Lotus Eletre vs Tesla Model X: can the new e-SUV beat the old guard?
The Tesla SUV has long been the electric SUV gatekeeper. Time for the new kid to have a crack at it
Kind of inevitable, really. If there's an electric newborn in the automotive world, the first thing it must be compared with is a Tesla. Which is an incredible compliment to the American company when you think about it. But we just happened to be jauntily clipping along a Norwegian backroad when we came across a brand new Tesla Model X - so it would seem rude not to see how the Eletre measured up.
Full disclosure here: the Eletre you see in the pictures is an S, and the Model X is a 1,020bhp Plaid, so the more accurate match up would be S (604bhp) versus Long Range X (671bhp), or 905bhp R versus Plaid. But luckily, we've experienced all the relevant cars, so there's a comparison to be had. And the first thing to recognise is that the Tesla is still rabidly competitive even though it was launched back in 2015. Eight years old is venerable in car terms, and although there have been generous improvements with the car in that time, there still really isn't much like it. Six seats in the Plaid (the regular dual motor Long Range can be configured with seven), tri-motored, over 1,000bhp and a 0-62mph time that calls into question the Eletre's world beating claims. It's also the most aerodynamic SUV in the world according to Tesla with a Cd of 0.24 versus the Lotus' 0.26.
It's still cool, too. The falcon rear doors simply never get boring, and the space and size make for a wonderful place to stow people. The windscreen stretches up and back long past your forehead, making it feel huge and airy from the driving seat, and the single 17in touchscreen works well once you're used to it. It's more pared back than the Lotus inside - which seems topsyturvy - and there's definitely a little shimmy towards form over function, but generally it's an interesting and exciting place to be. Without, it has to be said, some of the quality and fit issues we've seen on other Teslas.
Photography: Jonny Fleetwood
The Lotus, on the other hand, is much busier inside. There are more screens (driver and passenger info and central touchscreen), more textures and more shapes. Where the Tesla is calm, the Lotus has a lot more going on, but strangely it doesn't feel as complicated once you sit in it. Physical controls for some oft-used functions are nice, and the materials (a lot of them recycled) and quality are excellent. It can be had with four or five seats and feels less roomy than the Tesla, mostly thanks to the steep rake of the windscreen and lower overall height. So it's a little bit of personal preference and need here - the Tesla is roomier and cleaner in design, the Lotus feels more intent and a bit more interesting.
The same goes for the outside. The Tesla looks big next to the Eletre, but it really isn't. The Lotus is wider and longer, albeit lower. Look at the Eletre in profile and take away the strategic black edges and suddenly it's a bit slabby. But with both cars on 22in wheels, it's the Lotus that looks the more svelte and sporting - the argument being that the Model S Plaid would be the more slinky comparison. But we're here for SUVs, and it's SUVs that we will have.
The problem the Eletre has with the Tesla is that when you start cranking through the stats, the Model X is far from outclassed by the newer product. The X is more aerodynamic, has more power and torque (as Plaid and R), is faster to accelerate, only 2mph less top end (163mph vs 165mph and therefore irrelevant), is more efficient and has more range from a smaller battery (337 miles vs 304). In fact, one of the only bare stats the Lotus wins on is charge power - if you can find a big enough charger, the Eletre will charge at an average rate of 240kW, adding 195 miles of range in 20 minutes. The Model X takes 30mins at an average of 140 to add the same amount. But the Tesla has access to the Supercharger network, so it's not the issue it might seem.
So what does the Eletre offer that the Model X doesn't? Well, that turns out to be quite easy to figure out. Because the Eletre is more fun to drive, in pretty much all circumstances. There's a delicacy to the steering, the turn-in, the braking, that's simply not present in the Tesla. Body control, traction control systems, feel... the Lotus, on a twisty road, makes the Model X feel like a London bus.
That’s not to say that the Tesla isn’t tremendously amusing, mind. Over 1,000bhp and a similar amount of torque in a car that looks like this is simply delicious. But the Model X Plaid is a hammer and it makes every straight a nail, without the braking performance to inspire confidence. You actually end up either driving it like an old muscle car – slow in, fast out – or you’re managing the car’s line and traction all the way through the corner.
So this really is about what you need. The Lotus is more satisfying for the driver and likely faster on a twisty road, even with a horsepower deficit. The Tesla is more practical, but subdues distance with the blunt force trauma of extreme horsepower and torque rather than finesse – lots of which you can’t use if you want to stay friends with your passengers. If you like driving, the Lotus is the one. If you just like laughing with your mates, the Model X still makes an enormously amusing case for itself.
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