Driven: Tesla Model X P100D

Nobody doubts that the Tesla Model X P100D is an astoundingly futuristic car, but is the Middle East ready for the electric vehicle invasion

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ange anxiety they said. This doesn’t feel like anxiety. This feels like post-traumatic syndrome. It is nearly midnight and we are staring at a Green Charge station at Dubai’s Emirates Golf Club. We are stranded. We don’t have enough juice to go anywhere.

A short two hours earlier I am super stoked to finally test drive the Tesla Model X. I have always been a fan of Elon Musk. The sheer audacity to not only build a car company in this competitive landscape, but to revolutionize the EV market altogether WHILE launching rockets into space. Rockets that land back on earth like something out of Star Wars. Unbelievable. Tesla sells more EV cars than Nissan, Toyota and BMW combined, so when Ed-in-chief Bassam turns up with the car after the photoshoot had wrapped up, I couldn’t wait to put it in Ludicrous mode and make the jump to light speed. Alas, the remaining battery range was less than 60km and dropping fast, so that would have to wait for a bit. It was already late in the evening so we didn’t feel like driving all the way to Last Exit on the Abu Dhabi border where they have a Tesla supercharger (which gives you circa 200km of range in 30 minutes). That’s when I remembered seeing Tesla Chargers at Spring Souk mall which happens to be just round the corner from home, so we figured we’d leave the car there overnight to charge.

We get there, and gleefully unwrap the brand-new charger cables, that are strangely still in their original bubble wrapping. We plug the socket in and… Nothing. The charging units are not operational yet! Beginning to feel that aforementioned range anxiety, using the Tesla’s integrated Google maps we search for charging stations. We find one at Mall of the Emirates and head there, but as we’re about to arrive we realize that leaving the car overnight at the mall may not be such a good idea. By then the battery is extremely low and the in-car Wifi is no longer working, so charging stations no longer appear on the vehicle’s oversized navigation screen. So we pull over and search for more options on our phones. Emirates Golf Club is the nearest option so that’s where we head.

We limp our way there with the AC off, in Chill driving mode and with brake regenerative ON so that the battery can recharge every time we slow down. We barely make it to the Green Charging station with only a few kilometres of range to spare. We take out the charging cable from the massive boot, plug it in, but wait.. what? There is no credit card or cash slot to pay for the charge? You need to apply online for a Green Charging DEWA card for this to work. Are you serious? As I watch one Club patron after the other drive away in their petrol cars without a worry in the world, I begin to hate electric vehicles. We contemplate just leaving it behind at this point and taking an Uber home. Bassam then makes one last ditch effort and calls a Tesla-owning friend who lives nearby to sheepishly ask if we could use his wife’s car charger overnight. We decide to risk driving it to his house and make it there with very low single digit range. We’re both stressed and out of sorts. Of course, a Tesla owner wouldn’t face these kinds of issues because they would have a charger at home presumably and would issue charging cards just in case. But this made me think that I would never consider a family road trip in an EV.

Shaking off that eventful night, I go to pick up the car early the following morning. In dark grey or midnight blue and sitting on 22-inch blacked out rims, the Tesla X is an attractive, aggressive vehicle. In white and with standard 20-inch rims, not so much. It looks like a minivan, or a swollen Tesla S. Either way though, it looks like nothing else on the road. Let it stand next to a Mercedes G-class or even a Range Rover, and it feels like it dropped in from the future.

That sense of “future now” continues as I walk up to the car and the door automatically swings open to welcome me inside. A Range Rover can’t do that. It is a very modern interior and it’s dominated by the 17-inch LCD touchscreen, the largest ever fitted in a commercial vehicle. It’s eye-poppingly futuristic, particularly as you control every aspect of the car from its menus. You open/close doors, change drive settings, use Google maps, control climate and even select bio-defence mode for complete air filtration or pet-friendly mode in case you have a propensity of forgetting your dog in the car.

You also get a digital dashboard with a beautifully designed User Interface. It is controlled by two steering-wheel buttons and scrollers which allow you to easily move through the menu.

The interior is roomy and the massive, panoramic windshield adds to that sense of airiness and futurism. For a car this expensive- over $160,000 for the range-topping P100D we’re testing- the interior is not particularly luxurious and the new Mercedes GLS for example would leave it for dead. There are some plastic panels that don’t feel like they have any place in a car like this. But it is still very modern in here, very Swedish in terms of design language. There is plenty of storage room, cup holders, 4 USB charging ports and a 9-speaker audio system. The seats look great, and are firm but comfortable. You can configure the car as a 5, 6 or 7 seater (for an additional charge of course) with the 2nd and 3rd rows featuring fold-flat functionality to improve cargo volume. Oh and opening and closing those glorious falcon-wing doors never gets old. They are entirely unique giving the Tesla X street theatre credentials like no other.

There is no starter button, the car turns ON as you get in and OFF as you walk away from it which took a while to figure out. To get going you simply pull down on the Mercedes sourced stalk-mounted gear lever and it silently comes to life. I begin driving in Chill mode which is the lowest power mode, for fear of burning range too early. It’s like driving Miss Daisy. This can’t be the test drive I was looking forward to for so long. The P100D is meant to be the performance variant of the Tesla X, so I throw caution to the wind and impatiently switch it into Ludicrous. Having seen all the funny videos of grandmas reacting to it, I am fully mentally prepared for the acceleration, yet…hooolyyyyyyy cow…My head slams in the headrest and I almost lose my grip on the steering wheel as the Tesla just warps forward. It hits 100kph in 2.9sec but it actually feels even faster than that. The acceleration is instantaneous, brutal and shocking! How could such an unassuming car do this? It feels like I know I’m about to startle myself, and yet I still manage to startle myself every time I accelerate. Forget everything negative I said about the Tesla’s range. This is one of the most profound driving experiences I have ever had because it is so unexpected. It’s actually hard to put into words. For sheer immediacy there is nothing like it on the road, hypercars included. You get 791lbft of torque and 762bhp instantaneously from the 100kwh battery powering two motors and all four wheels. There are no power/torque curves, no build up, no lag, no gear changes, just absolute immediacy. They didn’t call it Ludicrous mode to be funny, they call it that because it is a very accurate descriptive. It is genuinely ludicrous! No two and a half ton vehicle should be able to move this quickly, this effortlessly.The fact it does so in eerie silence, the whine of the electric motors and the sound of the tires being the only aural accompaniment, makes for an even more alien experience. I could fill several pages describing the acceleration and I could give you the links to a dozen Tesla acceleration videos to watch, but nothing would do it justice. On highways, radars become ridiculously close to one another.. sorry, I meant ludicrously close to one another.

If you ever wanted to know what it feels like to be a super-speed superhero like the Flash or Shazam I think Ludicrous mode is the closest you’ll ever get to that. But this comes at a cost of course. Every time you extract any acceleration from the P100D, you pay dearly in range loss. In fact, in seconds, you can see the range drop by double digit increments.

At one point there’s a Bentayga breathing uncomfortably hot and heavy behind me. As he pulls out to overtake, I press the gas (battery?) pedal and essentially mop the floor with him. It’s not even close. Childish I know, but oh so much fun. My negative first impressions of the Model X are as distant a memory as the Bentley in my rear-view mirror.

And it is not just straight-line bravado. The Tesla handles much better than you’d expect for a tall car. This is mainly due to the fact that the battery pack sits very low and that makes for a low center-of-gravity. I attack corners and roundabouts trying to unsettle it but it doesn’t get out of shape or roll at all. The air-suspension setup is on the firm side though, that’s the tradeoff, so it doesn’t feel as compliant as a Range Rover or X5. I would suspect on 22-inch rims the ride would be jarring, so stick with the less attractive but more comfortable 20-inch ones.

But then just when you think it’s out of party tricks, you discover Autopilot mode. I try it on the highway, and at first it’s unnerving as it tugs on the steering wheel to center the car between the painted road lines. But once it’s in place, it will follow the road, it will swerve, change lanes, park, slow down and accelerate all by itself. Elon doesn’t believe in Lidar systems so this Level 2 autonomous system uses 7 cameras and crunches an incredible amount of data in real time. Tesla even sends software patches over the air to improve the system.

The Model X P100D is not only fast, it’s also safe having scored 5 out of 5 stars in NHTSA testing, and has advanced features like autonomous emergency braking, collision avoidance and 12 airbags no less.

There are a few things you need to be aware of though. Insurance is going to be high on this car. With an aluminum body, accidents can only be repaired at approved specialist garages, and parts will likely be expensive seeing how it is not a volume vehicle in the region.

That said, the Tesla X is an astounding vehicle. As a petrol-head of course, I philosophically struggle with it. It almost immediately made me feel that petrol engines are obsolete. Like writing with a 17th century quill instead of using email. I deeply enjoyed driving it, more than I would care to admit. That said, I would personally still not buy this or any electric vehicle in the Middle East just yet. The charging infrastructure is still not practical. I have enough anxiety as it is with laptop, phone and watch batteries that require charging, I don’t need to add my car into the mix. In addition to that, in other markets going green is subsidized by the government, so for example in Canada you’ll get a $5000 rebate to promote and incentivize you buying an EV. Sadly in this part of the world, as with most things, we pay a premium instead. Also one main component that we couldn’t assess during our time with the Model X is the rise in electric bills when you’re charging such a high capacity battery every day at home.

Regardless of the niggles and doubts presented above, the Tesla Model X P100D is a truly astonishing car. The fact that an independent manufacturer of electric cars has produced a vehicle with supercar destroying performance, that can carry seven people in total silence and comfort, all while being gentler on the environment must be applauded. Elon Musk we salute you.

Tesla Model X P100D
Engine: Electric Motor
Power: 500 kW (680 PS)
Torque: 967 Nm
Transmission: Automatic
Front suspension: Double Wishbone
Rear suspension: Multi-Link
Brakes: Discs, 4-Wheel ABS
Wheels: 20in front and rear
Tyres: P265/45VR20 (front) P275/45VR20 (rear)
Weight 2487kg
0-100kph: 2.9sec
Top speed: 250kph
Basic Price: $163,350

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