What we’re driving: Tesla Model X P100D
What it costs: From $200,000
Why we’re driving it: These days the entire world appears to be sprinting towards electric cars – but only one manufacturer, Tesla, can be credited with firing the starter's gun.
The punchy US startup is the gatekeeper and the benchmark for every battery-powered future car and its headline act is the Model X with signature ‘falcon wing’ rear doors.
If the Jetsons were on the road in 2019, this is what they'd driving – because the Model X evokes the 21st century on wheels.
Yet time is running out for Tesla. Jaguar's I-Pace is garnering plenty of attention, and both Audi and Mercedes-Benz will soon have electric family-focussed SUVs that get their juice from the grid and not a petrol station. Further into luxury land, there will also be the Porsche Taycan and many more.
So this is the right time for a return run with the Model X, to see how high it sets the bar and if it can survive the coming onslaught by Tesla challengers.
On the outside: Elon Musk insists his cars have to look good, and the Model X is a smooth operator despite its size and a seven-seater cabin.
There's no grille in the nose because there's no engine there to cool – as a result, the body is shaped to move smoothly around the cabin, and the truncated tail makes for easy access to a well-sized boot.
Details include flush-mounted door handles, 20-inch alloys and those swing-up concertina doors, which are unique in the car world but make plenty of sense when you have lots of people or gear to load.
There's even a special sensor to ensure the doors, which are designed so they eliminate the risk of bumping a car parked alongside, cannot rise too high in a cramped space.
Tesla says the windscreen is the biggest ‘panorama’ screen on the road, sitting over the top of slimline headlamps, with a small spoiler in the rear.
Under the bonnet: Unlike internal combustion cars there is nothing much to see under the bonnet. That’s good for people who are looking for luxury transport, not a show-off V8 engine.
All-wheel drive is standard on the Model X, with a pair of electric motors – one at each end – to provide the motivation. It’s not any sort of soft-roader or off-road machine, but the idea is provide grip and go in all conditions including the snow-and-ice states where it is popular in the USA.
There's only one forward gear, but it's capable of pushing you forward like a rocket sled on rails.
The 100D gets its name from the 100 kiloWatt-hour capacity of the lithium-ion battery pack, which has been steadily upgraded through the life of the Tesla range.
The car is future-proofed with WiFi software updates and upgrades from Tesla HQ, just like a smartphone.
Air suspension is fitted for a plush ride, as well as a smart party trick as it rises from parking height to cruising level once the passengers have boarded,
Tesla is also a leader in semi-autonomous driving, so the X-car comes with radar cruise control and auto safety braking, as well as its signature Autopilot package that can currently handle the steering – under the driver’s supervision – on freeways in Australia. It can also park automatically and make an automatic lane change.
On the inside: Luxurious touches abound and there's huge flexibility in the cabin, owing to the easy access through the Falcon Wing openings as well as a choice of five, six or seven-seater layouts.
Buyers can go for a limo-style layout with great lounging space or a fully family-friendly SUV package.
A giant display screen sets every Tesla apart and the 17-inch one in the Model X is brilliantly clear and, with some training, easy to use. It’s extra unusual because it sits vertically in the centre of the cabin, not horizontally.
Eight airbags boost crash protection, together with four of the Isofix child-seat anchorages which make travel with youngsters easier and safer, sound soars through the 11-speaker audio system, electric front seats and even - although rarely needed in Australia - a heated steering wheel.
On the road: There are discussions and even arguments about the distance the Model X can travel on a single charge, but the official rating is 465km.
During my time with the car I regularly got past 300km without a drama, although I was starting to worry about a plug-in top-up as an overnight connection in the garage at home only added 200km through a standard wall socket.
Tesla has its well-promoted Supercharger network, which is growing strongly throughout Australia, and that’s a big bonus – especially for long trips.
The Model X's performance cred is unquestionable, especially when I engage the well-named Ludicrous Mode. It whacks me in the back as it hits 100km/h in 3.1 seconds, which is a proper supercar effort and unlike any other SUV.
More importantly, the Model X is quiet, smooth and relaxing. Vision is great, the seats are comfy and I always feel like I’m driving something special.
The ride quality could be better, and I wonder about the quality. The operation of the Falcon Wing doors is a bit jerky and they feel a bit flimsy, and some of the materials are sub-standard for a car with a $200,000-plus price tag.
The cornering is alright but not great, the steering can be vague at times, but the braking - using the regenerative system that tops-up the battery - is good and a limited run using the Autopilot system shows it can take up some of the slack on well-marked highways.
In summary: Tesla's Model X remains a landmark car and one that any serious EV buyer is going to have on his or her list. But things are about to get much tougher for Elon Musk.
At the start of 2019, the Jaguar I-Pace has taken over as the benchmark for electric cars in Australia, and we're still waiting to see what Tesla can do with the smaller and more affordable Model 3 that is pitched as an electric alternative to a BMW 3 Series.