No car brand knows how to build hype like Tesla. This relatively recent start-up (in terms of car manufacturers) has a boss who can generate hundreds of column inches just by tweeting.
Every time one of its vehicles is involved in a serious crash, online forums are awash with rumours about the cause. And a new product launch can generate almost half a million $1,000 deposits before anyone has even driven it.
Whether or not you’re an Elon Musk fan, you have to admire the razzmatazz its PR operation creates. You may be surprised, then, to learn that my first drive in the new Model X SUV was a relatively low-key affair.
There was no grand European event like there is for most big car launches, with executives on hand and more canapés than you could consume in a hundred lifetimes.
Instead, I visited the firm’s Heathrow service centre; a not particularly glam location, but perfect for jet-setters hoping to land and collect their new Tesla. From there, I took it on a real-life test route consisting of west London traffic, M4 motorway cruising and a spot of posing along Windsor High Street.
Did that lack of glam dampen my enthusiasm for a car that could be the most talked about vehicle of 2017? Not one jot. While electric cars are no longer a novelty, it still feels a little special driving off in a vehicle that makes no sound. And it feels extra special to floor the accelerator and feel your insides churn as you’re thrust towards 62mph in 3.2 seconds. And that’s in the mid-range 90D.
If you’re not in the mood for baiting supercars, the Model X is arguably the most serene car money can buy for tackling city traffic.
Then when you get out of the congestion and onto a motorway, it practically drives itself. Our test car was fitted with Advance Autopilot (a £4,600 option), which uses four cameras and 12 sensors to monitor traffic and allow the car to effectively drive itself. Sort of.
Regulations in the UK prevent Tesla’s Autopilot system being too clever. At the moment, it’s little more than good adaptive cruise control system: set the speed, and it’ll slow down and speed up as motorway traffic allows. But it does go a few steps further.
If you’re cruising in the inside lane, but catching up with middle-lane traffic, Autopilot will slow down to prevent you undertaking them. Want to change lanes? Indicate and the Tesla will move over, as long as it feels comfortable there’s a gap.
This technology is, of course, set to get better and better as regulations allow – true driverless tech in motorway situations isn’t that far off. And the beauty of Tesla is that any updates it makes can be applied wirelessly to all of its cars, not just those driving off the forecourt.
Technology aside, the Model X is a convincing family SUV. Practicality is good – you can choose from five, six or seven-seat configurations.
Access to the rear seats is through clever ‘falcon wing’ doors, which not only look cool, they’re easier to operate than normal doors, especially when battling with shopping bags. Plus they only need about 12 inches of space to open.
The biggest question is, with prices for the 90D starting at £85,000 (after the Government’s plug-in car grant), should you buy one over a Range Rover? Yes. Yes you should. Not only is the tech incredibly exciting, it’s also a billion times less likely to be keyed in central London. With no fuel bills or congestion charge, your wallet will vote in favour of the Tesla, too.