Elon Musk just tells us flat out. “This car has been harder to make than the Model S,” he says. “It cost more to engineer, and it’s more complicated to manufacture. We got carried away with making things that maybe weren’t necessary to make the car sell. If we knew what the engineering costs were, we might not have built the car this way at all.”
Welcome to the car business, Mr. Musk. You started out with a clever idea and built a pretty nice car for CFOs to drive around Silicon Valley, but now you’re faced with the most demanding challenge of all, which is to build a practical car for the way real people live. Really, it’s almost easier to build one of your SpaceX rockets.
Sit down in the car of the future
There are dozens of examples of adventurous technology within the 2016 Tesla Model X. There’s the familiar all-wheel-drive platform propelled by dual battery-powered electric motors. A camera, radar, and 360-degree sonar sensors enable active safety measures that include both forward and side collision avoidance. Crazily elaborate sunshades deploy from the interior of the A-pillars, while the ventilation system so scrupulously scrubs the air clean of particulates that its most stringent operation calibration is lightheartedly described as “bio-weapon deterrent mode.”
But for us the real magic lies in the space within the Model X. From behind the wheel, you’re aware first of the enormous piece of glass that rises in front of you and arches over your head, especially the way in which it’s been carefully tinted in a series of gradations to protect you from the sun. (“It looks like a tiramisu,” Musk laughs.) You also get a panoramic view ahead from one side of the road to the other, an impression fostered by the nearly vertical side glass. The step-in height is relatively low, although the door sills are wide.
Of course, let’s not forget the unique “falcon” doors that are hung from a magnesium spine integrated into the underside of the roof. Meant to operate with ballet-style grace, these doors seem like a designer’s self-indulgence at first, but then you notice the way in which they foster easier access to the rear seat by minimizing the effective width of the door sills. Sensors allow the double-hinged doors to open in two different arcs depending on the proximity of exterior obstacles, and only a foot of clearance is required.
The second-row seats (both two-across and three-across configurations are available) sit on individual pylons in order to offer under-seat storage. A one-touch button slides them far rearward to maximize legroom or makes them pitch forward and dive close to the front seat to provide useful access to the third-row seats. The twin rear seats fold down to provide a flat cargo floor. A sizable storage well beneath the rear floor adds further cargo capacity, as does the small storage space beneath the front hood.
Not exactly a compact sport-utility
Although the taut, sleek panels of this very stylish package disguise it, the 2016 Tesla Model Xis a very large vehicle. It stretches 197.0 inches overall on its 120.5-inch wheelbase, while the roof towers high above the pavement at 63.9 inches. And a Model X in dual-motor, all-wheel-drive P90D trim weighs a mighty 5,441 lbs.
And yet by some miracle, the Model X doesn’t feel ponderous to drive. The low center of gravity that comes from the weight of the batteries beneath the floor enables this package to change direction willingly, and the standard 20-inch Continental tires provide cornering grip without ride harshness (22-inch Pirelli PZero Scorpion tires are available to quicken handling response). Thanks to a combined 762 hp and 713 lb-ft of torque from its dual electric motors, the all-wheel-drive Tesla Model X P90D gets to 60 mph in 3.8 seconds. (Or it’ll get there in 3.2-seconds with so-called “Ludricrous” mode; you remember “Space Balls,” don’t you?) The Model X will even tow 5,000 lbs.
Tesla is equally enthusiastic about the likelihood of a 5-star safety rating by the Model X in all impact tests. Part of such safety comes from the lengthy crumple zones front and rear to absorb impact energy, while the aluminum pillars and steel frame rails add structural rigidity to preserve the integrity of the cabin. And oddly enough, the weight of the battery pack in the floor of the vehicle apparently helps the Model X land on its wheels in rollover incidents.
Worth the trouble
The 2016 Tesla Model X is on sale now in both 90D and P90D trim, priced at about $5,000 more than a comparably equipped Tesla Model S sedan. It will be some time before we see more affordable models. Meanwhile, we’ve only driven it around the block a couple times just like everyone else, so it’s far too soon to presume any sort of final judgment about what we have here.
Nevertheless, we expect the 2016 Tesla Model X to be pretty good, especially since the company has been working on it since 2012, when the first styling concept was presented. Of course, maybe it’s a good thing that so many years have passed, since our feelings about Tesla have changed. We've grown used to each introduction of a new Tesla being a cultural event, just as this one was at the Tesla facility near the company’s assembly pant in Fremont, California. We expect Elon Musk to do his MTV strut on a stage in front of hundreds fans as the music pounds all around. And now we find it charming (not disturbing) when Musk says about the Model X, “It raises the bar for automotive engineering like nothing else in the world. It is the car of the future.”
Tesla isn’t Elon Musk’s charming little hobby anymore. It’s become a serious car company, and it belongs now to the people who build the cars, buy the cars, or who just love the brand. It turns out that Tesla’s secret super-hero power isn’t electric power or exotic technology or even the Silicon Valley way of doing things. Instead the secret power is the feeling it gives you that something good will come of all this, and Tesla Model X makes us feel as if this company is well and truly on its way at last.
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