Seems every week there’s an explosive new Tesla story. CEO Elon Musk’s dealings with Wall Street investors and the media seem to happen in parallel universes, talking in the same language about the same issues, but curiously out of sync.
The hot topic at present is whether the new Tesla Model 3, which competes with the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4, can be built as rapidly as originally promised. It seems not, which means all those UK speculators who put down £1,000 deposits have longer to wait.
But should you buy a Tesla anyway? The Model S luxury saloon and the dramatic Model X SUV are available right now. I took the latter for an extended test, driving to the west country for our annual village walking weekend. It allowed me to try recharging on the hoof and answer what turned out to interminable questions about Tesla, the Model X and electric cars in general. It’s a topic that seems to engage almost everyone.
The Model X itself is a deeply impressive machine. With five to seven seats (depending on spec), it’s very comfortable, extremely roomy and very, very fast. I had the mid-range 100d, priced at £91,700, although optioned up it nudged £110,000.
The key talking points are, inevitably, the table-sized touchscreen in the centre of the dashboard, the incredible ‘Falcon-wing’ doors that make rear access a doddle and, of course, the car’s range. It’s not as quiet as you might think. A BMW 7 Series has notably better wind noise suppression in the rear, declares my passenger, and although engine noise is largely absent, those wide tyres hum away on coarse roads.
Cameras make parking as easy as it can be for a car this big. All Teslas have autonomous driving capabilities, even if they’re not currently activated, so it’s surprising that self-parking isn’t standard. Astonishingly, neither is cordless charging for your phone – Tesla doesn’t even offer it in the UK yet.
The questions that kept being thrown at me were: how far can you travel on a charge, how long does it take to top up, and would I buy one? How far? Well, 250 miles seems reasonable in the 100d, perhaps a bit more. But bear this in mind. Tesla counsels against regularly charging to 100 per cent capacity because it shortens battery life, which cuts the range. When the driving distance got to 100 miles, I felt anxious about where to stop next.
Time to top up? Tesla Supercharger stations are fastest: 30 minutes gives a useful charge, but one hour 10 minutes is needed for a fuller blast. And if there’s someone alongside on a paired Supercharger, it all takes longer. With a Tesla home charger, the battery takes on 20 miles for each hour. Plug it into a 13 amp socket, though, and it gains just six miles per hour. Even an overnighter won’t get you very far.
Cost to refill? Tesla now charges 20p per kWh, after 1,000 free miles annually. That’s a maximum of £20 on this Model X. Charging is still free for the early adopters and those buying under the ‘referral’ programme, so it’s worth getting on that if you can. But ‘free’ electricity can’t last forever. The whole concept simply isn’t economically viable.
Would I buy a Tesla, or indeed any electric car? The technology works, that’s for sure. And yet. I like the fact I can cover 600 miles in my Audi A6 before I need to worry about refuelling. I know when I do, it will take just a few minutes, and I can do it just about anywhere. Critically though, my A6 is powered by the demonised diesel. And these days, that’s not good.