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Tesla Model X - The high performance SUV

It was early in 2012 that Tesla first unveiled the Model X, which at first looked like little more than a taller version of its all-electric Model S sedan . It was easy enough to assume that, with so much similarity between the two, the company would have its SUV on the road by the next year.

That of course would not be the case, but now it's finally here, and we've finally gotten behind the wheel of the thing. We opened those falcon-wing doors, too, and while we'll get to the impressions shortly, first let's dispense with the details. The Tesla Model X is, at least initially, available only in Signature and Founders editions, which are basically fully loaded models with all the options boxes ticked. As such, they're quite expensive.

The Model X P90D Signature, which has a 90kWh battery and 250 miles of range, costs $132,000 (around £87,000 or AU$188,000). Opt for the P90D Founders edition with the "Ludicrous Speed Upgrade" and you'll spend another $10,000 -- though it's a free upgrade to any Model S owner who refers 10 people. Yes, that's a lot of money considering you can get a base Model S for $75,000, but if you option up a Model S with similar options, you'll see it's only about a $5,000 premium over a similar AWD Model S P90D.

Pricing of the base 90D edition isn't available at present, but expect it to start at around $80,000 -- whenever they finally become available.

Regardless of which model you choose, you're getting a roomy, seven-seater SUV that doesn't offer much in the way of off-road pretensions. Instead, this is a sports machine, much more in the mold of a Porsche Cayenne or BMW X5. Its performance backs that up. Even the slowest model, at 4.8 seconds from 0 to 60, compares very favorably to the Porsche Cayenne S E-Hybrid, which takes 5.4 seconds to match the same speed. Opt for the P90D and you're looking at a 3.8-second 0 to 60 time, while the Ludicrous model gets you there in 3.2. That comes thanks to a 503-horsepower motor in the rear, and a 259-horsepower motor up front. Yes, that's over 750 horsepower combined.

Its competitive performance extends well beyond acceleration, too. That low-slung battery pack in the floor makes for some of the best handling in its class, handling that isn't too far off from the Model S itself. The car turns in quickly and drives sweetly. In fact, Tesla's so confident of the handling of its SUV versus the competition that it had both a Porsche Cayenne and BMW X5 here, ready for comparison. That battery pack also leads to an SUV that has the lowest rollover risk in its class. Tesla expects five-star safety ratings all-round.

At this evening's unveiling, the Model X was demonstrated to be a fairly capable workhorse. Loaded up with seven passengers and both its front and rear stowage spaces full of cargo and luggage, the electric SUV towed a 5,000-pound trailer onto the stage. Obviously, this level of hauling will affect the EV's range, but by just how much has yet to be determined.

And what about those controversial doors? They open upward, much like on a DeLorean, but with an extra hinge in the middle. On the plus side, this gives very easy access to the rear seats, much like on a van with a sliding door -- but without making the thing look like a van. This is a particular boon if you're strapping little ones into little safety seats. Even if you're a fully grown adult the absence of a door in your path does make getting in and out much easier. The falcon wings open cleanly, but slowly, even in impossibly tight parking spaces. They require only 30cm (12 inches) of space to slide out of the way.

At first, at least, the Model X is not cheap, and with some 25,000 preorders to get through, it'll be about a year before mere mortals can acquire one. However, like the Model S before, the Model X has all the makings of a great car. And with features like semi-autonomous driving on the software roadmap, it should only get better from here. The only question now is: How quickly can Tesla build them?

 

Tim Stevens

CNET - Automotive

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