Gimmick or Feature? That’s the Question.
“I’ve come up with a way to differentiate between a useful feature and a silly gimmick,” I explained to a very uninterested Jonny Lieberman. He was convinced that the automatically opening driver’s door on the Tesla Model X was a gimmick and wished to hear no defense thereof.
But I had realized something. When I stepped out of the Tesla Model X and into another car for the weekend, I found myself missing the automatic door. Sometimes when I was getting into the car but especially when I had two armfuls of stuff in tow.
That, I explained to Jonny, is the key differentiator. If you miss the new tech once you’ve gotten used to it, it’s a useful feature. If you don’t, it was just a gimmick. I’m happy to say that despite my initial skepticism about the power front doors on the Tesla Model X, I’ve determined they’re not a gimmick.
I can’t say the same about the rear falcon doors. Certainly, the sight of any top-hinged door sends electric overload to an otherwise latent pleasure center in our brains. Any car in history made with them will stop traffic when parked with its doors open—anything from a 1955 Mercedes 300SL to a 1980s DeLorean to today’s Model X. No question, a crowd will form.
Tesla’s unique proposition is that these rear doors have a hinge in the center so that they can squeeze themselves open at times when there otherwise wouldn’t be enough space to do so. Thanks to ultrasonic sensors that see through the aluminum skin, the doors can open when there are just 11 inches of space between the Model X and the car parked next to it.
In theory. In reality, they occasionally smack the car parked right next to them. At least they do so lightly, leaving not a mark on either car. They don’t seem to notice people standing closely, however, and the door tends to aim directly for the male crotch. Safe to say the doors are a little short of perfect.
You know what is perfect? A regular door. Or even a minivan-type sliding door. We’re not convinced the falcon doors were worth the trouble, especially as they’ve been credited with delaying the Model X’s start of production for more than 18 months.
The big shame there is that the vehicle lurking in the shadow of those doors is so good that Elon’s ego has cost the world a year and a half of pleasure living with what could possibly be the best people-mover extant.
The X is, of course, a tall, bulbous version of the Model S sedan—Motor Trend’s 2013 Car of the Year—with all that entails. Specifically, brilliant packaging, a perfect ride and handling balance, incredibly forward-thinking touches, and mediocre build quality. Oh, and absolutely incredulous speed.
Our P90D Ludicrous model with a 259-hp motor spinning the front wheels and a 503-hp motor for the rears is the quickest version of the Model X. The 90-kW-hr battery pack can deliver 532 hp in total, enough to fling this 5,516-pound (2,502 kg) crossover to 60 mph in 3.2 seconds and past the quarter-mile mark in 11.7 seconds at 116.0 mph (187 km/h).
We’ll stop right there for a second. Zero to 60 in 3.2 seconds makes this not only the fastest SUV we’ve ever tested but also puts the Model X in some pretty serious company. It’s 0.2 second quicker than a Ferrari Enzo to 60 mph. Any questions?
That number might seem a good bit slower than the Model S P90D (0-60 in 2.6 seconds), but our X weighed 827 pounds (375 kg) more than that sedan. Our tester was a particularly heavy Model X, however, with the optional third row of seats, a towing package, the self-presenting front door, and 22-inch wheels.
The extra mass doesn’t hinder the driving experience. If anything, it helps. The ride quality, despite the large wheels, is excellent, with near-perfect body control at higher cornering loads and over undulating pavement. The Model X excelled at the MT figure eight, posting similar numbers to a Model S P85D. Skidpad performance is also commendable (0.89 g), as is braking performance (106 feet from 60 mph, halfway between the two most recent Model S’s we tested.)
The Model X seats are new, are softer and more comfortable than the sedan’s, and provide ample lateral support in corners. Each of the six seats in our tester was heated, as was the steering wheel—an important feature this time of year in many locales. Not, however, in the hot sun of the Coachella Valley, where we found the air-conditioning struggled with the 90-degree heat. The power demands of an electrically operated A/C system are huge, leaving us to question another of Tesla’s big inventions, the enormous front windshield.
Claimed to be the largest piece of curved glass ever to be used in an automobile, the Model X’s windshield extends roughly to the top of the front passengers’ heads. This required a rethink of the sun visors (which are mounted parallel to the A-pillars and swivel out toward the rearview mirror for use) and countless hours of engineering time to get the shading right. The glass is clear until where the top of a conventional windshield would be but then gradually becomes tinted at top. For sun worshippers, this is probably wonderful, but it’s certainly not going to make the Tesla’s already-strained A/C system’s job any easier.
And after getting out of the X and into a regular car? We didn’t miss the windshield or its expansive view out. Ergo, gimmick.
As usual, the Tesla’s dashboard is dominated by a huge center-mounted touchscreen. Traditional automakers have had years to catch up with this piece of tech and have universally failed. With instant response, thoughtful menu structures, and a highly intelligent navigation system, this is still by far the best touchscreen in the business. Our Model X had an upgraded sound system, too, and it sounded as good as the name-brand upgraded systems in many other cars. No discussion of Tesla’s in-car tech is complete without mentioning Autopilot, which is a full decade ahead of most other semi-autonomous driver’s aids.
If not two decades.
The Model X’s second-row seats are mounted on “monoposts,” single-point floor mounts that supposedly give more legroom and under-seat storage space. They do no such thing—and unfortunately, the seats neither recline nor fold forward. Instead, they can be tilted for access to the third row (which cleverly also motors the front seats forward) without removing a baby seat.
The rearmost two seats are, as we’ve discovered before, actually sized for humans, and the lack of a center seat in our second row provided plenty of space to stretch out. This is especially helpful because the monoposts are located right where the third-row passengers’ legs would go. Traditional seat frames would have been no less functional, forcing us to conclude that the monopost seats, like the falcon doors and panorama windshield, are more style than substance.
Speaking of style, there’s little nice to say about the way the Model X looks. Its details are inoffensive—the headlights and taillights, for example—but it has the proportions of a pregnant hippo. This electric vehicle is certainly a slave to aerodynamics, and its drag coefficient is, Tesla claims, just 0.24, which is 20 percent better than the next-best SUV.
As a result of those aerodynamics, the Model X loses precious little range compared to its Model S sibling. Comparing P90D to P90D, the EPA-projected range drops by just 3 miles (5 km), from 253 miles (407 km) to 250. Say what you like about its looks. That’s a spectacular performance for a large SUV that seats up to seven passengers.
In fact, say what you like about Tesla’s gimmicks, but the Model X, like its sedan sibling, is such a well-done piece of machinery that it makes you look at all other cars as if they’ve come straight out of the past. It’d be a better SUV without the falcon doors, the monopost seats, and the windshield, but as it sits now, the Model X is one hell of a people hauler.
And at 3.2 seconds to 60, its ability to haul tail is anything but a gimmick.
|2016 Tesla Model X P90D (Ludicrous)|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$135,400|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front & rear motor, AWD, 6-pass, 4-door SUV|
|MOTORS||Three-phase four-pole AC induction, 259-hp/244-lb-ft front, 503-hp/469-lb-ft rear; 532-hp/713-lb-ft comb|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||5,516 lb (47/53%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT (L-Std-h)||198.3 x 81.5 x (65.0 – 66.3 – 67.6) in|
|0-60 MPH||3.2 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||11.7 sec @ 116.0 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||106 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.89 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||25.1 sec @ 0.78 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||89/90/89 mpge|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||38/37 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.00 lb/mile|