Around 11 years ago, Steve Jobs completely redefined the way in which we use mobile phones when he released the original iPhone. Now, you could argue that Elon Musk is doing the same with the automobile.
Named after the pioneer Nikola Tesla, the company has come a long way in 15 short years. Initially launching the ambitious Roadster in 2008, the California-based manufacturer now offers just three models - the Model S, the Model X and the Model 3.
Currently, only the Model S and Model X are available in New Zealand, and a few weeks ago I had the pleasure of testing the most powerful version of the Model X, the P100D, for an entire weekend.
I’m from the Isle of Man - an island famous for motorcycles. I effectively grew up on an island where speed and petrol are engrained into us from an early age and, prior to my experience with the Model X, speed simply didn’t exist without the grunt of an engine.
I initially had my doubts about Tesla and the sustainability of both the idea and the brand. Yes, the majority of us are much more eco-friendly than we were 10 years ago, but the fact of the matter is that most people can’t afford an Electric Vehicle (EV), and I wasn’t sure that New Zealand currently had the infrastructure for EVs to become the ‘norm’.
Nonetheless, I must have looked like a kid on Christmas morning when I picked up the car from Tesla’s new HQ on Karangahape Road in Auckland.
Tesla insist on a 40-minute demonstration to give you a short insight into the car, ultimately showcasing the exceptional Autopilot software.
After ten minutes of familiarising myself with the Model X, I was asked to engage Autopilot. By pulling one of the stalks next to the steering wheel towards me twice, I was able to experience the future.
Although not perfect, Tesla’s Autopilot is a fine example of just how innovative the company is and how they’re making bigger leaps in the market than any of their competitors. The car I tested featured Advanced Autopilot and Full Self-Driving Capability, which together created one of the strangest sensations I have ever felt
You’re effectively putting your life into the hands of a machine, although legally you do need to keep both hands on the wheel when the feature is enabled.
Once I’d finished the demonstration on the outskirts of Auckland, I looked at a map and decided the best place to go where I could fully experience the car, was to take a spontaneous road trip up to Paihia in the Bay of Islands.
I wanted to embark on a roadtrip to see exactly how well the Model X performed and if such a trip could be convenient considering the car is powered on electricity alone.
Prior to leaving Auckland, I took advantage of Tesla’s 24-hour customer lounge at the showroom while waiting for the car to fully charge on one of Tesla’s Superchargers, which can fully charge your battery in around 75 minutes. There are only six of these across the whole of New Zealand, although more are in the pipeline.
Like all other Teslas, the interior is curiously minimalistic with a vast array of features and customisation options.
There are no buttons, knobs or dials. Everything is controllable via the imposing 17-inch screen between the driver and passenger seats. This is effectively a central hub providing you with navigation, music, climate control, ride customisation and even a web browser. Oh, it also allows you to open and close all doors.
Whilst on the subject of the doors, never have I been in a car which has been this much of a conversation starter. Almost everywhere we parked, I’d have people come up and ask questions about the Model X.
The double-hinged ‘Falcon Wing’ doors are practical and make getting in and out of the car a breeze due to the extended head room, albeit rather slow to operate. However, we were tainted with torrential rain on our roadtrip and the water would drip onto the rear passengers everytime we needed to get in or out.
Unsurprisingly, there are no cup holders or extra storage on doors either due to the unorthodox design.
The Falcon Wings mean the doors work excellently in both tight spaces and low-ceilinged car parks, using sensors to recognise the car’s surroundings to avoid any unwanted dents or prangs.
However, my overall opinion on the doors is that they are almost like a statement piece - a reason for people to stop, look and talk about the car. Their practicality is desirable, but the car would have been a lot cheaper to both build and buy had they just used the sliding doors that we’ve seen on cars this size for decades.
Similarly, Tesla’s also come equipped with hidden ‘Easter eggs’, a term coined within the gaming community to describe hidden messages, features or jokes within a game.
You can turn the virtual Tesla on the infotainment screen into the Lotus from The Spy Who Loved Me and even display Mars’ surface on your sat nav (complete with a mini rover). My personal favourite is the ‘Holiday Show’ in which the Tesla flashes its lights, flaps its doors and blares Christmas music out of its fantastic sound system.
Again, these features don’t really benefit the car but make Tesla stand out from the crowd of normal, run-of-the-mill manufacturers.
The Tesla app connects to the car and allows you to pre-heat or pre-cool your car before entering, check battery life and start the car if you’ve left the fob at home. Trivially, it also allows you to honk the horn and flash the lights.
The most impressive feature of the app is the ability to ‘Summon’ the car. If your Tesla is parked in your tight garage, for instance, you can simply press the Summon button and your car will drive out of the garage by itself, allowing for much easier entry.
One thing to note, is that safety is paramount for Tesla, and you’ll struggle to find a safer car anywhere thanks to the Advanced Autopilot, forward collision avoidance and 12 airbags.
The Tesla Model X P100D is the fastest SUV in the world. Simply put, it is biblically fast - 0-100km/h in approximately 2.9 seconds, which is faster than a Lamborghini Aventador. 762 horsepower in an SUV is both crazy and admirable, and the power is available to the driver instantly thanks to the electric motor. There’s absolutely no lag, which makes the car somehow feel even faster from a standing start.
A top speed of around 250km/h is also surprising considering the size and weight of the car, so too is the way it handled the windy bends heading up to the Bay of Islands thanks largely to its low-centre of gravity.
Tesla have set the benchmark for the future of Electric Vehicles in many ways, but the acceleration that the P100D is capable of means that the future of transport is not only green, but also exciting.
You can use the 17-inch touch screen to further improve the ride by raising or lowering the suspension, turning off the traction control and enabling the insane Ludicrous Mode, which unlocks the cars maximum potential.
The P100D is not only quick - it’s also an absolute delight to drive and getting behind the wheel of a ‘normal’ car a week afterwards made me realise just how special the experience in the Tesla was.
I have to be honest though, when I first saw the Model X a couple of years ago, I wasn’t blown away by the way it looked. I thought it was rather ugly from the front and I wasn’t a huge fan of the rear-end which has echoes of the BMW X6 - another car which I wasn’t initially attracted to.
However, after spending a few days with the Model X and taking photos from all different angles, I must admit that the looks grew on me somewhat.
I think it actually looks much bigger in person than it does in photos, perhaps due to the sleek, aerodynamic design of a car in this class.
The huge, 22-inch wheels on our model also looked great but made the ride a lot firmer than it should have been. Tesla’s 20-inch option would improve comfortability but, in my opinion, reduces the aesthetics of the car.
The biggest drawback with an EV is the current infrastructure within New Zealand. Yes, charging points are relatively widespread but, if you want to use these, you’ll probably require a CHAdeMO adapter, which comes at a significant extra cost.
We ran into some trouble on our journey, but Tesla’s fantastic customer service representatives were able to locate us an adapter from a Tesla owner up in Paihia for a quick charge before heading back to Auckland.
Included with all Tesla’s is a charger for your garage or exterior wall at home, so for your daily commute, you won’t have an issue with charging your vehicle.
The Model X would be a perfect choice for a family - the vehicle customisation allows for seat layouts for five, six or even seven passengers. Our car could fit a driver and five passengers comfortably, although getting into the back row could be a struggle for someone of significant height.
The design of the Falcon Wing doors further demonstrates the family appeal of the Model X , with the sensors making sure your kids don’t smash the doors into the car next to you whilst you’re out shopping.
My experience with the Model X P100D is one that I won’t be forgetting in a hurry. When I was first presented with the opportunity, I was excited, but I didn’t believe it would completely change my attitude towards cars and what they should be. But, it absolutely has.
Tesla plan to increase its fleet of vehicles by unveiling the Model Y in early 2019. However, the successor to the 2008 Roadster, due in 2020, promises to convert even more petrolheads like myself, with Tesla claiming it will be capable of reaching 97km/h in just 1.9 seconds and 161km/h in just 4.2 seconds.
Elon Musk has created both a brand and a product that every car manufacturer around the world is envious of. Tesla posted its first profits in two years during Q3 2018 and, in those three months, outsold Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Acura and Lexus in the United States.
In fifteen years, Tesla has entered the niche market of electric vehicles and made it almost completely its own and, as New Zealand becomes ever more green, I feel like Tesla will only grow in popularity over here.
It remains to be seen over time whether one of the bigger manufacturers will take this crown, but for now the future is certainly Tesla’s.