Driving a Tesla – driving any EV, really – is an experience. If you’ve never done it before, the first time is a revelation. I’m lucky enough to be able to say that my first exposure to the inside of an EV was at the Tesla Roadster launch event in 2006. During my first chance behind the wheel of an EV, again in a Roadster, this time a few years later, I couldn’t believe how easy it was to just will the car to go where you wanted it to. Instant torque is real, people, and it’ll change your life.
While I’ve been lucky, my EV story is not all that different than the trek towards battery-powered cars that hundreds of thousands of people around the world have found themselves on in the last decade. In 2016, it’s easier than ever to get behind the wheel of an electric car, especially if one with an 80-to-100-mile range is enough for you. Solid, used Nissan Leafs are available for cheap and brand new all-electric cars are available from most automakers (sadly, sometimes only in California). But the EV universe is getting ready for a true paradigm shift: a new generation of battery-powered cars that could redefine electric mobility for hundreds of thousands of people. The expected standard bearers for this new era are the upcoming Tesla Model 3 and theChevy Bolt. Both will offer more than 200 miles of range for around $35,000, before incentives. And they’re coming sooner rather than later.
Which is what makes driving a Tesla Model X right now so interesting. The EVs were first delivered to customers in September 2015, and I was finally able to drive one this week thanks to a generous owner in Oceanside, CA, Randy Hansen. Hansen has purchased five Teslas, and has a second X due to be delivered any day now. The X that he allowed Imperautos Green to borrow for a long afternoon was a gorgeous $144,950 Signature Red P90D that included the $10,000 Ludicrous Speed option. In other words, it’s the best version you can get right now.
As I gleefully tested the car on residential roads and highways in the area, I got to thinking about how Tesla’s third model (after the Roadster and the Model S) operates – and how the X predicts the future. And, of course, how it drives.For a review, the issue is that there’s no one way that the Model X drives. Any number of things are controlled by software, so the driver can adjust them and even easily save preferred settings. Other fancy vehicles may let you save your seat and mirror positions, but the X can be taught how you like your adjustable regenerative brake level (standard or low), whether you want the creep function on or off, what the steering mode should be (comfort, standard, or sport) and which acceleration mode to use (sport or ludicrous), among other options. The suspension is adjustable, as well, and you can set it to automatically lower when you go above a preset speed. In other words, you can make the X function the way you want it to, within reason.
We tested a number of these options, but found that no matter how you set things, the X is stable, quiet, and aggressive when you want it to be. For the record, we liked the standard regen (one-foot driving is just a delight), comfort steering and, of course, ludicrous acceleration complete with the optional warp speed Easter egg. We didn’t try to burn the tires during our test because the car belonged to a private citizen, but the good news is that you can get the warp speed visuals even if you’re standing still.