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Tesla Model X 2019 review: Long Range tow test

The idea of a Tesla that can tow sounds about as likely as an astrophysicist with three Olympic gold medals, who also moonlights as a hand model.

The EV brand has blazed a trail for every other mainstream and premium car manufacturer to jump on the electric bandwagon, and today they’ve still got the biggest batteries and most impressive range ratings, while also having the most extensive extensive network of charge stations made up of Superchargers and destination chargers, covering every state and territory.

They’re not perfect though, often displaying niggling build quality issues and production delays for upcoming models. There’s also a degree of uncertainty bred by a founder who flits between the modern-day space race, manufacturing flame throwers and offering to send miniature submarines to rescue stranded children.

But there’s no questioning the overall impact Tesla has had on the automotive industry, along with the incredible brand awareness and aspiration it’s generated from non-enthusiast Joe Average consumers around the world.

The Model X is also rated to tow, with a decent 2250kg braked rating and an integrated tow bar that folds out of sight when not in use, which both fits its SUV character and encourages you to give it a go.

The test

It’s no secret that just because a car is rated to tow a given weight, it doesn’t mean you should tow that weight, but it should be able to manage something with a decent buffer beneath that maximum.

Something like the 17-foot Avida Wave Tourer Electric Pop-Top single-axle caravan, which is built in Sydney and available from $54,990, which represents a pretty common type of lighter van and weighs in at 1746kg.

So to see if this rocket scientist/supermodel could chop wood, we put it through its paces with the Avida Wave attached. To provide context given the relatively unfamiliar energy consumption measures of an electric vehicle, we went beyond our usual test regime by doing the same test with a 200 Series Land Cruiser diesel, which is arguably Australia’s favourite tow vehicle.

We chose the most appropriate and cheapest version of the Model X Long Range (formerly known as 100D), which listed at $129,500 at the time of testing.

Ours was optioned up to $188,215 (drive away in NSW) though, with Pearl White Multi-Coat paint ($2800), black and white premium interior trim ($2100), six-seat layout ($8500), Full Self Driving Capability ($7100), Autopilot ($4300), and then on-road costs.

Like the Model X Performance that sits above it, it comes equipped with the big 100kWh battery system and dual motors that give it all-wheel drive. The Long Range produces total outputs of a mega 386kW and 660Nm that result in claimed 0-100km/h performance of a genuinely fast 4.9 seconds.

It’s a proper large SUV, but weighs more than most at 2459kg because of that huge battery system, but manages a decent payload of 620kg that even pips the ‘Cruiser by 10kg.

The Model X Long Range carries an official driving range 565km (NEDC) or 17.7kWh/100km, but wait until you see what happens to this figure when towing.

When you plug in a caravan's electricals to the Model X, it automatically switches to 'Trailer Mode', which is signified by a blue caravan-shaped light in the instrument panel. 

  • The LandCruiser's conventional hitch made connecting the Avida Wave a relative cinch. (image: Tom White) The LandCruiser's conventional hitch made connecting the Avida Wave a relative cinch. (image: Tom White)
  • See, cinch. (image: Tom White) See, cinch. (image: Tom White)
  • Even 12-years later, the 200 Series integrated towbar is still pretty impressive. (image: Tom White) Even 12-years later, the 200 Series integrated towbar is still pretty impressive. (image: Tom White)
  • How did they manage before jockey wheels? (image: Tom White) How did they manage before jockey wheels? (image: Tom White)
  • The Tesla's unconventional retractable towbar was quite a pain to chain up, as it needs to be approached from beneath. (image: Tom White) The Tesla's unconventional retractable towbar was quite a pain to chain up, as it needs to be approached from beneath. (image: Tom White)
  • Which is even more apparent from this angle. (image: Tom White) Which is even more apparent from this angle. (image: Tom White)
  • The Model X's reversing camera can be left on all the time, which is very handy for keeping an eye on the hitch. (image: Tom White) The Model X's reversing camera can be left on all the time, which is very handy for keeping an eye on the hitch. (image: Tom White)

When in Trailer Mode, the rear parking sensors, Autosteer and Autopark functions are disabled. The adaptive cruise control also increases the distance to vehicles ahead, the air suspension functions are limited, lane guidance is disabled and the AEB brake force is scaled back significantly. 

Our LandCruiser LC200 was the second from the top-of-the-range VX, which currently lists at $98,510 in diesel form. Or not much more than half the drive away price of our particular Model X.

It’s got full-time four-wheel drive, with a more rugged ladder chassis construction and a low-range transfer case and solid rear axle and long-travel suspension for serious off-roading.

It’s also got the now-legendary twin-turbo 4.5-litre V8 diesel which now produces 200kW and a very close-to-Tesla 600Nm. Toyota doesn’t offer a 0-100km/h rating, but it’s fair to say it’ll take about twice as long as the Tesla.

  • There's a familiar sight. (image: Tom White) There's a familiar sight. (image: Tom White)
  • It's funny to think that the one on the left costs nearly twice the one on the right. (image: Tom White) It's funny to think that the one on the left costs nearly twice the one on the right. (image: Tom White)

The ‘Cruiser also comes with a built-in towbar but you’ve got to pay extra for the tongue, and it’s rated to the industry-benchmark 3500kg.

It’s 46mm shorter than the 5036mm Tesla and rides on a 415mm shorter wheelbase than the EV’s 2965mm, but the Toyota’s tall body and rugged all-steel construction make it even heavier than the Model X at 2740kg, but with a payload of 610kg, it can’t quite match the EV.

The diesel Cruiser carries an official combined fuel consumption figure of 9.5L/100km, and its total diesel capacity of 138L suggests a theoretical range of over 1400km, without a caravan on the back of course.

The route

It’s the difference the caravan makes to each vehicle that we set out to test, so we put together a 325km loop between two Tesla charge points, which incorporated as much variety of on-bitumen towing conditions we could muster. We covered this loop in convoy twice over two days, to test each car with and without the van on the back.

Leg 1 - 162km Penrith to Bathurst

Source: Google Maps Source: Google Maps 

The 162km first leg started at the Penrith Tesla Destination Charger with 100 per cent charge and the ‘Cruiser tanks full, and headed over the Great Dividing Range via the Great Western Highway to Bathurst.

So a big climb, followed by undulating highway across the top, a big decline down Mount Victoria, and undulating highway on to Bathurst.

No visit to Bathurst is complete without at least one lap of Mount Panorama, which gave us a decent slow speed climb and descent before heading into town to refill the ‘Cruiser, and recharge the Tesla at the Bathurst Supercharger station.

  • Normally 60km/h around Mount Panorama is a real bore, but the Avida Wave made it more of a challenge. (image: Tom White) Normally 60km/h around Mount Panorama is a real bore, but the Avida Wave made it more of a challenge. (image: Tom White)
  • There were plenty of other caravanners doing the same thing. Great minds. (image: Tom White) There were plenty of other caravanners doing the same thing. Great minds. (image: Tom White)
  • Mountain Straight wasn't the only place where the Model X fount it easy to keep up with the 'Cruiser. (image: Tom White) Mountain Straight wasn't the only place where the Model X fount it easy to keep up with the 'Cruiser. (image: Tom White)
  • Remember when this was a gravel trap? (image: Tom White) Remember when this was a gravel trap? (image: Tom White)

Unlike all the other Supercharger stations I’ve seen so far, the Bathurst station is located down an alleyway in the middle of town instead of a nice open carpark on the outskirts.

Nonetheless, we managed to get the van in there, although parking perpendicular to the charge bays meant we unavoidably blocked all the other charge bays.

By the time we plugged in, the Tesla was showing just 12 per cent charge or 68km remaining after its turn with the caravan. Over the same journey the day prior, it showed 55 per cent and 310km by comparison.

Leg 1 results - 162km Penrith to Bathurst

 UnladenTowing% increase
Model X Long Range  24.9kWh/100km48.1kWh/100km93
LandCruiser VX    11.84L/100km19.1L/100km61

Therefore, towing the caravan meant we definitely had to recharge before going back to Penrith, whereas we theoretically could have managed the return journey with no van attached.

In terms of energy consumed per 100km on the first leg, the Tesla used 24.9kWh/100km without the van on the back and 48.1 with, so it almost doubled its energy consumption. 

From 12 per cent charge, the Supercharger took just one hour and 20 minutes minutes to bring us back to 100 per cent. This is a relative eternity compared to the 10 minutes net it took to refuel the ‘Cruiser at one of the numerous servos in town, but the DC Supercharger takes a fraction of the time any AC charger would. Given the convenience of monitoring charge progress via the Tesla app, this hour and a bit was spent having a relaxing lunch.

  • It's fair to describe the Bathurst Supercharger station as a hidden gem. (image: Tom White) It's fair to describe the Bathurst Supercharger station as a hidden gem. (image: Tom White)
  • When we say alleyway, we mean alleyway. (image: Tom White) When we say alleyway, we mean alleyway. (image: Tom White)
  • This is a Telsa Supercharger charge point. (image: Tom White) This is a Telsa Supercharger charge point. (image: Tom White)
  • No greasy diesel pumps here. (image: Tom White) No greasy diesel pumps here. (image: Tom White)
  • The talented Marcus Craft was on hand as second driver. (image: Tom White) The talented Marcus Craft was on hand as second driver. (image: Tom White)
  • Even with access to a Supercharger, there's no beating the convenience of a conventional servo for refuelling the  'Cruiser. (image: Tom White) Even with access to a Supercharger, there's no beating the convenience of a conventional servo for refuelling the 'Cruiser. (image: Tom White)

By comparison, the ‘Cruiser used 11.84L/100km of diesel unladen, compared with 19.1L/100km with the van, which is just 61 per cent more. At that rate we should have been able to comfortably cover another 567km without refuelling.

So in relative terms, the LandCruiser unsurprisingly fared better with 1.7 tonnes of caravan on the back.

Leg 2 - 163km Bathurst to Penrith

Source: Google Maps Source: Google Maps

Instead of going back to Penrith by the Great Western Highway again, we aimed for a bit of variety by taking the 163km route via the Bells Line of Road. So a bit more undulating than the first leg, which theoretically gave give the Tesla’s regenerative braking more of a chance to do its thing. It’s also predominantly made up of speed zones slower than the 100km/h that made up most of Leg 1, which is another advantage for an electric vehicle with a single-speed direct-drive transmission (the faster you go, the faster the motors spin, the more energy is consumed).

Leg 2 results - 163km Bathurst to Penrith

 UnladenTowing% increase
Model X Long Range17.9kWh/100km 38kWh/100km112
LandCruiser VX 10.35L/100km17.22L/100km66

It was also a fair bit easier on the LandCruiser, using 10.35L/100km without the caravan, and 17.22 with, with the latter representing an 11 per cent improvement over Leg 1.These theories were supported by our Leg 2 consumption figures, with the Tesla moving from 17.9 to 38kWh once the caravan was added, which was 27 per cent better than the Leg 1 caravan figure.

Note how close both vehicles’ unladen Leg 2 figures are to their official claims of 17.7kWh and 9.5L/100km too. So if you’re chasing economy, go the Bells Line of Road.

But the most interesting outcome of Leg 2 is how the caravan made a bigger difference to each unladen figure than with Leg 1. Both may have used less energy on Leg 2, but we’re taking it as a sign of how important a steady throttle is for minimising the efficiency compromise when towing.

Driving

Energy consumption is just one element of a tow vehicle though, with stability, braking and acceleration performance being the most important details.

The big ‘Cruiser is always a safe bet for towing heavy loads, but it's fair to say its off-road ability, tall body and short wheelbase mean it could be better on the road, and the Tesla goes some way to proving that.

With all those batteries mounted nice and low, the Tesla is significantly more stable with 1.7 tonnes on the back than the LandCruiser, in all conditions. It’s also helped by that longer wheelbase.

The Tesla’s airbag suspension is another surprise advantage, and while it can be a bit choppy around town over minor bumps, bigger bumps on the highway are soaked up really nicely and it all settles quicker than with the LandCruiser - even with the caravan on the back.

  • The Tesla simply ate hills, but gave no audible indication of how much more energy it was using to do it. (image: Tom White) The Tesla simply ate hills, but gave no audible indication of how much more energy it was using to do it. (image: Tom White)
  • It's also a relaxed highway cruiser. (image: Tom White) It's also a relaxed highway cruiser. (image: Tom White)
  • Even thought the 17ft Wave is a relatively small caravan, it more than doubles the length of the rig when attached. (image: Tom White) Even thought the 17ft Wave is a relatively small caravan, it more than doubles the length of the rig when attached. (image: Tom White)
  • For many, this is the Australian dream. (image: Tom White) For many, this is the Australian dream. (image: Tom White)
  • The big 'Cruiser will lope along the motorway all day long. (image: Tom White) The big 'Cruiser will lope along the motorway all day long. (image: Tom White)
  • But it wasn't quite as nimble through the hills. (image: Tom White) But it wasn't quite as nimble through the hills. (image: Tom White)

Tesla is famous for instant acceleration at any speed, and this effect remains when towing. The LandCruiser’s twin-turbo V8 (with max torque available from 1600-2600rpm) has long been a benchmark for tow vehicles, but the Model X makes it feel sluggish by comparison.

You know how caravan vehicles are usually the slow ones up hills? This time, we were the ones doing the overtaking, even up the steep bends heading out of Lithgow. To overtake, it just takes the slightest flex of your right foot.

Clearly there’s a big caveat though when it comes to how much energy it’s consuming while you’re enjoying that performance, and it’s deceptive because it doesn’t make any more noise like a conventional engine when you’re pushing it. 

You’d also think the weight of the van would overcome the engine-braking effect of the regenerative brakes, but they are still very effective at conserving your brakes downhill and preventing the car from running away from you, and no doubt giving the batteries a bigger boost at the same time.

On that note, the LandCruiser’s cruise control also does a great job of witholding speed on downhill runs, proactively dropping gears to engine brake enough to keep the Avida Wave in check.

After nearly 700km of testing with both cars, it’s fair to say that the Tesla is indeed a capable tow vehicle, provided you keep the distances relatively short and plan around charge station locations.

Overall average - Penrith to Bathurst to Penrith

 UnladenTowing % increase
Model X Long Range21.4kWh/100km 43.05kWh/100km101
LandCruiser VX11.1L/100km18.16L/100km 63

Fuel and energy consumption will always depend on the driving conditions, which is why we chose different routes for each leg of our testing.

Averaged across the two legs, towing the caravan with the Model X used 101 per cent more energy than without, or halved its driving range, which sounds a bit scary.

The LandCruiser by comparison added 63 per cent on average, which is still a big difference, but matters less in the real world when its big fuel tanks would still give you about 760km of driving range, which can be refilled quickly at any diesel-stocked servo.

So you could do a weekend trip with the caravan from Penrith with one supercharge in Bathurst, but it would’ve been highly unlikely to manage the extra 55km if you were leaving from Sydney CBD.

The bottom line is that there’s plenty of things - like smaller camper trailers - lighter than our caravan that will help the Tesla to do the towing job better right now.

Compared to the ‘Cruiser, the Tesla is a lesson in the benefits of a lower centre of gravity and road-focused handling.

As always, bigger batteries and more recharge points will go a long way to rectifying the Tesla’s towing shortcomings, and I'm sure we'll get there eventually.

But no matter what, its acceleration performance under load is simply excellent.

Thanks to our friends at Avida for making this test possible with the use of the 17-foot Avida Wave Tourer Electric Pop-Top single-axle caravan. They can also be reached on 1300 428 432.

$146,000

Based on new car retail price

VIEW PRICING & SPECS

Daily driver score

3.5/5

Adventure score

3.5/5

adventureguide rank

  • Light

    Dry weather gravel roads and formed trails with no obstacles, very shallow water crossings.

  • Medium

    Hard-packed sand, slight to medium hills with minor obstacles in all weather.

  • Heavy

    Larger obstacles, steeper climbs and deeper water crossings; plus tracks marked as '4WD only'