Tesla's Model X has much more in common with the company's iconic Model S sport sedan than with any SUV or crossover we've ever seen, but then that's a big part of its draw. Like the Model S, the all-electric Model X has explosive power, the range of a conventional gasoline-powered SUV, all-wheel drive and a superbly outfitted cabin that can seat up to seven people.
What Is It?
Tesla calls the Model X an SUV, but its curved roof and swoopy body lines may make many shoppers think first of a slightly bulbous sport sedan. But it really is a seven-seat, midsize, battery-electric-powered, luxury crossover.
It shares its underpinnings with Tesla's Model S sport coupe, and the Model X has all the features that have made its iconic stablemate a hit. It also has a few features the Model S doesn't, like a panoramic windshield, 5,000 pounds of towing capacity and overhead-opening "falcon-wing" rear doors chief among them.
Like all Model Xs, the version we drove, the 2016 Model X P90D Signature is, first and foremost, an electric midsize crossover. It seats six or seven depending on the seating configuration ordered and has a range of 250 miles on a single charge of its massive lithium-ion battery pack.
It can also accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 3.8 seconds, according to Tesla. An optional "Ludicrous" mode feature drops that time to just 3.2 seconds.
There is one motor to drive the front wheels and another in back to drive the rear wheels, so all Model Xs have full-time all-wheel drive. Combined output from the motors in the P90D is 762 horsepower (259 ponies up front, 503 at the rear wheels) and 713 pound-feet of torque. Power flows directly from the battery to the motors through a single-speed transmission.
How Far Can It Go?
The EPA has rated the 2016 Model X P90D at the equivalent of 89 miles per gallon (MPGe). Its 90 kilowatt-hour battery pack holds enough juice to earn it an EPA-estimated range of 250 miles on a single charge.
The standard, less performance-oriented 90D model has been rated at 90 MPGe with 257 miles of range.
As with the Model S, those numbers make the Model X competitive in traveling convenience with many gasoline-fueled crossovers and SUVs. Tesla's ever-expanding Supercharger network also means the Model X can pretty much be driven anywhere in the country, with some advanced route planning.
The Model X's 10-kWh onboard charging system means a drained 90-kWh battery can be recharged from a 240-volt, Level 2 home charger in about eight hours, a rate that restores about 30 miles of range each hour.
How Do the Rear Falcon Doors Work?
One of the most distinctive features of the Model X is its rear doors. Unlike conventional SUV doors that swing outward from a forward hinge when opened, the rear doors on the Model X move vertically first, and a hinge at the top of the window allows the bottom section to begin flaring out as the doors lift and before they swing open into a horizontal position above the crossover's roof. It's this movement that earned them the name "falcon-wing" doors, as they look like a bird lifting its wings.
Tesla used the design on the Model X to make getting in and out of the second- and third-row seats easier, especially when loading children into child seats. The doors are motorized so you don't have to lift them. They open and close once activated by the handles, an icon on the central touchscreen or a button on the key fob. They can also be operated manually.
Another unique feature of the doors is their ability to sense what's around them. If cars are parked close on one side or there's a low-hanging obstacle in a garage, the doors will alter the way they open to avoid them. This can create a narrow opening for occupants to squeeze through, but at least it doesn't leave them stuck inside. Conventional sliding doors, as on a minivan, would be even better at this, but Tesla wanted to avoid squaring off the Model X to fit sliding doors, and also wanted to avoid any comparisons to a minivan.
Tesla engineers swear the overhead doors will keep people drier than do conventionally opening doors and won't drop rain and melting snow from their edges onto the heads of those trying to get in and out. They also say that the lightweight aluminum doors are hardy, despite their complex dual-hinge system and ultrasonic controls that let them adjust their lift and opening angles to avoid cars, walls, people and ceilings.
The falcon-wing doors will open with as little as 12 inches of clearance, according to Tesla's specs. Of course, the front doors open normally, so in a really tight space the driver might still be stuck inside unless he or she is nimble enough to clamber into the second row.
In the event of an accident, the doors can be opened manually, and even in the unlikely event that a Model X ends up on its roof (something Tesla engineers say would be rare indeed, thanks to the crossover's low center of gravity), the dual-hinge system would permit the bottom half of the door to be swung out, creating an escape hatch for rear-seat occupants.
How Does It Drive?
Based on our short exposure to the Model X in motion, it feels well balanced and connected to the road, with an extremely low center of gravity for a crossover SUV, thanks to the more than half ton of batteries slung under the floorboards. It handles well with little discernible body roll, although the vehicle's overall weight of 5,441 pounds creates quite a bit of mass to control.
Acceleration, a Tesla hallmark, is incredible. Our P90D Signature has the "Ludicrous" power mode, and the launch is every bit as impressive as it is in the similarly equipped Model S sedan.
In general, steering is quick and responsive, the ride quality is excellent over the little bit of ground we cover. Even the regenerative brake system, set on maximum regeneration for our drive, doesn't have the spongy pedal feel that mars some regen systems.
How Does It Rate in Terms of Interior Comfort?
The Model X is well laid out, with driver-oriented instruments and controls — most of them available on the 17-inch touchscreen mounted in the center stack. The highly adjustable driver seat and the power tilt-and-telescoping steering column make it easy for drivers of all sizes to get comfortable, and the supportive, thin-shell seats add to the comfort levels.
Tesla designed the second-row seats to be independently adjustable, and each sits on a single pedestal, enabling the seats to tilt forward as well as slide fore and aft. This makes it easy to get in and out, and the thin pedestals leave loads of room under the seats for purses, laptops, small packages and the feet of passengers in the third row. Because of their design, they don't fold flat as in most SUVs.
That third row is a bit tight: Two adults will fit, but foot room can be a bit cramped and anyone taller than 72 inches is likely to have to slouch a bit to keep from rubbing the top of their head against the rear liftgate's steeply slanted glass. The third-row seats can be folded to make for a bigger cargo area.
One of the distinctive interior features of the Model X is its sweeping panoramic windshield, which Tesla claims is the largest ever installed in a production vehicle. The glass sweeps back to a point almost in the center of the driver's head, providing a commanding view not only of the road ahead but of the clouds in the sky, the birds overhead and the tops of the trees that line the road. The glass is heavily tinted at the top and offers complete protection against ultraviolet rays, according to the Tesla engineer who rode shotgun. But we were driving in dim early-evening light and couldn't help but wonder how things would look (and feel) in the glare of a hot noontime sun.
The Model X's driver door also is a bit special. It opens automatically as you approach, if the sensors sense there is sufficient room for it to swing open without dinging the next car over. Then it closes automatically when you sit down and depress the brake pedal. Tesla calls it the "hidden chauffeur" system, although "invisible doorman" might be a more accurate description.
What Does It Cost?
Tesla hasn't released pricing for anything other than the fully loaded P90D Founder's and Signature models that will trickle through the delivery pipeline for the first few months as production ramps up. The P90D model starts at $133,200.
Tesla hasn't disclosed pricing for base trim P90Ds or for the tuned-down 90D model, and hasn't said whether there also will be models with smaller battery packs, as there are in the model S lineup.
What Are Its Trim and Equipment Levels?
The 2016 Tesla Model X presently comes in two trim levels, 90D and P90D, with various suspension tuning and equipment packages. In Tesla's naming system, the "P" is for performance while 90 indicates the 90-kWh capacity battery pack and "D" is for its standard dual electric motors.
It can be ordered with seating for seven — two in front, three in the second row and two in back (front-facing, unlike the Model S's rear-facing third-row jump seats) — or for six — which gets rid of the center seat in the second row. That opens a center aisle that gives passengers more elbow room and increases cargo-loading flexibility; it is good for long items such as surfboards.
The base 90D comes with 20-inch alloy wheels, a "comfort and utility" tuned suspension, and 259-hp front- and rear-drive motors that combine to deliver a Tesla-estimated 0-60-mph acceleration time of 4.8 seconds.
Automatic emergency braking, parking sensors, blind-sport warning and side collision avoidance systems also come standard. All Model Xs can be equipped with other automated safety and driver assistance features, including Tesla's "Autopilot" system.
The sound system is a proprietary Tesla design and boasts 17 speakers. There's no word yet on audio for trim levels below the 90D. Audio is controlled, as are most other features, from Tesla's signature 17-inch, center-stack mounted touchscreen; although there also are auxiliary controls (buttons and switches) for many basic functions such as seat adjusters, lights, side mirrors and door openers.
Towing capacity, something most EVs don't talk about (most aren't even recommended for towing) is as much as 5,000 pounds, depending on wheel and tire sizes and suspension tuning.
All Xs can be ordered with 22-inch wheels in what Tesla calls the "performance tune" package (the "tune" refers simply to the stiffer ride quality and slightly improved handling that comes with the larger tires; there's little or no chassis adjustment, according to the Tesla engineers we spoke with). All also can be ordered with an optional — but no-cost — hitch-mounted equipment carrier that installs in seconds and can hold four bikes or six sets of skis and snowboards.
A Cold Weather package that includes a heated steering wheel, heated second- and third-row seats, wiper blade defrosters and heated window washer nozzles is available for $1,000, and there's a $750 Towing package.
Further details about equipment levels haven't been released, but we expect that, as with the Model X, most of the fancy stuff that's included on the P90D Signature will be extra-cost options on other models.
What Are Its Closest Competitors?
Because it is an EV, a luxury crossover and a powerful performance car all in one, the Tesla Model X is, for now at least, a one-of-a-kind vehicle with no direct competitors.
Tesla used the BMW X5 SUV as a comparison vehicle during our test-drive, but there's no real comparison other than that the BMW offers luxurious appointments, loads of safety and driver assistance equipment and an SUV's utility and roominess, plus optional third-row seating. And you can buy two well-equipped X5s for the price of one Model X P90D.
The Porsche Cayenne S E-Hybrid, a plug-in hybrid version of Porsche's popular SUV, is perhaps the closest alternative, offering luxury, utility, performance, all-wheel drive and a little bit of all-electric range before reverting to standard hybrid operation.
Porsche's Panamera S E-Hybrid is another possibility, although it is more luxury sedan than crossover and thus lacks some of the utility the Tesla offers. A plug-in hybrid like the Cayenne S E-Hybrid, it provides stellar handling and acceleration (though not in the Tesla's league) and a bit of all-electric range, but it has only four seats.
Why Should You Consider This Car?
You need the ability to carry up to seven people but still want an electric vehicle. Or maybe you just like the idea of an SUV that's as fast as most sports cars. Either way, the Model X delivers, along with solid range and a luxurious interior.
Why Should You Think Twice About This Car?
There's already a waitlist, so if you need an SUV before the summer of 2016 you'll need to look elsewhere. Also, if you don't have access to an EV charger (not one of Tesla's roadside Supercharger stations) you are not going to be happy with a car that, despite its impressive per-charge range, still needs to be plugged in regularly.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.