It’s a well-known fact that California automaker Tesla Motors [NASDAQ:TSLA] is unlike any other automaker on the planet. From the way it designs and builds its cars to the way in which it advertises and sells those cars to the public, Tesla isn’t afraid to be different.
When there’s a new car coming to market, most automakers let the motoring press try it first. Tesla lets its reservation holders and prospective customers have first dibs behind the wheel. While that upsets some of the traditional automotive press in Detroit, we — and some of our colleagues in the green car world — have come to expect Tesla’s customer-focused launch strategy as part and parcel of dealing with a car company that has more in common with Silicon Valley than it does Detroit.
Consequently, when Tesla reached out to see if we’d like to experience its recently-launched Tesla Model X crossover SUV in the metal for the first time as part of its nationwide “Meet Model X” tour, we jumped at the chance. And while Tesla wasn’t about to let us get behind the wheel — representatives made it clear that the event was focused on Model X reservation holders rather than the media — it found us a couple of Model X reservation holders who were willing to let Transport Evolved ride shotgun on the short test drive offered each Model X reservation holder.
Even then, one thing became blatantly obvious to us: the Tesla Model X is unlike any SUV you’ve ever ridden in before — and possibly ever will do again. We should point out that we don’t make that claim lightly either. Before yesterday, we viewed the Tesla Model X as an overpriced, overhyped SUV that was distracting Tesla from its goal of making electric cars affordable.
Now it feels more as if the Model X is a car produced by Tesla to keep its existing fans and customers happy — and to prove that it has the technical acumen to do far more than just build expensive electric cars. Or to put it another way, that it has the ability to solve problems in just the kind of creative ways that it will need in order to bring a mass-market affordable car like the Tesla Model 3 to market for BMW 3-series money.
Our chauffeur for this short, but memorable Model X ride was local businessman Steve (no family name given), who was trying out the Model X for the first time. Already a long-time Tesla fan and owner of not one but two Tesla Model S, he explained he had two Tesla Model X electric cars on order, and was eager to see just what they could do.
Pulling out from the downtown Portland hotel where Tesla was hosting its Oregon segment of the “Meet Model X” tour, Steve noted how quickly he felt at home in the full-size SUV, while we marveled at the enormity of the Tesla Model X panoramic windshield. While the Tesla Model X dash, touch-screen display and controls will feel reassuringly familiar to anyone who has spent any length of time time in a Tesla Model S, the Model X’s massive windshield sweeps from the base of the dashboard all the way past the heads of the front row occupants. Aside from giving a great view of the road ahead, obstructed only by the cabling necessary for the electrochromatic rear view mirror and front-facing Autopilot camera, the windshield also gave the Model X a spacious, airy feel.
Moreover, while Steve admitted that he had been worried about dazzle from the sun (and had brought along shades just in case) the carefully graded tint of the Model X windshield cut out any glare, giving an unobstructed and clear view of the road ahead. While the front of the car wasn’t clearly visible, dipping out of view beyond the bottom of the windscreen, we’d guess placing the Model X in tight parking spaces should be a doddle thanks to excellent visibility married with the host of autopilot sensors embedded around the car.
While rear seat passengers may think differently — and we weren’t able to check that out for ourselves — the Model X’s front-row view of the road ahead is vast. In fact, we’d go as far as to suggest that it is unlikely anything we’ve seen in a full-size SUV before. Even after a short time as passenger, we missed the Model X windscreen on returning to our current press-loaner car — a 2016 Lexus RX450h hybrid SUV.
That light and airy front-row view wasn’t the only thing that made us forget we were in a large SUV. With its massive 90 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack giving an incredibly low centre of gravity, the Model X was just as refined at taking corners as the Model S is shares a common platform with. With barely noticeable body roll, the Model X glided around the city streets with ease.
Acceleration too was similarly impressive. While we weren’t able to test the full potential of the Model X D90 with Ludicrous mode on the city streets, a quick tap of the throttle resulted in significant progress with minimal fuss. And while there was a hint now and then of just how powerful the Model X was, Steve kept the Model X refined in its behavior, its active air suspension working hard to smooth out any sudden accelerations.
Even when Steve pressed the accelerator halfway to the floor, the acceleration was enough to snap heads back into their respective headrests.
Which brings us nicely to the seats. While Tesla says it has used several different seat suppliers over the years for its Model S electric cars, the seats in the Model X have been designed and built in house by Tesla. For the first time in Tesla’s history, they also come with the option of heating and cooling, a feature we didn’t have chance to test out. But while we had no chance to see if the new climate-controlled seats could both heat and cool bottoms and backs, we can testify that there seemed to be a little more hip room than in Model S seats, adding to overall comfort.
As for those legendary Falcon Wing doors? While time was limited outside the car, Tesla did show us the Falcon Wing doors in operation and we were pleasantly surprised to see the speed at which they folded up and away from the vehicle. While entry into and out of the vehicle will take a little longer than a conventional manually-operated door, the wow factor of the Falcon Wing doors will certainly keep children entertained for many hours, while making getting into and out of the second-row seats very simple.
With individually-controlled power-adjustable second-row seats in five, six and seven-seat configurations, Tesla says the Model X is an incredibly versatile load-carrier, although we noted that on the six and seven-seat Model X cars in attendance yesterday, there were some significant scuff marks on plastic trim covering the rear wheel arch where shoes had caught upon entering and exiting the third row seats.
Invited to sit in the third-row seats while stationary, we note that those under five foot ten should feel reasonably comfortable in the rear of the luxury SUV on short trips — but that visibility is certainly restricted and those who suffer from claustrophobia may find themselves uncomfortably close to both the Falcon Wing door mechanism and the rear tailgate. Luckily, vents mounted in the C-pillar should ensure that third-row occupants don’t overheat — a common problem in some SUVs and minivans on the market.
For longer trips, while Tesla says adults can be accommodated — and they most certainly fit — we’d recommend the third-row would be best suited to younger, smaller passengers, especially since the legroom and space available to third-row passengers will depend entirely on the seat position set by the person in front. That said, we should note that third-row space is far larger than most SUVs on the market.
Which brings us back to the overall impression of the Model X. While we’ve yet to drive it ourselves, it really does feel just like a Tesla Model S in almost every important way. Yes, it’s a little higher off the ground and there are those massively complicated Falcon Wing doors granting access to the rear. But while most SUVs on the market today ride and feel like they are oversized behemoths that are completely out of place in the urban jungle, the Tesla Model X cocoons its passengers in such a way that they should feel at home in the city, suburbia, or the middle of the countryside.
We’ll reserve overall judgement until we’ve driven a Model X for ourselves — but the Model X has managed to impress us in a way that no SUV before has. Indeed, just as the Tesla Model S has helped redefine what a luxury sports sedan is, so too will the Model X redefine luxury SUVs.
We can’t wait to get behind the driver’s seat.
You can also support us directly as a monthly supporting member by visiting Patreon.com.