Last night at Tesla’s Fremont production facility in California, CEO Elon Musk fully detailed the Model X, the long-awaited all-electric luxury crossover utility vehicle. While it’s out of most drivers’ price range, it’s a vehicle out to prove some points about what Tesla is capable of and what would be possible if Tesla would ever start releasing some affordable, mainstream vehicles.
While the price — starting at $132,000 — is certainly off-putting, that doesn’t make the all-wheel drive Model X any less impressive for its size. Despite for the most part being a slightly modified Model S with a CUV shell, performance hasn’t suffered a bit. The base model (Model X 90D) has a 257 mile range and can go from zero to sixty in 4.8 seconds, while the performance model (Model X P90D) has a 250 mile range and can go from zero to sixty in 3.2 seconds, which is up with top-of-the-line sports cars. It makes the Model X the best ever in terms of performance for an SUV/CUV, but that’s just one of the firsts the Model X is setting.
One of those firsts has to do with the doors. The backside doors that grant access to the second and third row seats are gullwing doors, or falcon wing doors, as Tesla is calling them. But, these falcon wing doors haven’t been designed to look cool — they’re meant to make vehicle entry easier in all situations. Instead of using one hinge, the doors use two, which allow them to open up and over obstacles, specifically other cars that have been parked way too close to yours in a parking lot. Key to this are ultrasonic sensors on the doors (which also have safety functions) — using these, the car can detect obstacles to the side and above (like a low garage ceiling) and calculate an opening arc that won’t collide with anything. The on-stage demo worked without a hitch, in which the falcon wing doors opened over two SUVs parked about 12 inches to either side of the Model X.
That’s still more in the realm of cool than practical. The usefulness, as Musk explained on stage, is that unlike most backside SUV and minivan sliding doors, the falcon wing doors don’t take up any space on the sides. If you’re already dealing with close quarters, opening a sliding door will make it impossible to squeeze between the opened door and the incompetently parked car to the side. The falcon wing doors, on the other hand, will be straight above you, leaving a large space for you to load in kids or bags before closing the doors. But, being a luxury vehicle, there’s still a lot of cool for cool’s sake here, too. The driver’s side door will open automatically when it detects you approaching and will close automatically once you’ve sat down (we imagine this will work by detecting the keyfob).
There’s loads of room for luggage, too. Because the Model X has a flat floor underneath, there is space under the second row seats for small bags, a little smaller than what you’d find underneath economy airplane seats. There’s ample trunk and hood storage space (the latter thanks to the small electric motor in the front). The Model X is also capable of towing 5,000 pounds and has a snap-on accessory hitch that attaches to the back of the car in seconds and can hold up to four bicycles or six pairs of skis without preventing you from opening the trunk. Loading the Model X down with passengers, luggage, and a trailer will no doubt cut into that 250-257 mile range significantly, but it’s still pretty impressive from a vehicle that doesn’t look that big from the outside.
Musk also touted the Model X as the safest SUV ever and had the numbers to back up his claims. It has a 5-star rating from the NHTSA thanks to a 6.5 percent chance of injury in a high-speed accident, the lowest of any SUV on the market. Part of that is because there is so little mass in the front end compared to other vehicles thanks to the small size of the electric motor, making the crumple zone less dangerous in the event of a head-on collision. The lower mass and low center of gravity because of the placement of the motor also makes the Model X much less likely to roll over. But, the sides are also much safer, with the Model X seeing only 215 mm in side intrusion in a T-bone collision, half that of the next-best SUV. So, if you get hit from the side, the Model X won’t cave in and endanger passengers as much.
There are automatic safety features like emergency braking and steering assist to avoid side collisions, using the same ultrasonic sensors used to make the falcon wing doors work. The Model X also keeps you better protected from poor air quality by using a built-in air filter 10 times as large as the usual in-car air filter — there’s even a secondary air filter that is still slightly larger than the ones usually used as primary filters in other cars. The Model X can block hydrocarbons, acidic gases like sulfur, and alkaline gases like ammonia, too. There’s even a bioweapon defense mode (really) that can power up the car’s filtration system to cut the presence of particles, viruses, and bacteria in the car to zero. As Musk put it, it’s the air cleanliness of a hospital operating room in a car. Pretty sweet in a zombie apocalypse, although you’re still majorly screwed once the battery dies and you have to recharge.
It’s cool, powerful, and all-electric, and unfortunately, Elon Musk and Tesla haven’t found a way to make that translate into affordable yet. The Model X 90D will start at $132,000, while the P90D will start at $142,000. The Model X can be preordered through Tesla with a $5,000 down payment, but they won’t start shipping for another eight to twelve months.