2017 Tesla Model X review – Roadshow

It’s been over a year now since the Model X stumbled its way to market. It was unfashionably late and the first cars to roll off the assembly line were riddled with problems, but none of that stopped the thing from being a car that put the industry on notice, gathering a lot of attention from a lot of people who generally couldn’t care less about cars — especially SUVs.

But the Model X isn’t just an SUV. It’s an electric SUV, of course, but it’s a lot more than that, too. It’s quicker than most sports cars on the road, yet far more practical and more comfortable. It offers a selection of luxury appointments rarely found on cars not costing well into the six figures and it manages to fit three rows of seats in a distinctive shape in a segment full of me-too crossovers.

The Model X is an interesting proposition, but now in its second year of full production, is it still the car of the future it was in 2016?

What’s new

If you read my full review of the Model X last year you could probably tell that I enjoyed the thing but left feeling a bit conflicted about a few aspects. While this is still very much the same car as last year, a few significant updates for 2017 do move it forward in some key areas.

The first is practicality. While the middle-row seats in the initial Model X looked majestic on their pedestals as they moved serenely forward and back, they were way too damn slow in exposing the third row and, worse, they didn’t fold flat.

Now, buyers have a few different middle-row configurations to ponder, with room for either six or seven. Crucially, that middle row now folds flat. It’s still too slow to get out of the way and provide access to the back, but baby steps.

Additionally, the Model X now uses Tesla’s new synthetic covering on all seats rather than the animal hide of yore. While some purists may scoff at this, I assure you this ain’t your typical bargain bin pleather. I was surprised to really like the feel of the stuff, and those with ethical concerns about such things can feel a little better about their purchase.

Another improvement comes in range. Tesla now offers a 100 kilowatt-hour battery pack option, which gives a realistic 295 miles of range. That’s up about 40 miles over last year, and to be honest even that figure felt like plenty. But, while the car didn’t need┬ámore range, a little more comfort room never hurt.

The Model X didn’t need to be any faster, either, but that didn’t stop Tesla from making it so. The top-shelf P100D will sprint from zero to 60 in 2.9 seconds, up two-tenths from last year’s quickest. That’s frankly ridiculous for any object that weighs 5,500 pounds, but I love it.

The final big change? Autopilot, and I’m sorry to report that it’s not all good news there. Tesla’s shifted the Model X to the second-generation of Autopilot, called AP2, and has been working hard to bring this new system up to the same level as the previous. And, on the highway, it definitely is. In my testing on major roads the Model X smoothly and cleanly stayed centered within its lane, speeding up and slowing down to keep with traffic, changing lanes on its own with a touch of the turn stalk, even coming to a complete stop in gridlock.

It’s off the highway where things still need work. Last year, the Model X was nervous at times but felt pretty competent at identifying lanes on secondary roads and steering itself around. Now, the car feels jittery and unpredictable, frequently getting confused at junctions or anything more than a very gradual turn.

On the highway, AP2 is a blessing and takes a lot of the tedium out of long drives, especially long traffic jams, but as soon as you find your exit I recommend leaving it off. It’s just not ready for prime time.