Having never owned a car and using a bicycle as my main mode of transport, I’m grossly under qualified to be judging cars.
Excluding my one trip to Summernats as a misguided teenager, I could never be mistaken for a revhead. I’ll take board games over burnouts any day.
Nonetheless Tesla recently made the dubious decision to lend me a Model X 100D for a week.
The seven seater, all-wheel drive SUV is a beast of car but it feels like you’re driving a much smaller sports car as you hit the accelerator and draw juice from the lithium-ion battery that powers the car.
The company is the world’s leading electric car manufacturer, ushering in a revolution in battery powered vehicles. That is an accomplishment that should attract plenty of praise – and it absolutely does. But it’s the software side of things that, for me, made driving the top end Tesla such an awesome experience.
For a car that has something called a Bioweapon Defence Mode, it might come as a surprise to learn there are plenty of cooler features when you get behind the wheel.
Of course Tesla is not the only car maker to harness computer power to improve the in-cabin experience but it’s gotta be one of the best.
And the real beauty of having such a software focused car is that, as a customer, if you think of a potential new feature you want you can just tweet at the CEO to develop it.
The company routinely sends out updates to the car’s operating system via Wi-Fi to enable spiffy new capabilities and some users have taken to hitting up ol’ Elon on social media with their recommendations.
As a result Tesla’s fleet has so many features and customisations that I struggled to think of any further recommendations for the over-achieving billionaire.
The car lets you play with just about every setting imaginable – it even has a feature that ensures (as long as there is more than 20 per cent battery left) the car never gets too hot in case, you know, you leave a baby or dog in it.
You can choose settings like regenerative braking, which means the car automatically begins braking when you take your foot off the accelerator in proportion to the speed you remove your foot.
Some customers missed the fact that their car no longer crept forward like a traditional automatic vehicle so Tesla brought out a “creep” setting to mimic it.
If for some reason you don’t like the powerful acceleration on offer from the Model X (and it is quick!) you can choose the “chill” setting for a more gradual acceleration.
Speaking of chill, the car’s computer interface allows you to have your own profile, just like your Netflix account. So if you’re sharing the car you can simply select your profile and it will remember just how you like things such as the angle of the mirrors, the position of the seat and steering wheel and your favourite Spotify playlists.
Tesla has also been improving its voice command technology. After pressing a button on the steering wheel, you can ask the car’s system to carry out certain tasks for you.
You get feedback in the form of a transcript that appears on screen behind the steering wheel to confirm your command. While not perfect (it was probably hampered by the lack of Americanisms in my speech) it was very useful when inputting a new address into the navigation system while on the go.
There is a corresponding app that lets you do just about anything you want to the car from a remote location. You can unlock it for a friend, you can play around with the climate control so the car is nice and cool by the time you hop in or you can anonymously scare the bejeezus out of somebody by honking the horn.
But incontrovertibly, my favourite thing to do with the app is the feature that lets you summon the car forward or backwards. It means the car can drive forward or reverse about 12 metres with no one in it.
Because the Model X has falcon doors that open outwards and upwards, the feature is designed to let you exit the vehicle before parking it in a tight space like a narrow garage of car park.
Or, if you’re like this guy, you can use the handy feature to avoid having to step in a puddle when retrieving your car from a waterlogged carpark.
I was bestowed a brief stint with the Model X as part of Tesla’s greatest drive promotion, encouraging customers to share their favourite drive. So I decided to take the SUV to the Blue Mountains, outside of Sydney, for a canyoning trip (sorry for the mess Tesla) to get it out of the city traffic and hammer it on the open road.
The batteries are laid out along the base of the vehicle giving it a low centre of gravity, which gives you a satisfying sense that the car is really gripping the road as you zip around.
When setting off on a journey, the car’s computer system will give you a projected arrival time and tell you how much battery life you should have left when you get there. However, this assumes a certain level of restraint.
On the way to the Blue Mountains, with little more than a quick detour through Maccas drive-through and some periodic testing of the battery power to excite those in the back, we used about 10 per cent more battery life than projected.
So you probably need to take the “range assurance calculator” with a slight grain of salt if you’re gonna have a lead foot.
On my return trip however (on more congested roads) the battery usage projections were spot on.
As you get into more remote regions, it’s important to check the map for all the nearby charging stations, which thanks to a tweet-prompted update show which stations are currently in use.
Fully autonomous vehicles might still be a few years away but Tesla’s enhanced autopilot setting is pretty amazing.
It takes some getting used to but as long as you keep your hands on the wheel, the car is more than happy to do the driving for you.
You can choose the number of car lengths you want the vehicle to maintain from other road users, and if you flick the indicator on the car will use its sensors to change lanes for you. It’s a luxurious novelty at the moment but very cool and future improvements will move the company further down the road to the Holy Grail technology of driverless cars.
Depending on how many bells and whistles you opt for, the Model X 100D will set you back about $200,000 or anywhere up to $300,000, which can be paid off on different plans of up 60 months. Full pricing details can be found here. There is also the smaller and cheaper Model X 75D for about $120,000.
It’s certainly not cheap but it’s worth keeping in mind as Tesla works to ramp up its manufacturing capabilities, and due to the company’s much publicised cash burn, it currently loses thousands of dollars on each car it makes. And that’s not including the ones its CEO decides to shoot into space.
It’s a big initial cost for any potential buyer – plus you’ll need to get a power pack and charger installed in your garage at home – but given the fact you’ll never need to visit a petrol station again it could likely turn out to be a smart financial decision over the life of the car.
It’s certainly not viable on the salary of a lowly journalist, but in another life I could certainly see myself signing up to join the Tesla club. Oh well.
There’s always the slightly more affordable Tesla model S, I suppose.