After much fanfare and a two-year delay, Tesla has at last revealed the Model X, its battery-powered three-row SUV.
As you’d expect from a vehicle aimed at early adopters, the Model X is big on the wow factor. Start with the upward-opening rear doors—Falcon Wing doors, Tesla calls ’em, to differentiate them from ordinary gull-wing doors. What’s the difference? The Model X’s are double-hinged, with a variety of sensors that detect objects above and to the side. In tight spaces they open with what appears to be a carefully-choreographed upward shimmy, avoiding contact with whatever vehicle is parked beside. (I’m sure any of us who have squeezed in beside a Hummer taking up two spaces would love to defeat this feature—the Model X should be able to deliver the mother of all door dings.) Tesla cites the falcon wing doors as a boon for parents, who will be able to lower kids into car seats without clonking their head on the car’s roof.
But for all the fancy door technology, the rest of the Model X is rather plain looking. Tesla basically adapted the shape of the Model S to a taller vehicle with bigger wheels. Massive expanses of body-color sheetmetal below the grille, taillights and door handles make the Model X look—well, sort of plain. We were hoping for the SUV of the future, and instead we got the Model S’ frumpy inflated sister.
No surprise that Tesla is touting the Model X’s safety features. Tesla says the Model X is the first SUV to get a perfect five stars in all of the government’s safety tests. (Many vehicles earn a five-star overall rating with perfect scores for front and side impacts, but few get a perfect five stars for rollover.) Tesla says the Model X’s floor-mounted battery pack adds stability, helping to keep the Model X shiny-side-up in situations where other SUVs would turn turtle. And in case the Model X does wind up on its roof, Tesla has reinforced the aluminum roof pillars with steel. (A comforting thought should that heavy battery pack end up between you and the sky.)
Active safety features abound as well. The Model X has an active emergency braking system, which Tesla claims is the only such system to work at high speeds. There’s also a side-collision avoidance system, though Tesla hasn’t yet released details on how it works.
Tesla is even concerned with the air you breathe: The Model X has a HEPA air filter system which Tesla claims is far superior to the cabin filters found on many new cars. The Model X actually has what Tesla calls—and we swear, we are not making this up—a Bioweapons Defense Mode, which scrubs the outside air coming into the car until it’s as clean as that found in a hospital operating room. (“If there’s ever an apocalyptic scenario,” CEO Elon Musk told the audience at the Model X’s launch, “press the button.” Mr. Musk did not mention how one can flee the apocalypse in an electric car once the power grid goes down.)
A familiar interior
Inside, the Model X is rather, well, Tesla-like. As with the Model S, both the gauge panel and center stack are big video screens, the latter a giant 17-inch touch screen that works like a tablet. Unlike the Model S, the X’s windshield wraps right around into the roof, filling the cabin with light and giving occupants an impressive view.
The Model X has three rows of seats, though like many SUVs in this size class, the third row offers minimal head- and legroom and eats up most of the passenger cabin cargo space (the volume of which has yet to be announced by Tesla), but there is additional luggage room in the nose — there is no combustion engine filling that space. Second-row seats consist of either two or three individual buckets that can move fore and aft.
Extreme electric performance
This being a Tesla, you’d expect impressive powertrain stats, and you shall not be disappointed. The Model X uses the four-wheel-drive setup previously developed for the Model S, and the performance-oriented P90D model gets a 259 horsepower electric motor to power the front wheels and a 503 (!) horsepower motor for the rear wheels. Combined torque is 713 pound-feet (!!), and Tesla claims a 3.8 second 0-60 time and a 12.2-second quarter mile—which means that the P90D would give a 707 horsepower Dodge Challenger Hellcat a run for its money at the local drag strip.
Not enough? Then you’ll want to pay extra for the ultra-high-power model, which Tesla calls—and once again we must assure you that we are not making this up—the Ludicrous P90D. This version drops the 0-60 time to 3.2 seconds and the quarter mile to 11.7. The Ludicrous name may be unconventional, but it certainly is appropriate.
Too much? No problem. Cooler heads will gravitate towards the 90D model, which use a pair of 259 horsepower motors, front and rear, and runs to 60 MPH in 4.8 seconds (which, by the way, is still ridiculously fast for an SUV). All of the 90-series models are electronically limited to 155 MPH.
As for range, the EPA has already rated the 90D model at 257 miles and the P90D at 250 miles. Efficiency is 93 MPGe (Mile Per Gallon Equivalent) for the 90D and 89 MPGe for the P90D. For comparison, the Nissan Leaf returns 114 MPGe, but it’s range—newly improved for 2016—is less than half, at 107 miles. And, of course, it’s a hell of a lot slower than the Model X.
And since the Model X is an SUV, it can even tow a trailer—a 5,000 lb. trailer, which is comparable to a decent-sized gasoline-powered SUV.
Made for early adopters… and priced accordingly
So far, Tesla has only announced prices for the initial editions of the Model X. The Signature Edition is priced at $132,000, and the Founder Edition at $142,000. Less-expensive versions are on the way—Tesla is taking $5,000 deposits as we speak—and Tesla says they will be priced about five grand north of comparable versions of the Model S.
All in all, the Model X delivers pretty much what we were expecting: Eye-popping power, eye-popping range, and an eye-popping price. We are a bit disappointed in the styling; while we disagree with much that Elon Musk says, some of us believe as he does that electric cars are the future, and we had hoped the future would look a bit more interesting.
But our opinion may not be terribly important, as Tesla started taking deposits back when the Model X was still just an idea, and thousands of people have already put their money down. Our home base in Los Angeles is crawling with Tesla Model S-es, and we have little doubt that the Model X will be similarly popular, no matter what we or anyone else thinks about it.
[Photography and renderings ©2015 Tesla Motors]