A seven-seat, two-and-a-half tonne people carrier just shouldn't be like this. But then anything Elon Musk lends his hand to these days tends to impress in ways you never thought possible. His latest trick is the Tesla Model X, a large sports utility vehicle based on the all-electric underpinnings of the Model S.
Already on sale in the US, the Model X has just launched in Europe (prices tba) and will be going on sale in the UK and across the continent very soon. IBTimes UK attended the launch in Germany to drive Model X for the very first time.
All versions of the Model X are four-wheel drive, with an electric motor powering each axle and the majority of the power going to the rear. The base version, called 90D ('90 kilowatt-hour battery, all-wheel-drive' in Tesla-speak) has 417hp , the high-end P90D (P for performance) has 464hp and the range-topping P90D with Ludicrous mode has 532hp. This means an electronically-limited top speed of 155mph for all three, and 0-60mph times of 4.8, 3.8 and 3.2 seconds respectively.
That last stat is the same as a McLaren F1, the £10m hypercar, and faster than just about anything else on the road. Even the less powerful versions feel absurdly fast for their vast size.
Prodding the accelerator offers up the same relentless rush towards the horizon as the Model S, yet the X is intended to be a safe, sensible and practical family transporter with space for your kids, their friends and the dog.
And it isn't just the straight-line speed and monumental torque that impress, because when you show the Model X a twisty road it keeps its composure more than it has any right to. By installing the massive battery pack in the floor, like on the S, the car's centre of gravity is much lower than anything else in its class; this helps to reduce body roll and makes for good handling. It's not sporty – the steering is far too light and numb for that – but it's easy and comfortable, which is just what an SUV should be.
Despite the huge power, the driver's seat in the Model X is a serenely calm place to be. The silence, elevated seating position and the vast windscreen that stretches back behind your head all help give the X's cabin a huge amount of space and light. The windscreen in particular is an example of how Tesla and its lack of history or decades-old house style mean it can start from a clean slate with every element of the car. However, it isn't perfect; the screen looks great in photos but when driving on a sunny day the entire dashboard is reflected by the higher tinted area, which is quite distracting. Rear visibility is also quite poor, due to five seats obstructing your view through the narrow screen. Parking sensors and a camera do, admittedly, help.
Nowhere is Tesla's back-to-the-drawing board approach more apparent than with the falcon-wing doors. Lifting upwards then opening outwards above bystanders' heads, they are the Model X's party piece and as fabulous to look at as they were complex to get right. They make getting into the middle (where you can spec two or three seats) easy, and even clambering into the third row is far more dignified than that time you thought booking a seven-seat Uber to get home from Soho at 4am was a good idea. The doors are fun and dramatic and impossibly cool, but also a bit slow; they take a while to open and close, and judging if there's enough space to open them fully is a lesson in mental recalibration. The front doors open in the traditional way but are automatic, opening when you touch the handle and closing when you press the brake pedal.
Once settled behind the driver's seat, anyone who has helmed a Model S will immediately recognise their surroundings. Like switching from a regular Mini to the larger Countryman, moving from S to X gives you a higher and more upright driving position. You're surrounded by the same dashboard, with a massive 17in touchscreen used to control everything from the sat-nav and Spotify to the doors and Biohazard Defence Mode.
That's another one of Musk's toys, but this one isn't just for show. When activated, the system pressurises the cabin like an aeroplane then relies on a filter 10 times larger than on a regular car to purify air entering the cabin, removing almost all evidence of pollution, pollen, viruses and, we're told, acts of chemical warfare. All of this creates a fair amount of noise, like putting the fan on full to clear a frosty windscreen, but for drivers in London, Paris or Beijing the minor inconvenience must surely be worth paying to get clean air.
The power, silence, natural light and pressurised cabin all add up to make driving the Model X feel more like you're piloting a spaceship than driving a car. And then you switch on Autopilot and the spaceship turns into your personal chauffeur, whisking you along the motorway all by itself. It's the same ever-improving system used by the Model S, meaning it can stay in lane and handle stop-start traffic without your help.
Tesla Model X: Initial verdict
Perhaps it shouldn't come as a surprise, but driving the Model X is very similar to driving the Model S. Considering the car's vast size and weight, this is no mean feat. A mountain of torque provides the fun, Biohazard Defense Mode and the falcon-wing doors provide the wow-factor, and the storage and interior space bring the practicality. The Model X is a dramatic rethink of what an SUV can be, while sticking to the Model S's blueprint. It isn't cheap, but once potential customers get to grips with the cheap and expanding electric car charging network it could be a smash hit.
A release date and UK pricing for the Model X (expected to be around £60,000) will be announced later in June, ahead of deliveries kicking off towards the end of the summer. Tesla promises the initial problems suffered by the X's doors and general build quality in the US will be ironed out before it arrives in the UK; to find out, we'll be giving the Model X a full, multi-day review soon.