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Tesla makes waves with its family car of the future

Tall on gimmicks, high on style and performance, Model X delivers a smooth and perfect ride

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 March, 2017, 4:14pm
UPDATED : Friday, 24 March, 2017, 9:41pm

Bad news for Kim Jong-un: when the tubby tyrant fires North Korean biological weapons towards the West in a future provocation too far, countless potential victims will be firing back obscene gestures – from the sanctuary of their Tesla Model X.

A Bioweapon Defence Mode is probably not the first thing you look for when buying a car – not yet, anyway. And outlandish it may be, but it’s a bona fide, if tongue-in-cheek, feature on the Tesla Model X, whose air filter is 10 times bigger – and 800 times better at filtering viruses – than that of any comparable car. But that’s just it: there is no comparable car. The future’s bright: the future’s Tesla. And X marks the spot where it’s all already happening.

As you wait for the apocalypse you are welcome to use that ferocious filter for more mundane jobs, such as saving yourself from the deadly diesel cloud being puked up by the traffic-jammed truck in front. Then, why not amuse yourself with the countless other gadgets, toys and gizmos installed as standard on this new kid on the Hong Kong market?

Finally, it’s here; and in keeping with the vision of Tesla’s Mars-bound Silicon Valley visionary Elon Musk, also boss of cosmic exploration company SpaceX, the X’s armoury of push-button and touch-screen features all boost its futuristic quotient. As do, most prominently, the gull-wing mid-cabin doors.

Ah yes, those doors, which are a gimmick as much as a signature, given that the car would function perfectly well with a front- or rear-hinged alternative. But still, proving that he can do retro-futuristic just as well as futuro-futuristic, Musk’s ostentatious DeLorean tribute suggests the future to which he’s going back will be clever as well as groovy: stretching into their full wingspan, the doors are high and mighty and seem odds-on to whack anything above or to the vehicle’s sides. Fear not, because sensors detect any obstacle and ensure the doors’ angle of lift is adjusted to miss (just don’t try fitting a roof-rack).

And if it is sensors you want you have come to the right place. Never mind EV (electric vehicle), there is a case for calling the X an ESV (extra-sensory vehicle), such is the battery of cameras, warning bleepers, parking assistants and lane-position displays to keep you between the white lines. The X is so capable that although government timidity means Tesla’s self-drive system isn’t allowed on board its Hong Kong imports – the hardware exists on the vehicles but the software cannot be installed – it does so much of your thinking for you that we are now straying close to Terminator territory and the advent of sentient machines.

More of that in a later issue. Back to the road and the X’s X factor: performance. It is, apparently, a sport utility vehicle, although it handles like a sports car and is faster than most of them. Anyone feeling the need for speed is going to love it here: the X 90D, which we tested, will hit 100km/h in five seconds – the more powerful X P100D, with a beefier battery, requires a mere 3.1 – but the real thrill of the sprint comes with the initial acceleration. The instantly available 485lb/ft of torque nails you to your seat as the Model X takes off, dare we say it, like a SpaceX rocket. And that’s in mere Insane mode as selected on the 17-inch dashboard “infotainment” touch-screen. Ludicrous mode, unavailable on the X 90D, would probably put you into orbit.

Four-wheel drive helps keep the agile X on the straight but not so narrow – it’s wider and longer than a Range Rover – as it gallops towards its electronically limited 250km/h top speed. It also distributes all that torque around the wheels (22-inchers in this case) as needed, meaning the X eschews skittishness and doesn’t turn into a 2.4-tonne off-road missile.

Deliberate off-roading, meanwhile, will have to wait for another day, but if the haughtiness the X brings to the road remains, the ride will still be serene over stream, lake bed and boulder.

The X is nominally a seven-seater, but passengers riding in the two rear, foldable seats should be capped at mid-range teenaged, with legroom and headroom at a premium thanks to the car’s steeply raked coupé rear door.

Elsewhere the cabin is spacious and all seats come as individual units, with no benches and no awkward 60/40 splits. Along with the standing room permitted by those soaring doors, this simplifies ingress and egress.

The X 90D’s whispering 90kWh battery gives it a range of roughly 490km provided you don’t habitually floor the accelerator; recharging is ridiculously cheap, if not free. But if you want one at the current price of HK$777,000 then buy by March 31. After that, in a move of spectacular brainlessness, the Hong Kong government will abolish the zero first registration tax on new private electric vehicles and limit the discount to HK$97,500. Such is its dedication to clean air. The government fiddles (the books, probably) while the planet burns.