Our CleanTechnica tour de Southern California was a weekend chock full of electric vehicles to such an extreme that I went from not having seen a Model X in public to seeing them in what seemed like every other parking lot we looked in. Our first real encounter with the Model X was some quality time with Teslarati Founder Gene Liu’s beautiful black-exterior-with-white-interior X at the Unplugged Performance BBQ & Tour.
We had time to see what junk could be packed in the frunk, what the white interior looked like up close and in person, and even had a chance to try out the seats in the very back … which are typical of 3rd row SUV seats — tight, but still fine for adults to cram into for short rides if you have to. I’ve not been in an SUV that has rear seats that are as roomy as those in the front, and I wouldn’t expect that kind of accommodation for the third row, as the number of times someone actually rides back there is generally extremely infrequent.
After a crazy whirlwind of a weekend, we were treated to some quality time with the Model X, as reader Don Baumhefner and his son Max drove down from the Bay Area in Don’s brand new Model X on Sunday for us to poke around in (which Zach already shared his thoughts on).
The first thing that hit me about the X — especially after having driven the S for a few days straight just prior — was the smooth, floating feel of the suspension. To qualify my comment a bit, my Model S has spring suspension but I’ve also driven a loaner Model S that had air suspension and they both had a very sporty, tight feel to them, much like other sporty luxury cars. The S keeps the driver in tune with the road with a tighter feel to the suspension that’s really noticeable on corners and at freeway speeds.
In contrast, the Model X has a more luxurious suspension to it that’s in a class of its own. Conventional SUVs have more plush suspension but feel top heavy, with the top of the car leaning more around corners, bouncing a bit on larger bumps and the like. The X has a secret weapon in the batteries, as they act as a counterweight to the suspension, keeping the bulk of the weight of the car at the very bottom of the car, which changes the entire feel. It’s as if Tesla took the heart and soul of a sports car and gave it just a bit more room in the cabin … and raised it up a bit without compromising on the quality of the suspension.
This was the resounding theme that stood out to me when driving the X, and it affected my mental posture in the car as well. In the S, I have a more eager, anticipatory mindset … ready to go, with the posture of the car and the silent lightning hiding behind the accelerator pedal just waiting for me to give it a green light … like a caged tiger (just ask Zach). The suspension of the X translates into a more relaxed feel that instead says, “come in, chill out, let’s just cruise home in silent comfort.” Maybe it’s just me, but I prefer the chill ride of the X compared to the eager power of the S and I blame the suspension for the difference. (Note from Zach: I actually agree … and did not expect that to be the case beforehand.)
Elevated Seating Position
Beyond the fluffy, floating-on-clouds sensation of the drive, I appreciated the slightly higher vantage point of the X. It’s high enough to provide a better view but not so high as to be awkwardly aloof from what’s happening down below. I had enough of the improved visibility that SUVs offer while also being able to see what was going on around the car. Many SUVs I’ve driven have poor visibility and I appreciated the stance of the X in comparison.
Choreography of Rear Seats
This is a minor point and up there with the falcon-wing doors for me … but I loved watching the various ways the middle seats would dance around at the touch of a button. Need to get in the back? One side and the middle angle forward just enough to optimize room for entry. Need to fold the 3rd row seats down to make more room for storage? The middle seats would move forward just enough to allow the headrests from the rear seats to clear them as they folded down.
Along similar lines, I’m generally not a fan of motorized movement in seats, doors, etc, and the X packs a lot of that in. Obviously, the falcon-wing doors are a huge part of this and are beautiful, the rear seats, the rear lift gate … and the front doors. In my brief time playing with the car, I did enjoy the way the front doors opened with the front handle being an actual button that is depressed to trigger the doors to open up, but I’m curious about the durability of all these moving parts.
My personal preference is to have more mechanical parts, as they tend to last long and fail gradually, whereas electronic components and actuators are either working … or not working … with nothing in between. This might be something that just takes a bit of time to get used to, and definitely feels a bit like the future, but I would need a month or two to see if it’s something I would get used to and enjoy or if it would lose its luster.
Roomy Rear Entry
The falcon-wing doors are one of those features that people seem to either love or hate. For me, they definitely have a “wow” effect to them which is nice, but they are honestly a bit too showy for me. I don’t like a car that screams high tech … or really anything. I just want a car that works. Having said that, they are extremely functional, and having 2 kids in a garage with 2 cars, I could see these doors being fantastic for improving access in and out of the 2nd row (and 3rd row) seats — both in our garage as well as many tight parking spaces around town.
Autopilot for Days
While this is more of a general statement on current-gen Tesla gear, Autopilot is great. Don had not made up his mind about it yet, but I’m all for it. I would love to go on a long trip, slap the car in Autopilot, and just go. That sounds like a fantastic way to travel long distances, as I could read, write, watch a movie, or just kick back and talk without having to worry about the whole driving thing.
The only reason I’m not completely sold on Autopilot today — and why I wasn’t willing to kick down the extra $20,000+ for a newer car with the feature — is that we are currently in various iterations of beta hardware. Basically, I know that the hardware we have today will not allow for completely autonomous driving in the future. And with that … I will have to buy another car in the future for fully autonomous driving. So … while it’s great and amazing and I would get a ton of value out of it, I’m fine waiting a few years for the solution that truly is next gen, that will allow me to literally sleep while the car drives me to … whereever.
Safety is another general feature of Tesla but this truly is huge. The fact that just about every Tesla presentation out there starts with global warming, then safety, shows an amazing focus on what really matters. Tesla isn’t just trying to sell cars — it is selling cars that disconnect emissions from the point of use in a vehicle and allow for a cleaner future that people can control. I can (and did) buy an electric car and some solar panels, and boom … my transportation and home energy emissions drop to nearly zero. It’s fantastic, and I love that Tesla is focused on what matters … first.
Safety is huge because it’s not fun, it’s not sexy, but with 30,000 people dying on US roads each year, I would rather be in a car that’s going to keep me safe than not. If a Tesla Model 3 is otherwise completely equal to a Chevy Bolt (I’m not saying that the two cars are) but the Model 3 is 5 star safety rated across the board, you’ll choose the Tesla every time. It’s important, and I’m glad that Tesla is raising the bar when it comes to safety.
The Model X is the best SUV on the road today, hands down, and I didn’t even mention the instant torque that throws you back in your seat, the supersplendulous windshield, the Supercharging, zero tailpipe emissions, the silence of electric cars, the regeneration that happens when braking, the comfortable seats, the huge touchscreen, the great service, the amazing buying experience, the fuel savings, all the innovation they pack in … I could go on, but I think you get my point.
For me, the Model X isn’t different enough from the Model S to warrant an upgrade, but it is a strong enough contender (for me) to consider it the next time I’m looking for a car.
Video Credit: Zachary Shahan and Kyle Field | Images by Kyle Field
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