2016 Tesla Model X: Taking a Family of 5 to Yosemite in the Winter
by Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor on February 27, 2017
With all the storms we've had this winter, I've been itching to head up to Yosemite National Park and check out the waterfalls. A weekend in late January looked promising, and at the time I also had our long-term 2016 Tesla Model X signed out. I figured it'd be interesting to see how Tesla's three-row crossover would handle a day trip with my family of five.
Well, it was certainly interesting, though part of that was due to under-preparation and overconfidence on my part.
I left Fresno from the city's only Supercharger station, which is about 95 miles south of the park's main valley floor. I had a full charge (an indicated 240 miles). In theory, our Model X P90D could make the round trip without recharging, but going to Yosemite involves highway driving and big elevation changes. I researched Tesla's Supercharger map and found a charging station in Fish Camp, which is about the halfway point.
As we (my wife, our two young kids and our teenage foreign-exchange student) got closer to Fish Camp, I started seeing accumulated snow on the ground. My kids were excited about the snow. By the time we made it to Fish Camp, the long climb in elevation (5,288 feet) had taken its toll on the battery. After just 61 miles, the battery life indicator had dropped to about 50 percent capacity.
This is where the lack of preparation comes in. I hadn't bothered to find out where in Fish Camp the Supercharger station actually was, but the Model X's onboard nav system contains that information and directed us to a parking lot at Tenaya Lodge, a local resort. So far, so good. But my stress level shot up as we approached the lodge. The parking lots had been plowed after the recent snowfall, creating big mounds of snow along the outer edges. Uh oh. Typically, Tesla positions its chargers on the edges of parking lots, and you back into a charging spot to hook up.
I was worried that the snowplows had covered up the charging stations. It's not like Joe the plow operator was thinking, "Oh gosh, we better clear all the snow in front of these Superchargers for the hordes of Tesla drivers coming up to Yosemite in the middle of winter!" Without a Supercharger, my Yosemite trip would fall apart.
Thankfully, Tenaya Lodge had cleared the snow in front of the chargers. That was a big relief for me as we pulled up. I plugged in as my family took a bathroom break.
Now for the remaining drive into the park. I thought I was in the clear after the Supercharger episode. Wrong. Next up: snow and ice.
I knew that Highway 41, the road we were on, was going to have a chain-carry requirement at a certain point. It means you're supposed to have chains with you in case the conditions worsen. Usually snow tires are acceptable, too.
I had neither.
The massive 22-inch wheels on our Model P90X Signature are fitted with wide, low-profile Pirelli Zero Asimmetrico tires. Pirelli describes them as a "ultimate all-season" tire. The tread pattern looks very much like one from a summer-rated tire. According to the owner's manual, only the Model X's smaller 20-inch wheels are suitable for chains.
As we climbed higher into the mountains, I started encountering more patches of snow and ice. The outside air temperature hovered in the high 30s. Some motorists were pulling over to put chains on. I soothed myself with the knowledge that I had driven to Yosemite before in the winter. Also, I grew up in Denver, darn it. I know a thing or two about snow and ice.
My plan was to drive very cautiously on those patches. As you can infer from the photos and my continued employment here at Edmunds, it worked! We made it to Yosemite Valley and back. But I'll admit that my stress level was higher than I'd like.
Setting aside the Supercharger anxiety and the whole snow-and-ice thing, the Model X was great. The panoramic "receding hairline" windshield that we've previously complained about was ideal on this drive, providing a convertible-esque view of the snow, trees and mountains.
I enjoyed having electric power for my mountain drive, too. Though the Model X rapidly consumed energy on the way up, it was frugal on the return to sea level, often adding electricity back into the battery for long stretches. And unlike a non-turbocharged gasoline-powered vehicle, an electric vehicle is just as powerful at 5,000 feet or 15,000 feet as it is at sea level. Finally, the Model X's strong regenerative braking was ideal for driving smoothly on twisty mountain roads. I rarely had to use the brake pedal.
My family liked the Model X, too. Everyone was comfortable thanks to the three rows of heated seats. The falcon wing doors were, yes, popular. And though I wasn't fond of the access to the third row because of the slow-moving power second-row seats, that was more of an annoyance for me than my 5-year-old son.
Driving any other crossover SUV on this trip would have likely been less stressful (on me), but it also wouldn't have been as special. That's part of the appeal to the Model X, I think. So many crossovers are the same, even at the luxury end of the spectrum. Having the Model X to drive made the weekend that much more memorable.
Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor @ 10,672 miles