It's been a long time coming, but it's finally here. It's the Tesla Model X, the slightly taller, somewhat more practical follow-up to the Model S. It could have been little more than that -- Tesla could have simply given the S a bit of a vertical stretch and called it a day, but the company instead decided to do something a little bit... different, to give the X a signature design element that would set it apart from its fraternal twin.
I am of course referring to the pair of "falcon-wing" doors that provide access to the rear seats, craning skyward at the touch of a button. Iconic statement that will earn this car a place in the history of great designs? Or, misguided case of form trumping function? And, just what's the Model X like to drive compared to the generally excellent Model S? Let's find out.
More than an evolution
The idea was a natural one: slightly expand upon the Model S and turn it into the sort of rig perfect for Monday-morning dashes to school or Friday-afternoon cruises to Aspen. As such, the Model X is bigger, offering more than twice the cargo space of the S if you forgo the third row of seats. But you probably shouldn't, because unlike the novelty way-back area on the Model S, third row seats face forward on the Model X.
As such they become genuinely useful, with enough headroom and legroom (just) for a grown adult such as myself to squeeze back there. Second-row seats, meanwhile, have acres of room, while the heated and air-conditioned thrones up front for driver and passenger not only offer the perfect temperature regardless of weather, but deliver a decent amount of support and good comfort, too.
In fact, spring for the $1,000 "Subzero" package and all of the seats in the Model X can be heated at the touch of the button, even the middle one in the second row. This is a nice way to pamper your passengers -- or surprise them with a warm bottom if you're the practical joking type.
What hasn't changed is the massive, 17-inch LCD in the center of the car's dashboard, something carried over from the Model S. It's still powered by the same Tegra 3 processor, which delivers reasonably clean visuals but struggles at times to keep up with your finger presses. Bring on Tegra X1, please.
That display will split opinions, just like it did years ago when we first saw it on the S. I personally love the size, but not the glare, and I dearly wish it had support for Android Auto and Apple's CarPlay. Regardless, integrated LTE connectivity certainly is nice, making it easy to monitor your car's charging status from anywhere via Tesla's smartphone app, an app that offers some other pretty compelling features, too.
When it launched, the Model X served as a platform for Tesla's most advanced tech yet: Autopilot. With this, the Model X can do a pretty comprehensive job of taking care of itself. Take the Summon feature, for example. Using that same Tesla mobile app that you use to monitor charging, you can actually command the car to unpark itself and come to you.
Now, put away those Knight Industries Two-Thousand fantasies, because the car won't go flying through a parking garage to find you. In fact, it will really only creep in a straight line until it encounters an obstacle or you tell it to stop. However, if you integrate the system with a Homelink-compatible garage opener, it will kindly open the door before pulling out of your garage, then close it again after it's free.
In practice this feature is far more useful for impressing friends and family than in actually getting the car to park itself, but I suppose if you have a tiny garage just barely big enough to house such a rig, it could be useful.
No surprise that Autopilot is far more useful on the road. Get on a stretch of asphalt with reasonably clear lines, and with a double-tap of the cruise control stalk, the car takes over. It'll steer around corners, change lanes at your command and adjust speed to avoid any slower traffic in your path.
On the highway, you pick the speed, while on secondary roads Autopilot is automatically capped at a maximum of five miles-per-hour over the posted limit. This does a reasonably good job of keeping you clean in the eyes of the law, as the X will slow down automatically when entering towns, but there were a few occasions when the car was a bit late on the decel. You'd be wise to pay attention to those speed limit signs -- and stop signs, and traffic lights, and all the other posted indications that Autopilot is currently unable to process.
In fact, you should always pay attention, regardless. Autopilot is a stunning example of what some savvy coding can do in a modern car, but it's far from perfect. It occasionally got confused by shiny lines of asphalt repair on the road and tended to make some uncomfortable (and unnerving) steering adjustments whenever painted lines disappeared mid-corner.
Still, those hiccups were rare. Autopilot works remarkably well and, even though you're still in control of the car, being able to relax a bit and let the car handle the menial tasks of keeping you in the lane and maintaining a safe distance makes getting from A to B becomes an awful lot less stressful.
But, when it comes time to have a little fun, the Model X is happy to oblige.
The Model X, in P90D trim as I tested for this review, clocks in somewhere around 5,300 pounds. We're talking Cadillac Escalade territory, here. Despite that, with Ludicrous mode enabled, the Model X will sprint from a dead stop to 60 mph in 3.2 seconds. That's...well, frankly, that's amazing.