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Tesla's falcon-wing SUV has the X-factor for electric revolution

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The Tesla Model X with falcon-wing rear doors open on the beach at Lepe
The Tesla Model X with falcon-wing rear doors open on the beach at Lepe

TESLA'S SUV the Model X provides an electric alternative for those thinking on traditional lines to buy their next seven-seat 4x4 sports utility vehicle and facing the electric revolution.

It is a dilemma for those wanting bags of performance and style and having around £85,000 in their budget.

For £87,280 you can go for BMW’s biggest ever SUV, another X-designation, the imposing new United States-built X7 with 3-litre diesel from the German company with an illustrious performance timeline going back more than a century.

Or for a little less you can go for another X-factor, the Tesla Model X 100D Long Range – where D is not a diesel designation.

This sleek but spacious Thunderbirds-style SUV features high-rising falcon-wing rear doors, cockpit dominated by 17-inch tablet-style central display and the iconic all-electric supercar powertrain from Elon Musk’s American company.

Whether for family, lifestyle or business use, both BMW and Tesla are good for around 150mph where allowed.

Founded just 15 years ago and heading for producing its millionth vehicle, Tesla boasts an out-of-this-world astronomic track record that includes re-usable rockets leading the latest space race.

Forget old milk floats, the Model X is a flier, good to crack the sprint from 0-62mph in just 4.7sec on the way to topping 155mph, making it a little more rapid than that BMW of similar dimensions, with both around 6ft 6in wide and the Tesla slightly shorter at 16ft 6in if you are sizing it up for your garage.

And for reassurance on your investment, it comes with an eight-year infinite mileage warranty for the battery and powertrain, and four-year 50,000-mile general warranty.

This really is head-to-head time in the automotive world as ‘demonised’ diesel, with amazing economy but a history of nasty particulates, battles to fend off the assault from pure electric with zero emissions in a technological revolution where demand is outstripping supply of batteries made using rare elements of questioned environmental status.

Putting personal spending before deep ethics, the Tesla is streets ahead on fuel costs and servicing budget – and its real-life range approaching 300 miles on a single charge will cost around £20.

If you must pay – and not just Tesla but supermarkets, hotels, leisure centres and councils are offering free charging – it will not cost much to plug in at home overnight.

The new BMW, by comparison, has an 80-litre tank – around 16 gallons – for a powertrain that will officially average 40mpg.

At £1.32/litre that is around £105 a fill – not counting the increasingly necessary Adblue catalytic additive for reducing diesel emissions.

The Model X version tested, collected from Tesla’s service centre at historic Brooklands near Weybridge, was a six-seater Model X 100D Long Range

It was as striking as any of the untouchable concept cars you see at Geneva Motor Show, with crisp white leather interior upholstery bucket seat style in three pairs – visually rather bright but not when you sit back into the supportive seats, all of which have heating.

The steering wheel is also heated, while wipers and washers have defrosters too.

Regardless of pricing that is no longer a time warp from fossil fuel rivals, the Model X is a stupendous vehicle, an icon of the electric mobility revolution distinguished by those falcon-wing rear passenger doors and with an airy interior enhanced by the biggest panoramic windscreen in the business.

And not having a traditional engine and gearbox and fuel tank, just two compact electric motors driving all four wheels and a slab battery under the floor, means huge stowage both front – where you expect an engine – and rear, where a third row of seats – accessed by a cleverly cantilevered second row - fold flat.

Driving it is a relaxing yet stimulating delight to which you quickly become accustomed, with little more than tyre noise and low engine note.

Clean lines for the futuristic leather-upholstered interior of the Model X
Clean lines for the futuristic leather-upholstered interior of the Model X

Essentially Model X, like the coupe Model S, has continuously variably transmission without gear steps – it never labours or screams – and the motors’ braking that helps recharge the batteries helps you anticipate traffic situations.

This means less use of the brake pedal although, as your dashboard display shows, the braking effect of lifting off the ‘throttle’ will shine the brake lights.

Throttle response, potentially exhilarating, is instantaneous without tyre scrabble or embarrassing squeal – you can adjust just how sporty you want it, and the suspension setting.

Model X is built for safety, with standard active safety features and hardware built to provide visibility that a driver cannot access alone. Eight surround cameras allow for 360-degree vision, while 12 ultrasonic sensors provide detection of surrounding objects.

Forward-facing radar see through heavy rain, fog, dust, and beyond the vehicle ahead, helping to prevent accidents by providing simultaneous visibility in every direction.

This car is the first SUV ever to achieve a 5-star US NCAP safety rating in every category and sub-category, the lowest probability of occupant injury, and a rollover risk half that of any SUV on the road.

Those crowd-stopping falcon wing doors allow easy access to second and third row seats from even a tight parking space, where traditional SUV doors or sliding doors would not permit access.

With sensors all around and above – crucial in underground car parks - they can open with only a foot of clearance on either side, articulating smoothly up and out of the way, allowing passengers to enter from both front and rear.

The side and overhead opening is so large that parents can strap in children without ducking or straining and without bumping the child's head. My only concern is whether the driver of a passing truck or bus looking at pedestrian head height will give the higher open door a wide berth.

Minimal servicing is one of the key attractions of Teslas – most is done by regular over-the-air updates adding safety and navigation features, enhancing performance and improving the driver experience.

These links give access to Tesla's expanding Supercharger network, Google Earth-based maps and navigation with real-time traffic-based routing. There is a custom audio system featuring 17 speakers, media using FM radio, Bluetooth and USB audio devices.

Safety and cabin comfort for occupants is enhanced by a HEPA air filtration system which does more than filter out pollen and nasty niffs, blocking viruses and bacteria.

Active safety technologies include collision avoidance and automatic emergency braking, and there is so much more available in that respect on the road to autonomous driving with Tesla’s Autopilot system.

Tesla vehicles already travel farther on a single charge than any other production EV on the market and the company is continually improving them.

As a result Model S and Model X now come with an all-new drivetrain design that increases each vehicle’s range substantially, plus new adaptive suspension system for the best range, acceleration, and ride comfort.

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