with the key in their possession, and close once they sit inside with foot on the brake.

The seats themselves are worthy of attention, too. The front seats are every-way-adjustable electronically as you might expect, but each rear seat in the middle row -- depending on the layout -- sits on its own monopost, and is electrically adjustable forwards or backwards. It's that electric adjustment that allows the middle row seats to move forwards, at the touch of a button, on their single-piece shell to allow easier access to the twin rear seats. Those rear seats will lay flat in the six- and seven-seat configurations to allow for extra boot space. On the topic of boot space, there's a lot, distributed between the capacious front trunk and the rear boot, which has a flat floor but that can slide open to reveal a deeper space for shopping bags or luggage.

The same 17-inch touchscreen as the Model S lives in the Model X, and it's functionally the same -- controlling every aspect of the car from air conditioning to in-car entertainment to air suspension (when selected as an option) -- but there's one significant difference. Instead of handling the Model S's panoramic sunroof, the Model X's touchscreen can open or close each of the doors as required, and that's where you'll see the alerts if the rear doors sense an object within their opening path. The driver gets the same expansive multi-function dashboard display as the Model s, and the driving experience between the two should be very much the same.

A feature that Tesla is talking up a lot for the Model X's launch is the car's safety, in everything from its crash protection to the quality of the air inside. One of the most talked-about features at the SUV's unveiling was the bioweapon defense mode, which is a fancy marketing term for a high-purity, HEPA-grade filter that can clean the air inside the Model X to 99.9 per cent free of pollution. On the outside, Tesla says the X is twice as safe as the next safest car when it comes to side-on collision protection, and the massive front void that comes from not having an engine means that there's a huge amount of crumple zone to protect against front-on accidents.

Tesla Model X: Performance, Driving And Range

If you've read our ongoing coverage of Tesla on Gizmodo, you already know what to expect from the Model X's vital statistics. In its most insane incarnation, the P100D Ludicrous announced today, it'll hit 100km/h from a standstill in 3.1 seconds and motor on to an electronically limited top speed of 250km/h, with an ideal (NEDC) all-electric range of 542km on a single charge. Acceleration and range alike diminish as you move down the various performance and battery capacity options, from the 100D to the 90D, 75D and the software-limited 60D -- which has 355km of range and a 6.2-second 0-100km/h sprint speed, as well as a 210km/h top speed. For a car that weighs more than 2500kg, it feels fast, and it feels sure-footed, and it feels safe. More on that when we spend more time in one for a full review.

It's interesting to note just how flat the Model X stays through corners, despite aggressive sawing on the steering wheel from our test-driving Tesla representative. That comes courtesy of that extremely heavy and low-slung battery pack, which keeps the car's centre of gravity just about as low as possible. It's definitely the most sporty, or forgiving to aggressive driving, SUV-size vehicle we've ever been in. And, courtesy of the electric motors, acceleration comes in one continuous smooth push, with no gear shifts to jostle driver or passengers around. This is what it's like inside:

We'll have much more time to get a proper hands-on experience with how the Model X stands up to the challenge of real-world driving later this year, but for now -- with our very quick hands-on time with it -- we're confident it'll offer the same compelling package that sells its Model S sibling so well. It's fun to sit inside, with all that technology going on -- everything from the wheels up to the roof has some kind of sensor or electric motor or touch-sensitive button hidden away. It's certainly got performance credentials on paper, too, with that circa-3 seconds to 100km/h dash and, now that the 100kWh battery is an option, the kind of range that makes a long weekend drive a possibility as well as the regular weekly commute.

Of course, it's competing in a rarefied atmosphere -- it's a car with a six-figure price tag and a range that still won't rival a traditional internal combustion engine vehicle of the same performance credentials. But, like the Model S that arrived in Australia two years before it, the Model X SUV sells itself, with a unique feature-set that's hard to ignore especially if you're a tech-head looking for a futuristic vehicle to call your own. It's an interesting car from the ground up, with doors that open for you and doors that open like a supercar. It's as fast as a supercar, too, and you can drive one around for zero dollars. We can't wait to get hold of one for a full review.

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