Singing at the wheel, eco-campaigner Livia Firth is wowed by an electric vehicle with super-heroic attributes. A car with a price tag for everyone? Maybe not, but it offers a lot of tomorrow, today
I have never truly cared about cars. I am one of those people who rarely knows the name of any car I get into or that passes me by on the street. Cars for me are utilitarian: “Take me from here to there and just be comfortable, thank you so much.”
The first car I drove was my parents’ Fiat Cinquecento, which was very comfortable for a city like Rome with narrow streets and lots of traffic. When I first met Colin, I took him around Rome in my tiny car, which he found hilarious. When we moved to London, the car he was driving was his grandfather’s Nissan Cherry. We had that for quite a few years, so you get the picture of my “car upbringing”.
The car I drive today is an old Toyota Prius, a hybrid car to keep my “eco” conscience at peace (sort of). I love the fact that it is quite rundown and dirty; and I can park it anywhere, even under the trees outside our house which are inhabited by active pigeons.
The only time I became truly excited about a car was a few years ago when we opened my shop and consultancy, Eco Age, and Smart were about to launch their first ever electric car. They asked my brother Nicola and me to test drive it for a year. I became obsessed with the technology, and the fact that we had to install a plug to charge the battery, and that it was so different from anything else I had ever experienced. Imagine never, ever again having to visit a petrol station!
Fast forward a few years and here I am in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, during the Oscars weekend, test driving the new Tesla Model X for Vanity Fair.
I think of Tesla as I think of the Green Carpet Challenge collaborations we do with so many luxury brands—as the perfect marriage of ethics and aesthetics. Here we have a super cool car which is totally electric. It’s the equivalent of the most beautiful sustainable ball gown. In fact, with its “falcon-wing” doors, this car even looks like one from which James Bond—or Batman—would emerge.
On the day of the test drive, the Eco Age team—Iain, Harriet and Simon—piled into the Tesla Model X and we set off on a manic schedule of meetings all over West Hollywood and into LA. With room for seven people, space was not a problem. But we also had a dinner engagement and my big worry was the battery life. How long would the charge last? Imagine being stuck on an LA freeway with no battery. In La La Land, would I have to dance my way off?
In fact, we didn’t need to charge the battery at all. Model X has an incredible range of 351 miles on a single charge and so there was nothing to worry about. As for being on time, well the Model X can certainly move fast too. According to the spec, it hits 0-60mph in a staggering 2.9 seconds and can hit a top speed of 155mph. We couldn’t try that in West Hollywood without the chance of being arrested, but it’s good to know the power is there. Best of all, however fast it goes, Model X produces zero emissions. Zero!
And there is more: Model X is also the world’s cleanest SUV—on the inside—with the industry’s first medical-grade HEPA air-filter system. How cool is that? You can even activate a bioweapon defense mode that creates positive pressure inside the cabin to protect everyone. The Model X really is a kind of spaceship we could hide in, in the event of a cataclysmic accident.
To keep you entertained, the Model X also comes with a massive user interface screen on the dashboard, complete with the latest software updates and—most fantastically for me—an unlimited Spotify account. The result? We spent the whole time in the car pretending to be in one of James Corden’s episodes of Carpool Karaoke and sang and danced our way through the day.
If you get very bored, and you are one of those people who constantly need to be wired in to check your emails, the user interface becomes your smartphone screen. You can not only make calls but also check your emails directly from the huge touchscreen.
So this is a car which made me pay attention and excited me beyond my wildest dreams. Also, the big deal about Tesla isn’t just the fact that they produce cool cars that are clean and safe, but that the company is dedicated to investing in infrastructure on the road, in towns and cities. For example, the Model X’s Supercharger network makes long-distance travel easy. Superchargers are connectors that charge your Tesla in minutes. They’re located close to restaurants, shopping centres and WiFi hotspots. It’s like a lightning bolt charge that keeps you going further for longer. Tesla has destination partnerships, too, so that you can pull up and plug into a Tesla wall connector to charge while you shop, have dinner, or stay overnight at a hotel or resort.
But the issue for me is the price tag. This car is so expensive. Realistically, how many people could afford it? Tesla is not a “democratic” car which could put thousands of people off petrol and into electric car solutions. For the moment, though, Tesla gives us a lot of tomorrow, today. It’s plugged into a truly intelligent future, which is clean, clever and great fun.
Elon Musk’s big plans for the future include the fact that one day we’ll charge our electric car from the solar panels on the roof of our house. Then our electric car will drive us to the Hyperloop station, where we’ll travel at super speed to the space station, where we’ll take a reusable rocket to the moon and back.
Back down on Earth, I will be happy to go back to my old battered car in London. It’s my security blanket. It means I don’t have to be like James Bond or Batman. At least not every day.
Read Anne-Sofie Lucan’s test drive of the Tesla Model X in the British countryside here
From Vanity Fair En Route, published with the Summer 2017 issue of Vanity Fair, and on sale June 2