Prior to driving the P90D last year, I was firmly in the loathing group in regard to Elon Musk’s radical new automotive firm. There were two primary reasons for my scorn. First, I’m a dyed-in-the-wool petrolhead, and electric just seems so sterile in comparison. And second, I had never driven the thing (thus, my opinions were entirely based on preconceptions).
I believe my Sept. 15, 2016, story demonstrated just how thoroughly the P90D eviscerated those preconceptions, but questions still remained – questions I would often be reminded of in conversations with friends and at the cigar shop. Cars often come up in talk among men, especially when people know they’re talking to a Hot Stuff Automotive Journalist like myself (only kidding). Predictably, when Tesla was mentioned, the same questions were asked: “What’s the range?” and “What about charging on road trips?” and “How do you charge at home?” and so on. Seems everyone knows it’s ridiculously fast and that it’s loaded with 23rd-century technology, but the paradigm shift of gas to electric is so transformative that what it means for day-to-day life is still a head-scratcher for some. I would answer these questions as best I knew how, but because I’d never taken a Tesla onto the open highway, there was some uncertainty.
So the question was put to Tesla management: Could I take a car on a road trip to Kansas City and back? My expectation of a firm “no” turned into pleasant surprise when they agreed, and shortly after, they were giving me the orientation on a Model X. Underneath, the Model X shares the same chassis and running gear as the Model S Sedan, but it has many surprises in its sleek SUV body. Built into the adorable mini Tesla-shaped key are myriad button combinations that can open or close any of the doors, as they’re all powered. Using the key to open all doors, including the jaw-dropping rear Falcon Wing doors, induces a feeling similar to a Pink Floyd laser light display. Once inside, attention is immediately drawn to the equally awe-inspiring front glass, which bends back over the roofline to the point of being directly above your head while seated. This front glass and a hood that falls away completely out of view (there’s no engine under there, after all) easily provide the best forward view of anything built today.
For those seated in front, the look and feel are identical to those of the Model S, just a bit higher. But for the second and third row of passengers, rejoice that your arrangements weren’t an afterthought. No transmission means there’s no center tunnel, which means a flat and low floorboard. So while on the outside the X may appear on the small side for a three-row SUV, inside there’s far more space than anticipated. This also translates into easy ingress to the third row. What an electric drivetrain means for interior space and layout is unquestionably good and results in a far more utilitarian vehicle than expected.
Back to the questions at hand: What’s it like to road trip with a Tesla? Well, on the highway, Autopilot shines best. On Interstate 70 between St. Louis and Kansas City, it performed nearly perfectly, with only a couple of moments of minor confusion where it forced me to take control. Even in those moments, it would have sorted things out and continued, but my level of trust isn’t, and may never be, complete in an autonomous driving solution. Even in times where Autopilot wasn’t engaged, the adaptive cruise control was, and it certainly provided a respite to long stretches.
Music is a big part of long highway drives, at least for this writer. Tesla uses Slacker for streaming, in addition to other options, but it was Slacker that I found myself wishing I had in my own MX-5. Through the massive 17-inch screen, it was responsive and intuitive, giving more channel options than I’ve ever seen in a car. Overall, it would be near impossible to fault the driving experience of the X, with a quiet cabin, loads of easily accessible tech that’s honestly useful, and a powerplant that you almost never feel working. Put those things together, and the miles pass by effortlessly.
In Tesla nomenclature, the 90 indicates battery size in kilowatt-hour. My P90D Model X is said to have a range of 250 miles, which I would have to say is a bit on the optimistic side. I knew I would have to stop in Columbia to top off the electrons, and once my Kansas City destination was entered into the GPS, it automatically plotted out needed recharging along the way. The Tesla reps helped me install the Tesla Motors app on my Android before I began my trip. (It also operates on iOS.) With this installed, I was able to eat a hoagie at the Jimmy Johns in Columbia while my X sat across the street charging, and it notified me when I had enough juice to continue my journey. It was roughly the same time it took to eat my lunch, approximately 20 minutes. My first experience with the Tesla Supercharger was easy – and free! (Tesla awards about 1,000 miles of complimentary annual credits, after which a small fee applies.)
Next up would be the needed charging in Kansas City. Since I was staying downtown, and the nearest Supercharger station was 15 miles east in Independence, Missouri, I decided to try a charge-sharing app, named PlugShare. It uses your location and shows all available electric-vehicle (EV) charging stations nearby, and there were a lot! Being new to the “culture,” I was a bit befuddled by all the different charging options it gave me. After a quick look in the trunk, I found that included were the necessary plug adapters for these different types, and I chose a Chargepoint station directly across the street from where I was staying. It’s a 220-volt-based charging station instead of the much faster 480-volt Tesla Supercharger, but I left the X overnight and by the next morning had topped off the battery. My bill for this charge was exactly $1. There are some commercial charging stations that cost money, like the one I used, but there are also more and more free EV charging stations popping up, like at hotels and banks.
My drive home was more of the same: a car that’s incredibly easy to spend time in and no-fuss fast charging at the Columbia station. Oh, and more Jimmy Johns. What I discovered is there’s a lifestyle to owning an EV, and like any new lifestyle, it comes with an associated learning curve. But this one was quite shallow, and before I had returned to St. Louis, the decision was made that I will own a Tesla one day. If you know me, you’d know that’s as eye furling a comment as if I’d said I’m never eating beef again. Believe me, I’m not ready for petrol to be history. But life with – and in – a Tesla has won my heart.
To learn more about the 2017 Tesla Model X, visit tesla.com.