It was hard to judge which aspect of the Tesla Model X provoked the strongest reaction from the crowd.
Was it the on-demand fart noises prompted by the indicator that sent the four-year-old (and his grandparents) into paroxysms of laughter?
Was it the falcon wing doors? – a show-stopper whenever they were opened in public, although one suspects not always subject to universal approval.
Or was it the genuine shrieks and gasps when the bonnet was opened to reveal a front boot big enough for a golf bag, and not an engine in sight? “Where’s the motor?” came the cry. Shouldn’t there be an electric one?
Where indeed. In Tesla EVs, it’s hidden from sight, unlike other aspiring EV makers (like Jaguar and Hyundai) who have fashioned their electric motors to look like the internal combustion engines (ICE) they are designed to replace, and put them in the very same spot.
The reactions to the Model X, and the sheer novelty of electric cars and driving, however, do highlight that despite all the talk about EVs and the transition ahead, just how little is understood about what an EV does – how it operates, how it is charged, and how smart it can be.
That makes the Tesla Model X a perfect, if not a typical, illustration.
At a price of $188,215, the version of the Model X lent to The Driven over a long weekend recently (as part of the Tesla Destinations campaign) is not within the buying range of even some of the so-called 1%, but it has every goodie you could imagine, and so it is a pointer to what the future might hold for all.
Let’s start with the driving experience. It is true of every electric car that it will perform vastly better than its fossil fuel equivalent.
For a start, it’s silent, and there is no exhaust pipe. The added bonus is that the electric motor provides more torque, sometimes break-taking acceleration, and the weight and position of the batteries deliver a lower centre of gravity and a handling experience rarely found in petrol and diesel equivalents.
The Model X is no different. It is big, just check out the difference in this picture than the Model S (about the same size of a BMW or Audi).
But its power, delivered by 100kWh of batteries, is phenomenal. Its size, after a few days of acclimatisation, is only a problem in parking, and the “summon” mode on the Tesla App can fix that.
Range is the big question. The Model X is a big consumer, so if you bring it home near empty it will drain 100kWh from your solar, batteries, and mostly from the grid.
That can take a long time at home, although the alternative is to find a public fast charger along the route, or nearby, which can do most of the charging in 20 minutes.
But most daily trips are 40-50km. In a Model X, that might mean having to add 10kWh each day.
Even with a home “trickle charger” that will take just a couple of hours, and with a smaller EV it would mean as little as 5kWh. The average solar system and battery is more than capable of handling that.
And until people drive an EV for a few days, they do not understand how easy it is to refuel or charge up. Simply plug it in – it takes about 10 seconds. It becomes a habit.
And it’s a great way to drive. The regenerative braking, which acts as a kind of brake while re-charging the battery, slows the car instally the foot pulls off the accelerator.
It offers greater control, and “one pedal” driving. I have always liked changing gears, but this is much more fun.
One outing – down to the nearest village – resulted in a positive charge, we had more in the battery at the destination than we had at departure, thanks to the regenerative braking.
It is a fascinating prospect for those with low charges who might be looking to find a nearby public charger, and another reason to buy a house on a hill.
As Tritium’s James Kennedy has suggested, the temptation for some may be to go off-grid, use rooftop solar and the battery to power the house and the car, the car to power the house on days when solar is not producing much, and top up the car at a public charger and bring it back home if the rain sets in for days.
But what about the smarts? There is an endless list – from “summon” and pollution controls, to the “disco dancing” of the Model X’s falcon wings and light show, to the dog mode to protect your best friend when you park (the air con stays on).
But the car, or the software, does a lot of the hard work for you. It tells you where the nearest charging station is, and will dial down your appliances and put you in eco mode if the charge is running low to make sure you arrive.
The huge screen acts like a giant Ipad, providing entertainment (a full suite of music), and even video and games (won’t work while you are moving), and it even has “romance” mode.
Added to that, a growing suite of assisted and quasi autonomous driving features – driver assist that keeps you in the correct lane, and can change them for you, guarding your chosen space between you and the vehicle in front.
All these features will expand and grow. It points to one thing – a future when cars are more or less autonomous and the driving, or rather mobility, experience is something completely different to what it is now.
That’s what interesting about the Model X – apart from its sheer luxury and its performance – it’s a transit lounge to the future. And it tells us that the future is not so far away.
Then, alas, the three-day loan ends and the Model X is taken away, and it’s back into the sporty French diesel, choking on the sub-quality fuels and fumes that the Australian government allows into the country.
The four-year-old who dubbed the X the “fart car” was right. Fart noises are much more fun when they are a gimmick.
Note: The pricing for the Model X has been updated to reflect recent changes in price.