Last week was a big week for Elon Musk, and his electric car company. Not just because they blasted one of the cars into space with The Stig in tow, but also because the Model X got reviewed on The Grand Tour. It's been ten years since Jeremy Clarkson reviewed a Tesla car, and it may surprise some people to note that he had many a nice thing to say about it.
Or not, because Clarkson and co have said nice things about electric cars in the past. It's just a shame that those things seem to have been set aside in favour of prioritising jokes and entertainment. In fact last time Clarkson touched a Tesla on screen, Tesla sued them for defamation. According to Elon Musk himself, when the Roadster appeared on Top Gear, the employee who dropped off the car saw that the show's script involved a skit where the Tesla broke down. The show also claimed that the car ran out of charge after 55 mile, despite claims from Tesla that the car in question never dropped below 20 per cent charge.
Tesla lost the lawsuit and the following appeal, because a judge found they couldn't prove the episode led to any damage. Regardless, Clarkson revealed in last week's episode that it was a stressful time, and as a result he wouldn't review a Tesla product again. That said, seeing as how big and important Tesla has become, he decided he couldn't ignore them much longer and agreed to take the Model X out for a spin.
Clarkson was rather fond of the many things the Model X has to offer that other cars do not. He was a big fan of all the gimmicks and easter eggs hiding inside the car (like changing the sat-nav view to the surface of Mars), and the fact he could use his phone to summon the car over short distances. Unsurprisingly he was also a very big fan of the speed and acceleration, with the Model X's Ludicrous Speed mode managing to beat an Audi R8 in a drag race.
Clarkson also had many a nice thing to say about the Autopilot system in the segment, despite past claims that self-driving cars (and less advanced autonomous features) were dangerous. That said the end of the segment featured him reading out a letter written by a lawyer, describing some of the issues one might experience with Autopilot. That includes "discomforting" experiences when the system doesn't behave as you might expect. When Clarkson made those claims last November, I speculated that he may have been driving a Tesla. It looks like I might have been correct, unless he also drove a different semi-autonomous car down the M4 at the end of last year.
Considering the past litigation, it's not at all surprising that producers made Clarkson drive around a team of lawyers for the latter half of the segment. A team of lawyers who happened to be there to respond to his criticisms and make sure he doesn't make any unsubstantiated claims about things like range and the risk of lithium ion battery fires. While this bit has clearly been played up for laughs, which was especially apparent when he throws in a jab at Richard Hammond's height, having the lawyers around might not have been such a bad idea. Particularly when you remember The Grand Tour isn't above presenting misleading facts about electric cars. There is a difference because this is a car review, not a travelling segment, and is designed to be factual, but that's not really the point.
Hopefully Elon (and his investors) will be a little bit happier about the representation his car got from the world's most famous motoring journalists this time around, even if having Jeremy Clarkson say nice things doesn't lessen the sting that happens when you realise that this particular model comes with a £156,000 price tag. The base model is less half that price (£70,500) but that doesn't come with all the nice things like 351 mile range.