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Is Tesla’s Model X the ultimate EV? Extended drive review

Tesla set out to build not the best electric cars, but the best cars, and many would argue that it has achieved that goal. Models S and X are two of the most advanced, feature-rich autos on the market today. In a sense, Model X must be considered the ultimate, as it has more interior space, plus the towing ability that the S lacks.

Charged recently had a chance to drive a Model X P90D for a couple of days, and we were suitably impressed. This thing has enough bells and whistles to start a railroad – adjustable ride height, automatic doors, voice-activated navigation and streaming music, USB jacks – the list goes on and on.

Tesla is trying to wean us away from some old-fashioned vehicle functions that we’ve gotten used to after decades of driving, and old habits die hard. The rear-view mirror seems tiny, and 360-degree visibility isn’t that great (actually a common complaint with SUVs and minivans). But you probably don’t need to use the mirrors, if you can get used to looking at the expansive rear view displayed on the huge multipurpose screen. The doors open and close on their own, which is very cool – once you get used to the fact that you don’t have to worry about locking the car when you park.

The Falcon Wing doors are a marvel of engineering, a joy just to watch. However, as intelligent as they are, it’s still quite possible to crack your head on them, as your correspondent learned.

The model we drove had the first-generation Autopilot. Adaptive cruise control works smoothly, and is easily engaged by one tap of a steering-wheel stalk (why do other cars make it more complicated?). Autosteer probably isn’t for everybody. It works best on the highway, although it does work on any road with lane markers. However, it can get confused if the markings on the pavement are indistinct, and I found that its course corrections tended to be jerky – not nearly as smooth as a human driver.

When it comes to interior space (a hobby horse of mine), Model X has got it – there’s room for five people, or even seven if you use the foldaway rear seats. The rear cargo compartment is easily accessible, with a flat floor, and it doesn’t have the annoying liftover that Model S has. The X we drove had the older monopost seats, which don’t fold down, which makes the cargo space limited. If it’s cargo you’re hauling, not people, there are much smaller cars that will give you a similar amount of usable cargo space (the same could be said of most SUVs).

Model X is in a class by itself – it’s the only EV that’s rated for towing, and it’s the only passenger EV that has anything like this much interior space. However, even the ultimate EV isn’t perfect for everyone. It’s a huge, heavy vehicle, and it drives like one. Don’t get me wrong – it’s anything but sluggish. The acceleration is amazing. However, the steering is stiff compared to smaller cars, and the regenerative braking is very strong compared to other EVs. When you punch the pedal, it leaps, but when you release the pedal, it really grabs (there are two selectable regen modes, but I didn’t perceive a big difference).

Your favorite writer is by no means an expert on handling – I’ll leave that to my colleagues at Motor Trend, who found Model X’s ride quality to be “excellent, with near-perfect body control.” It’s a question of personal preference. While I do consider myself a patriotic American, I really don’t like driving big cars, and I have a perhaps unreasonable disdain for SUVs.

An amateur race driver I once interviewed explained the inherent differences in handling between large and small cars. He competes on the compact, curvy courses of autocross in his Model S, and achieves respectable times, but concedes that smaller, nimbler cars like the BMW M3 are better suited to this type of driving.

Everyone has their own idea of the perfect vehicle, and mine is admittedly a bizarre one – a small car with loads of cargo space. If you need to haul a lot of passengers and a moderate amount of stuff, if you want an SUV that can shame a Corvette from a stoplight, or if you simply want to play with all the toys a car can offer, you’ll love Model X. And you’ll be in good company – a recent survey by polling firm Strategic Vision rated Model X the Most Loved Vehicle in America.


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