Electric cars are on the rise — and it’s ones like the Tesla Model X that make it clear why petrol/diesel motors are doomed. By the FF mag car review team.
We weren’t expecting this. When we requested the Tesla Model X for a review, we thought we’d be driving an exotic SUV that would appeal to affluent greenies. We didn’t expect to undergo a religious conversion to electric cars. But we did, and here’s why.
1. It interacts with you
The Tesla Model X senses when you’re approaching it, and comes alive. The lights turn on to acknowledge you, and the driver’s door opens to let you in. No other car in the universe interacts with its driver this way, and we have to ask why, because the convenience is insane. The back “falcon doors” open out and up so your passengers can enter in tight spaces, with sensors preventing the doors from hitting obstacles. If parked in a really tight spot the Model X will even drive itself out to meet you. You hop in, tap the brakes and the doors shut automatically. If you drive the Model X in some US states (which allow self-driving cars), it can take you to your destination by itself.
2. It’s insanely fast
A family SUV that’s faster than most Ferraris and Lambos comes as a shock to the system, and pretty much shows that petrol/diesel powered machinery can’t compete. The Model X has an electric motor connected directly to each pair of wheels, so power delivery is instant and forces you into the back of your seat. A car powered by an internal combustion engine will never be able to take off as fast. First, fuel needs to reach the pistons. Then they need to build revs. Then the transmission needs to transmit the power to the wheels. In a Tesla, hit the accelerator and bang, you’re away. We raced the Model X P100D against a powerful petrol equivalent, a Range Rover V8, on a closed track. Even when giving the Range Rover a 50m head start, the Tesla easily blew past it (see the video above). It was like trying to race a car against a jet being catapulted off an aircraft carrier.
3. The only car that’s a joy to drive in traffic
If we rave on about the Tesla’s instant and exciting acceleration, it’s not because we want to go drag racing. It’s because, when you’re stuck in traffic in a Tesla, you can accelerate into openings that disappear too quickly for slower internal combustion cars. In a Tesla, you’re through the gap before other drivers can blink. In the Model X even a drive through the Sydney Harbour Tunnel at peak hour was fun, as we zipped past and toyed with other cars, all under the speed limit of course.
4. No engine start
This is one of the weirdest things about an electric car: there is no start button. The Model X doesn’t have to be switched on. Put the steering column lever into “drive” and press the accelerator — it moves forward without making a sound. To turn off the car, take your foot off the accelerator and hop out, no handbrake needed. The Model X knows you’re gone, switches the electronics off and immobilises everything.
5. It’s silent
Many drivers think they’ll miss the aural orchestra of petrol cars, but you don’t. It’s actually much more relaxing to drive without hearing a petrol/diesel engine exerting itself to get you moving. And the music on the stereo sounds way better. In fact, the insane acceleration and total silence make driving the Tesla feel like you’re in some kind of spaceship. Without the noise of a revving engine, driving seems far more effortless.
6. It recycles energy
When you take your foot off the accelerator, the regenerative braking system kicks in and uses the momentum of the car to generate more electricity. As a result, a Tesla doesn’t coast like a normal car when you take your foot off; it slows down quite quickly, and you end up letting regenerative braking replace actual braking in traffic most of the time. You still use the brakes, but only for more sudden stops. The other benefit of this is that Tesla brake pads last up to 40% longer than those of normal cars. And while we’re talking about reliability…
7. It’s more reliable than ordinary cars
A Tesla has less than 150 moving parts (each motor has just one!). An ordinary car has around 10,000. That makes a Tesla infinitely more reliable. There are no fuel lines or tanks, radiators, cooling fans, complex transmissions etc. Take the covers off and a Tesla is shockingly simple, like a supersized toy. The electric motors look like giant versions of ones used in toy cars. In the Model X, Tesla replaces most of the dials, switches and knobs on the dashboard with a huge 17in electronic screen that performs all the vehicle controls and functions. The only physical controls are buttons for the hazard lights and glove box release.
8. It’s cleaner and cheaper
When you buy a Tesla you get a wall charger that’s installed by an electrician. It charges the car at the rate of 81km of range every hour, so if you leave it charging overnight the Model X will be fully charged in the morning. You can also charge the Tesla from a standard power point but it’s slow going, more like a few kilometres every half hour. If you buy a $15k Tesla Power Wall, which harvests electricity from solar panels, you can power your Tesla with free energy from the sun.
9. The range is not a problem
The Tesla Model X has a range of 540km. That’s a fair bit less than the best petrol/diesel powered cars, which can reach 800km on one fuel tank, but try and think of the last time you drove for longer than 500km in one stretch. Range is a non-issue, unless you select Ludicrous (super-fast) driving mode, in which case your range disappears at a ludicrous rate.
Think of it this way: those of us who drive traditional petrol/diesel cars assume that not being able to easily refuel at service stations is a problem. Tesla owners feel that true convenience comes from never having to go to a service station when you recharge your car at home.
10. Electric cars can be updated over the net
Just as Apple or Samsung update their phone operating systems over the internet, so does Tesla with its car management software. As we went to press, an update from Tesla for the Model S and Model X P75D models improved their 0-100km/h time by a full second. Traditionally, you’d have to buy a whole new car for that sort of upgrade.
11. Petrol/diesel cars don’t stand a chance
Compared to a Tesla, most cars are slow, noisy, polluting packages of yesterday’s technology — and now the motoring giants get it too. Premium brands like BMW, Mercedes and Porsche are releasing hybrids and electric models, VW is resurrecting the Kombi as an all-electric model and Chinese-owned Volvo has declared it’s switching completely. Meanwhile, the governments of France and Britain have banned sales of petrol/diesel powered cars from 2040.
12. What’s coming
Yes, the Model X we tested is extravagantly expensive at $327,893. But Tesla has just launched the Model 3 in the US, priced at USD$35,000 (AUD$45,000). That’s the first rock in the meteor storm that will soon wipe out the petrol dinosaurs.