Tested: Tesla Autopilot in the Model X 90D

This car screams technology from the moment you approach and touch the chrome strip paddles that open the front doors automatically or the rear ones that see the huge Falcon Wing passenger ‘gates’ soar into the air above the vehicle.

Inside, the swathes of leather upholstery and high gloss wood facings play second fiddle to the 17-inch master touchscreen that dominates and operates all the car’s infotainment capabilities, which are vast. To ensure its software is always the latest Tesla can offer, over-the-air updates should keep it fresh, contemporary and bug free. For example, while the car can already remember speed bumps and potholes, modifying its suspension when it approaches those GPS coordinates again, later an OTA update could allow route planning to avoid any unwanted bumps and speed calming structures. The navigation, by the way, will also redirect the driver automatically to the nearest Tesla supercharger station, of which there are currently 744 in Europe, if it calculates the trip requires it and will tell the driver how long the charging will take. Tesla claims a range of 170 miles for a 30-minute visit to a supercharger.

The tech also extends to the driver’s readout screen where digital impressions of what’s ahead, like parked trucks, are displayed along with little proximity bubbles that change from green to red depending on how close the car is to the kerb.

However, the standout tech on this car is Tesla’s controversial enhanced Autopilot autonomous mode, a £4,600 optional extra, which worked quite well on a short trip on the busy M4 outside Slough. That said, I was happy that the day was a typical grey London day so that the Tesla’s camera/radar system had little chance of missing a big white truck in the bright sunshine of California as it had before with fatal results.

With a double stab of the cruise stalk, the system handles steering as well as the other adaptive cruise functions we’ve seen in other premium cars. As with other systems, the cruise function shuts off with a stab of the brake or if you try to actively steer the car, emitting a ‘bong’ sound to alert you.

There’s also Auto Lane Change that will change lanes in the direction you have indicated when it is safe to do so and a useful add on to take stress away from car’s filtering into the inside lane on motorway junctions. Although, UK laws mean you have to keep hands on the wheel and, if they’re not at the prescribed 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock positions, the sensors won’t let you Auto Lane Change.

Overall, as a first time user of the system, I naturally felt uneasy with it especially because our laws demand you have to keep hands on the steering wheel. It’s a strange sensation feeling the wheel being turned while you’re still holding it and not a very pleasant one – almost like having a backseat driver actually reaching over to steer the car!

So while the system does work in real-world motorway driving, it felt a little ‘clunky’ in operation and also often took an overly cautious approach to changing lane. No doubt tech apologists would argue the system will ‘learn’ the user’s driving style as, indeed, the car’s owner becomes more used to the quirks of the technology.

However, until the legislators allow a hands-free approach to this Level 2 autonomous adaptive cruise control, I can’t see much of an advantage over more traditional, and perhaps understandable, systems already on the market.

— Paul Myles is a seasoned automotive journalist based in London. Follow him on Twitter @Paulmyles_

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