Tesla Model X – Personal thoughts and initial review


Av: Satheesh Varadharajan

Launch excitement
Finally, after the unveiling of Tesla Model X (TMX) as a concept car in February 2012 the car is here. The long awaited SUV. It’s been a painful and long journey, not only for Tesla, but the end buyer as well. Multiple postpones made consumers worry if the majestic SUV would ever see the light of day. All of a sudden a launch date was known, 30. September 2015. The consumers went wild, the press went wild, Elon himself went wild; stating that the TMX would be “a better car than the Tesla Model S (TMS) was at launch” and the bar was set high – very high.

The launch event was packed with people. Current Tesla owners, reservation holders, fans, press and employees, they where all there. The event itself was held at Fremont, California in a Tesla owned warehouse. The anticipation was needless to say, electric (pun intended). We all lined up to get in and the waiting felt like weeks. But time was not wasted because it was a delight to talk to fellow peers about their experience with Tesla.

Stairway to heaven – well, that’s what it felt like when they opened the doors. We are in! The first hall was basically a big party hall. Bars that served drinks, a bit of finger food and snacks here and there. Very classy done in general with music pumping from the DJ a couple of meters above the air in the middle of the room. Again, the waiting game took place. Elon & Co. made us wait a little longer before entering the launch area itself. The previous waiting that felt like weeks, now felt like months. We at the front could see small glimpses of the launch area now and then, as the employees went in and out of the curtains that separated us from “them”. So close, yet so far.

Elon on stage
Inside at last. After even a little more waiting, I think I was ready to pass out at this point, Mr. Musk himself entered the stage. Adrenalin was pumping again and all the people that was there got an extra energy boost in sight of him. Elon started by talking about the cars safety. It is the only SUV that has a five-star rating in all categories, not just overall. Which qualifies the TMX to the safest SUV on the planet. Then he went through a couple new design features like the BioDefense system, which purifies air so you breathe clean air inside the cabin, to the enormous front windshield, second row seats and trailer hitch capabilities.

The car comes with the well known falcon wing doors, all-wheel drive powertrain, auto presenting driver-side door as you approach and close when you get inside, forward sliding and motorized second row seats and an adaptive spoiler at the end. The doors and seats move and operate individually and the falcon wings are equipped with three types of sensors capacitive, inductive and sonar.

What you tend to forget when you’re actually there is that some people, a lot of them actually, doesn’t spend their spare time going through every forum, posts on Facebook, Elons Twitter messages and read all the TMX news you can find. This was a little revelation for me when I actually found that out. So for most of the people there, this was their first experience with TMX and the features of the car. People where genuinely happy with what they saw. He didn’t use too much time talking about details and somehow I felt I had more questions now than I had before the launch.

Blood sweat and tears
Anyways, after the launch Elon said that his car, Founder 1, was going to be left there on the stage for people to have a look at. The second he thanked everyone for showing up and left, people started running towards the car. Total chaos. I wasn’t really in a hurry, so I decided to roam around and see if I could catch some employees to talk to and get some inside information on the car, the design and other bits of useful information.

I saw Franz von Holzhausen, head of design at Tesla and thought I could have a little chat with him. I finally got a chance and I was ready to ask him everything I could think of. I saw his eyes and I saw tiredness. I know exactly how that feels, so I resigned from asking any elaborate questions and went to my main concern; could the second row seats fold? “Unfortunately, no” he replied. They where such a big design project that they took a stand on what was physically possible to do with the functions they wanted out of them. If you want to carry and transport larger things, they provide the trailer hitch. Period. We took a selfie and I got a signed design poster (which we will be giving away to one of our lucky TOCN members) and then I think he left the venue, at least out of sight.

It then occurred to me that all of them, Elon, Franz, even JB Straubel (who is Teslas Chief Technical Officer) on stage looked very drained for energy. And I now understand why. To meet everyone’s expectations is far from possible. They probably had more than a few sleepless nights and long working hours to get the TMX ready for the launch. Elon himself said that the TMX was “the most difficult car in the world to build” and “I’m not sure anyone should have made this car”. These statements aren’t just random words, but probably what they actually felt during the design and production.

The car itself
Well, by now I’m sure everyone has seen the launch video, read tons of reviews from the press and other online blogs. But here are my thoughts of what I consider to be a fairly subjective view of the car itself. It’s beautiful. The pictures and videos of the car doesn’t do justice. It has to be experienced live to grasp the sheer size, curves, designs and other small details. Very well executed and a beauty to look at.

There are a few good and positive things about the TMX and there are equally a few bad ones as well. I’ll start with the latter and jump straight to the “frunk” (front trunk). I was really amazed about it’s size, or the lack of to be precise. It was disappointingly small. After seeing sneak peeks online before the launch I was expecting something bigger, a lot bigger. How you fit two golf bags is beyond me. (Or did they refer to kid size bags?) The frunk also opens a little wider upwards, so filling washer fluid is a little easier here than the TMS.

Anyways, after getting over the initial shock I went for the second row seats. By now I already knew they couldn’t be folded, which was an equally big disappointment in my opinion. In Norway (and probably other places in the world) people tend to do a lot of moving objects from one place to another for themselves. Furniture, gardening equipment’s and waste, boxes, sporting gear and sometimes 14 live pigeons. (Yes, you read that correctly.) And a lot of people find camping in the car works great as well, especially in the Model S. Since the second row seats don’t fold in the Model X, there could potentially be a little problem sleeping there. Of course Tesla didn’t make the car to be a mobile hotel, but since you have the opportunity in the TMS, the TMX falls short on the design here.

Luckily the third row seats fold nicely down and makes a flat surface. Much like the current trunk space in the TMS. You also have the extra small space beneath the trunk, again much like the TMS. Since the rear trunk door is bigger and open wide, the size and volume feels bigger somehow. It’s easier to put things in and out and should be satisfactory for most needs.

The falcon wing doors are truly a work of art. They are double-hinged resulting that they can open upwards before opening outwards. See it as an elbow bending giving you more maneuverability so that the doors can open in small and cramped situations. These also operate individually of each other and senses nearby surroundings. They seem very robust, thick and very cool. I know there are many out there who doesn’t like the falcon door concept and would rather see a more normal sliding door concept. I feel that Tesla wants to design and produce products a little different than the norm we have all been seeing for the last decade. I think it’s bold that they do things differently and runs with it to the bitter end.

The nosecone is refreshing. It takes a little bit of time to get used to, but now I simply love it. This is also one of perks of seeing the car live, because then you let things grow on you. It looks really good when seeing the car in front of you, both on stage and the test track Tesla built outside.

Introduction of the rear spoiler had a lot of the enthusiast surprised when we saw a few leaked pictures a while back. I think this also looks very nice and should give some range improvements. Nifty detail with placement of the break lights inside the spoiler.

Cup holders are also a welcomed feature. There are cup holders in all the rows. First row have them in the center console, second row have them in a pop-out tray and the third row have them built-in between the seats.

There are also some small storage spaces located here and there, but nothing very revolutionary. You can store some bags etc. under the second row seats also. USB outlets can be found here and there as well, but you can never get enough of these things, so why not put a few more?

The massive front windshield is really nice. It’s supposed to be made out of seven layers. You feel like you soar forward sitting in the front seats and you also have a nice view from the second row seating as well. The placement of the rear-view mirror is yet another cool design feature. Just one piece and a thin plastic strip going all the way back for housing the cable(s) needed. Mounting a dashcam here will probably be a little tricky, but hopefully you can tap into the rear-view mirror housing itself for power. The sunshades are also neatly made. They clip on the rear-view mirror with magnets and contain both lights and a small mirror. They can flip open to cover more area to shade.

Final words
All in all, the Model X seems very well done. Design, functions, the new features and the driving experience feels good. It’s quieter on the road, so more soundproofing is done, it feels both massive and tight at the same time and it performs really well. Though Elon and his engineers left out a lot of details at the launch it still feels like the car isn’t 100% ready. I can’t really put my finger on it, but I’m guessing there are a couple of areas of interest they are paying attention to before the car gets released to the end customer. For instance, if you look at the trailer hitch cover, it looks hand made. It did not look like it came off a production belt at all. That said, I think they have pretty good control on what needs to be ready and sorted out before mass shipping starts.

I also can’t help feeling that the current Model S would be a better buy if it had the trailer hitch capability. I really can’t see why you would swap out your current TMS for the Model X unless you like to have the latest thing out there. Or you just prefer SUVs over sedans. There could also possibly be that the technology in the TMX is a little newer than in the TMS. By that I mean that it could be ready for future upgrades that may come. But time will show.

But all that aside, I’m convinced that the Model X is going to be a superb car and with the newly released autopilot capabilities the car would be great for long distance traveling. A must have car for all fans!

PS! If you missed the TOCN Live! blog from the event, you can check it out here.

For Tesla Owners Club Norway
Satheesh Varadharajan