Electric cars. Boring, glorified golf carts with about as much personality as your household washing machine. This was pretty much my perception of EVs. The petrolhead in me wished they would just go away and die in some remote cave in the Himalayas.
That’s my inner recalcitrant who resists change and digs his heels in whenever a curve ball is thrown into the mix. But once I get my head around whatever it is I’ve been pushing away, I often discover hidden riches there for the taking. Having now scored some wheel time in the Tesla Model X that goes on sale in the UAE this summer, I’m prepared to stick my neck out and say it represents at least a modest stash of hitherto-undiscovered wealth, if not a full-fledged haul of pirate’s treasure.
Tesla’s two offerings — the Model S saloon and the Model X SUV that’s the subject of this drive feature — aren’t the first EVs to venture on to these shores, as Renault’s Zoe and Twizy have been plying local roads for some time, albeit in miniscule numbers. But neither of these genteel, pint-sized Frenchies has generated anywhere near the hype that’s accompanied the local launch of the California-built Teslas.
Deliveries are scheduled to commence in July, coinciding with the opening of a brand-new Tesla service centre that’s currently being built on Dubai’s Shaikh Zayed Road. For now, there’s a pop-up store in The Dubai Mall where prospective customers can find out about the brand and register for a test drive.
Don’t fret if you happen to live in Abu Dhabi, because Tesla will open a store and service centre there too, by next year. But what about a charging network for the cars, you ask? The answer is that there’s already a preliminary network comprising Supercharging stations (a full charge from empty takes about an hour at one of these stations) at the Last Exit in Jebel Ali and Masdar City in Abu Dhabi. There are also Destination charger stations at 26 locations across the UAE, with 50 more to come next year.
That’s the boring stuff out of the way, so let’s get to the Model X, which you can already configure online via Tesla’s UAE website. We’re testing the range-topping P100D, which scorches to 100kph in a claimed 3.1 seconds — comfortably thrashing every other SUV on the market — while top speed is quoted at 250kph. Pretty handy for a ‘golf cart’, wouldn’t you say?
In case you’re wondering about the significance of the P100D suffix, let me decipher it for you. The ‘P’ stands for Performance, while the ‘100’ represents the size of the battery in kilowatt hours (kWh), and the ‘D’ stands for all-wheel drive. The entry-level Model X variant is the 75D, which is listed on Tesla’s website at Dh375,900.
The base price for the P100D we’ve got our paws on is Dh568,300, but this hefty sum includes the Ludicrous Speed Upgrade (isn’t that the most magnificent name ever for an automotive feature?) and an active spoiler that deploys at the optimum angle based on the speed the vehicle is travelling at. Our test car also has some optional extras, including 22in Onyx Black rims (Dh21,100), Pearl White paint (Dh5,800) and a seven-seat layout (Dh15,400). A
five-seat set-up comes standard, and there’s also a six-seat format that costs Dh11,500.
Other options on the menu include Ultra High Fidelity Sound (Dh9,600), Enhanced Autopilot (Dh19,200) and Full Self-Driving Capability (Dh11,500, but you need to also have Enhanced Autopilot for this). There’s also a Premium Upgrades package (Dh17,300) that brings goodies such as front doors that open automatically as you approach, a super-efficient air-filtration system for the cabin, extra leather and Alcantara trim, dynamic LED lights and various other bits and bobs.
Peace of mind is provided by an eight-year/unlimited-km warranty on the drivetrain (i.e. battery and motor), while the rest of the car is covered for four years/80,000km. The claimed touring range for the P100D is 565km, but that’s according to the unrealistic New European Driving Cycle (NEDC) measure, so expect real-world range to be significantly less.
As for recharging, you can also do so at home via a standard 220-volt wall socket, with each hour of charging via this method providing 13km of range. Do the maths and you’ll glean that eight hours of charging will give you a theoretical range of just under 105km, which is enough to cover most people’s daily commute.
According to Tesla, the typical usage pattern of its customers isn’t to drain the battery until it’s almost empty and then recharge it fully (as most motorists tend to do with petrol-powered cars). It’s more a routine of partial draining and partial recharges.
Our maiden drive takes us from The Dubai Mall out to the Last Exit for a brief recharge (as we set out with only a modest amount of ‘juice’ in the battery) and then to the backblocks of Jebel Ali for more wheel time and photography.
The Model X prompts much rubbernecking and camera-phone snapping from shoppers and loiterers outside The Dubai Mall, particularly once its showstopping ‘falcon’ rear doors are deployed. Unlike conventional gullwing doors, these are hinged in the middle, enabling them to fold as they open, thereby requiring less space to do so. There are cameras and sensors governing this process, so in case you have a garage with a low roof, the doors will only open as far as possible without clonking anything.
Personally I much prefer the styling of the svelte Model S saloon to the Model X, whose tall, blobby stance looks a bit ungainly to my eyes. The Dubai Mall shutterbugs obviously feel differently, forming a small throng around the car.
I’m keen to make a getaway, and we promptly do so, although it seems odd not to have to push a start button or turn a key once inside the car. You just put your foot on the ‘gas’, and away you go. Of course, the other oddity is the lack of noise being generated by fuel being compressed and ignited inside cylinders, but you soon get over this, especially at highway speeds, where wind and road noise in any case drown out most of the engine din in a conventionally powered car.
I’m keen to make a getaway, and we promptly do so, although it seems odd not to have to push a start button…
As with all modern EVs, the Model X features regenerative braking (i.e. kinetic energy is dissipated by recharging the battery rather than brake pads clamping on discs), and there are two modes for this — Standard and Low. Selecting the first of these requires some mental recalibration on your part, because the Model X slows dramatically as soon as you take your foot off the throttle, with the car’s forward momentum being converted to battery charge at a high rate. You barely need to touch the brake in this mode, so the other benefit is that you can expect very long disc and pad life if you drive primarily with this setting selected.
Once out on some open roads, we naturally select the ‘Ludicrous’ acceleration mode and — let’s be clear — there’s no other more fitting description for it. Plant your foot and there’s a wall of instant torque that propels the car forward as though it’s been sucked into some sci-fi time warp. Unlike a combustion-powered vehicle, there’s no need to wait while revs climb to the sweet spot or turbos spool up. There’s a Herculean 967Nm on tap from just 100rpm, so you accelerate with alarming rapidity. Immediately. It’s not just off-the-mark performance that’s eye-opening, as the vital 90-120kph split is also dispatched in a virtual blink.
On the way back to The Dubai Mall, we have a bit of a play with an upstart in a Jaguar F-Type S, and during our brief cat-and-mouse game it’s immediately clear that we could dispense with him in a jiffy, if we so desired. Although the Model X weighs 2.5 tonnes, you’re never really aware of its sizeable girth from behind the wheel. Part of the reason for this is that the weightiest component — the battery pack — is tucked away under the floor of the vehicle, making for what’s claimed to be the lowest centre of gravity of any SUV on the market.
The immense bulk of the battery pack is partially offset by a lightweight aluminium body reinforced with high-strength boron steel elements, and fit/finish of this is OK, but the shut lines lack the precision and consistency you’d find in a premium German offering. The front doors also close with a slightly tinny clang, rather than a reassuring ‘thunk’.
Inside, the Model X has the requisite leather, Alcantara and wood (or woody-looking) trim but, once again, there isn’t quite the same feeling of expensiveness that you’d get in a Mercedes, BMW or Audi. There’s nothing to fault as far as the driving position goes, as the electrically adjustable seat moves every which way until you can conjure up an agreeable posture. The vast panoramic windscreen (allegedly the biggest in any passenger car) is also a nice novelty, and it reminds me of the dome of a spaceship. Don’t worry about having your noggin scorched by our fierce sun, as the screen is heavily tinted in its upper extremes, and it’s designed to block UV and infrared rays.
We don’t get the opportunity to fling the Model X around corners at tyre-shredding velocities during our brief drive, but we do at least have the chance to attack some freeway exits at a decent clip, and our first impressions are that the suspension set-up (comprising double wishbones at the front and a multilink set-up at the rear) seems well sorted. The Tesla corners relatively flat, and it also rides with a decent level of compliancy. The steering, too, is well weighted and offers adequate feedback about the road surface to your fingertips.
Given that the Model X P100D is still a new entity, it doesn’t have the full quota of autonomous driving features enabled, but over-the-air updates will allegedly ensure this happens over time. The car’s safety technologies include collision avoidance and automatic emergency braking, plus a raft of 12 airbags (head and knee airbags in the front, two side curtain airbags, four seat-mounted side airbags, and two door-mounted airbags).
I should point out that the Model X doesn’t come with a spare tyre, as Tesla says this adds weight and thereby reduces the touring range of the vehicle. So if you do end up with a flat, you need to contact Tesla roadside assistance and wait for them to arrive. Alternatively, you can keep an optional emergency tyre inflation kit in the car, but this only works in some cases (it won’t help you if the leak is a big one or if the sidewall has a big chunk torn out of it).
The big takeaway from our first taste of the Model X is how utterly normal — apart from its eyeball-squashing acceleration — it is to drive. You forget you’re piloting an electric vehicle within just a few kilometres of cruising. And, unlike EVs of five or 10 years ago, the Teslas offer a range that’s more than sufficient for the typical daily commute. Even a long-distance journey is theoretically within its reach. I say theoretically, because we’ve yet to establish for ourselves exactly how far the vehicle can travel between charges.
My brief stint behind the wheel of the Model X has gone a long way towards changing my perception of electric vehicles. They’re not the evil scourge I thought they were. Tesla has elevated the genre to a formerly unimaginable plane, with the German heavyweights and the rest of the automotive world now playing a rushed game of catch-up.