The first owners are finally taking delivery of the gull-door’d electric crossover they’ve been waiting about three years for: the Tesla Model X. Here’s what we learned from a close look and a quick spin around the parking lot.
(Full disclosure: Tesla didn’t pay for jack to get me to see their new car. We booked a flight, rented an amazing rental car and drove to their HQ to see it ourselves. I did all the damage I could to the cheese plate they offered, though.)
If you’ve been following this car for a while, soaking up all the little details you can and ogling the beauty of the rear Falcon Doors, more than anything you’re probably keen to hear what it’s like to actually drive. Let’s walk through what that experience is really like.
Approach the car. From the front, its little mouth looks a lot smaller in person that it does in photos. That’s a good thing.
Walk toward the door and you feel like you’re in the presence of an adorable, chubby little penguin ready to hop on its belly and slide to 60 MPH in about four seconds. Or a Model S sedan that’s had a bad reaction to a bee sting, depending on what color the thing is.
So I guess what I’m saying is I’m not crazy about the three-quarter styling. But being greeting by sensors that detect your proximity and open the driver door for you, a little trick Tesla CEO Elon Musk calls “your invisible chauffeur,” started to win me over.
The car’s packed with ultrasonic sensors hidden under its aluminum body panels. The only hitch I noticed is that when people get into the back door, the car sometimes thinks those passengers are trying to get up front and it opens the door unnecessarily. I’m sure Mr. Musk can sort that out easily enough with a software update.
Regardless of how many doors you crack, eventually you end up behind the glorious glowing walls of information displayed on screens ahead of the steering wheel and all along the center stack.
Flick through the menus and marvel at how detailed the graphics are, how elegant and tiny every screen is. Lately, this is where Tesla is really blowing every other automaker out of the water. The electric automaker has come a long way since they were stitching double-DIN head units into crappy carpet.
The Model X’s instruments feel slick and accessible and they’re a pleasure to look at. The rest of the car’s interior is tight leather and firm plastic. You might recognize some of the switchgear from Mercedes-Benz worked in here and there and... and...
Sweet six-pound-eight-ounce baby Jesus! You’ve just noticed the windshield.
Musk said the front window of the Model X was one of the hardest parts of the car to make, “At least, that’s what the glass manufacturer told me,” he added with a smile. Man, that guy can put on a show.
But nobody could upstage the view from the cockpit of the Model X. A cascade of glass flows off the roof, which seems to start somewhere behind your head. The Fremont industrial park scenery wasn’t all that great, but just imagine driving through California’s Redwood Forest or Virginia’s Skyline Drive.
It’d be like moving across the Earth in a submarine, every person and plant and tree appearing almost otherworldly from behind your mobile observation deck.
Alright, alright, relax, we’ll accelerate now.
Simply depress the brake, move the shifter to drive, move your foot to other pedal aaaand–
“Hooookay, that’s 80.”
A Tesla product planner named Richard, minding my business from the passenger seat, snapped me out of the speed-dream I’d been sailing through. Well, maybe not sailing. It’s so much quicker than that. Lunging? No, the whole thing was much more subtle.
You know how on Star Trek when the Enterprise is barreling through space at about a trillion miles per hour but everybody’s just sittin’ around sipping space drinks like it ain’t no thang?
That. But way cooler, because it’s really happening.
The Model X is capable of moving ahead so fast, so quickly that I was able to hit 80 MPH in a parking lot, by accident, without ruffling the car’s feathers. There was no engine roar, no tire squeal, just relentless forward motion and total dominance of the road surface.
But you already knew Teslas were fast. Musk is too cool to call something “Ludicrous Mode” and mean anything less. How does this LED’d-up beluga whale make it around a corner?
At normal speeds, the car slices and dices and goes wherever you want it to. A few laps around the parking lot wasn’t enough to call this car a ballerina with a jet pack, even though I kind of want to, but the steering felt great and the tires held on to a big bite of grip even as I irresponsibly booted the go-pedal with the wheel cocked.
You’ll see Model Xs comes from the factory with Continental, Michelin, and Pirelli tires with performance or low-resistance tread cuts depending on what you’re trying to do with your car. I’d go for the good stuff.
So after a short but sweet sample in what Elon Musk figures is the future of crossovers, my tentative verdict is: unreasonably good acceleration, sharp maneuvering abilities, spectacular visibility, and a generally smooth ride which you can watch from the best seat on the highway.
I can’t wait for my next shot behind the wheel.
Images by the author, Tesla Motors, AP
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