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New Cars Tesla Model X, world’s first electric SUV, is a shock to the system

2017 Tesla Model X P100D

MATT BUBBERS/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

Tech Specs

Base price: $123,000 (75D); $198,000 (P100D with seven seats)

Engine: Electric, with batteries from 75 to 100 kWh

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Transmission: N/A

Range (EPA rating): 381 km (75D); 465 km (P100D)

Tesla’s top-level Model X electric SUV costs more than $200,000. But that price gives you a SUV that is almost as quick to 100 km/h as a Ferrari yet can seat up to seven.

Drive: All-wheel drive

Alternatives: There's nothing else electric, but you could buy two Range Rovers for the price of a P100D.

The Tesla Model X is the world's first electric SUV. It's also the quickest SUV, the only vehicle of any kind with "falcon wing" doors and it's among the most expensive SUVs ever sold. The top-of-the-line P100D is on the scary side of $200,000.

It seats seven and looks like a fat computer mouse.

What is this monster from the mind of Elon Musk? A great white whale? A kind of automotive messiah? The latest status-mobile for the rich and famous?

American singer/songwriter/rapper Frank Ocean has one.

Driving the Model X is not like driving other cars. Tesla's own Model S sedan, by comparison, lacks ambition. The Model X was designed in a parallel universe, one in which more than a century of automotive history doesn't exist. Why does the windshield stop at the roof? Why do the doors open sideways? Why do you open doors or start the car yourself?

You begin the Model X experience by walking up to it, key in pocket. As you get close, the driver's door automatically pops open, allowing you to get in without touching anything. Put your foot on the brake pedal, and the door closes. There's no need to turn a key or press a start button. The car is on when you get in.

Most of the time, the automatic door works fine. On one occasion, however, it didn't open and I had to use the handle. A handle! Yuck. I was also afraid the door would swing itself wide open into traffic, but it never did.

Clearly not satisfied with inventing automatic doors, Musk looked to do something more radical, so his team created these falcon-wing beauties. Picture the doors on Doc Brown's Back to the Future DeLorean and you're close. But the falcon wings are double hinged, folding as they open upward. They'll work even in the tight confines of an underground parking lot.

Many early complaints from Model X owners were related to these doors. They wouldn't open or close properly, or wouldn't detect objects in their way, or would open too slowly. Tesla acknowledged these issues and rolled out software updates to fix them. At this point, it seems Tesla has ironed out most of the kinks.

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Once under way, the P100D experience is defined by raw acceleration. This SUV could get you in as much trouble with the law as any supercar. It weighs 2.5 tonnes, yet will accelerate from a stop to 100 kilometres an hour in 3.1 seconds. For reference, a Ferrari 488 does it in 3.0 seconds. That is insanity. The Model X is a ballistic missile with cupholders. It feels as if it could give a particle at the Large Hadron Collider a run for its money.

Like those falcon doors, such speed isn't necessary. It's another neat party trick. The Model X is a car for showboats, for those who enjoyed show-and-tell a little too much.

Of course, you don't need to drive the Model X like a maniac. In traffic, it is as smooth, quiet and docile as any luxury car – quieter even, because there's no noisy combustion engine at work.

The ride, however, isn't as cushy as it should be for a vehicle in the $100,000-plus price bracket. Spring is admittedly the worst season for city roads, but the Model X seemed to exacerbate the problem. You feel the Tesla's weight as it rides roughshod over crappy roads. Our fully loaded P100D tester approached Bentley SUV money and is nowhere near as refined.

But back to the question: What to make of it?

Both brilliant and frustrating, the Model X is ahead of its time. It's radically ambitious, which works for and against it. Early adopters will appreciate the clever solutions – the doors, the drivetrain – but they'll also have to put up with quirks and imperfections: the ride, the price, the doors.

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With the Model X, Tesla is breaking the ice for the rest of the industry. Over the next couple years, you'll see competitive all-electric crossovers from Jaguar, Audi, Mercedes and others. As the Model S created a market for electric luxury cars, the Model X creates one for electric SUVs.

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