The Model X: Introducing Tesla’s First SUV
Here she is, ladies and gentlemen. After years of delays, rumors, spy shots, and the general shenanigans before a high-profile launch, the Tesla Model X SUV has made its official debut. And at face value, it seems like the car was worth the wait.
The most eye-catching factor off the bat is obviously the falcon-wing doors — the same ones responsible for at least one of the vehicle’s many delays. But look closer and you’ll start to get a better idea of where Tesla’s design direction might be headed.
The X shares many traits with the Model S sedan. There’s clearly a family resemblance, especially in the restrained sheetmetal and the headlights and taillights. But the X drops the black snout that represents the centerpiece for the Model S design, instead favoring a cleaner, more cohesive look that helps clean up the front end dramatically. You see that windshield? It’s the largest found on any production car on the market.
The Model X has been fairly derided for its looks (“it’s a fatter Model S,” the critics exclaim). While it is rather unusual looking, it’s apparent that this vehicle was designed with no small amount of help from a wind tunnel. The Model X has to contend with aerodynamic factors that most other cars can take for granted — while wind and air resistance will have a small detrimental effect on gasoline cars, it can destroy the range on an EV. You can’t simply pull into the closest gas-and-go and fill back up.
Despite those considerations, we’d wager that the Tesla Model X is now among some of the coolest looking SUVs around. It doesn’t fit America’s typical narrative of what an SUV should be — big, brick-like, with the airflow of a walrus. But Tesla has never been one to fit into anyone’s typical narrative.
This is a good segue to those falcon-wing doors. “Falcon Wing doors allow easy access to second and third row seats from any parking space. Minivan style sliding doors open at most halfway while traditional doors are not capable of opening fully when parked next to another car,” Tesla said on its site. “With only a foot of clearance, Falcon Wing doors articulate smoothly up and out of the way, allowing passengers to enter from both front and rear directions. The side and overhead opening is so large that parents can buckle children in without ducking and without bumping their child’s head on the roof.”
While the doors look large and imposing, the Model X — in true Tesla fashion — is more clever than it lets on. There are sensors all around the doors that can read the immediate environment and calculate to what extent the doors should open — ensuring you won’t bang up you’re new $100,000-plus SUV on the first day in the garage. Although they work more slowly, the doors can conform to an impressive array of positions depending on what the situation demands. Parked between two Humvees at Costco? No problem. They’ll even detect low ceilings.
As Tesla noted, this is all to offer unprecedented access to the occupants. Adults can seamlessly get in and out of the X without ducking, cramping, or otherwise humiliating themselves. It’s almost like the X was designed for the red carpet chauffeured set — and we all know how embarrassing it is to wiggle out of a Maybach, right?
The Model X can seat seven occupants, with room for gear — in addition to the trunk, there’s the frunk also (that’s front-trunk in Tesla parlance). This also serves to help with safety, as it adds extra crumple zone. Inside, the Model X isn’t a huge departure from the Model S, with the exception of the third row. However, you can count on better headroom.
To start, there are two trim levels for the Model X — the 90D and P90D. This follows the Model S nomenclature and means both models have Tesla’s all-wheel, dual-motor setup. This translates into an absurdly quick SUV in P trim — the front motor is rated to 259 horsepower and the rear is 503, making for 762 ponies altogether. In “Ludicrous” mode, this translates to a 3.2-second 0-60 time, and an 11.7-second quarter mile. In an SUV. The glacial 90D model will take almost five seconds to reach 60 — in a car that weighs 5,400 pounds. Let that sink in for a minute.
On top of its performance chops, the Model X is rated to tow 5,000 pounds. It’s not industry-leading, but it’s a damned good first attempt from an electric luxury SUV — though it’ll likely hurt range, which is rated at 257 miles, it’s good for a small boat, a snowmobile or ATV, some motorcycles, or a Jet-Ski.
To top it all off, the Model X is expected to be as safe as the Model S — or better, despite the funky doors and huge windshield. CEO Elon Musk expects the Model X “to get a five-star crash rating in every category,” Andrew Collins said for Truck Yeah!, adding that the Model X even comes with a HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Arrestance) cabin air filter, an industry first. In the event of a rollover, reps told Collins that “it might roll a few times but it’d land on its feet” because of the super-low center of gravity provided by the battery pack.
Nothing was mentioned about the lower trim levels — currently, the existing models start at well over $120,000. Those will likely trickle in after initial deliveries start, as Tesla can handle the ramp in production.
Will the Model X be the boon Tesla needs it to be? That has yet to be seen. Is it a giant leap forward in EV engineering? Absolutely.