The falcon-wing doors sealed shut and the boy studied the moonroof above his seat. His eyes trailed forward to the panoramic front windshield. The 17-inch touch screen in the center stack arrested his attention, like headlights to a deer, causing the boy to mutter, as if in a trance, “This is how I imagine cars of the future.”
Then I floored it and the kid erupted in a fit of giggles as the all-electric performance SUV rocketed to 60 mph in 2.9 seconds.
The future is fast.
Since the all-wheel-drive, dual-motor P100D is all electric, it has no gears, so the acceleration is uninterrupted, prompting a gut-dropping response that took our breath away as swiftly as the $162,000 tag.
For that amount, Tesla is offering something unlike anything else on the road and also showcasing the type of technology to be equipped in cars of the near future — like those of a boy’s imagination.
Autopilot is the most advanced, semiautonomous driving system on the market, and by Tesla terms it’s already out of date. All vehicles made from October 2016, including the only other car it sells right now, the Model S performance sedan that is the basis of the Model X, are equipped with HW2 (Hardware2), which uses more advanced radars, cameras and sensors to support fully autonomous driving.
The cars are ready but the marketplace might not be, especially since the highly publicized death of a Florida man whose Model S running on Autopilot T-boned a semi. Tesla was cleared of wrongdoing, but as regulators scramble to establish protocols for self-driving cars, automakers are wisely playing it safe; their consumers have the most to lose.
While HW2 should limit the car’s reliance on well-marked infrastructure or reading the proximity of surrounding cars, old-school Autopilot is still pretty amazing.
Before we proceed, let us not get hysterical about all these advanced features — the world’s first self-driving car feature was launched in the Chrysler Imperial over 60 years ago: it too was called “Auto-Pilot” but is better known now as cruise control.
Like many new cars with a suite of sensors, adaptive cruise control is the basis for Autopilot. Two gray icons will appear on either side of the speedometer to indicate the system can be used, specifically if it can read the lanes in the road. With a double click of the stalk on the left side of the steering column, you set the desired speed. To adjust the distance to the car in front of you so you don’t have to brake, turn the end of the same stalk. To maintain your lane, click the stalk towards you. There you go, the car is driving itself.
If the lanes are obscured or the system is uncertain, the dash will flash white, then red, followed by an alert to put your hands on the wheel, ready to be a driver. As long as there is a car in front of it, the vehicle can come to a complete stop and start without the driver doing anything.
If you like adaptive cruise in other cars, you’ll love Autopilot. To be clear, it is a semiautonomous driving feature, and many models by several makes offer similar — though inferior — systems.
These are the same systems that offer advanced safety sensing like forward collision braking, blind-spot alert and other features meant to minimize the impact of crashes. Like the seat belt, semiautonomous driving is a good thing when used properly.
The software to be used with HW2 is a big leap toward fully self-driving cars, where Tesla expects drivers to be able to set a destination and the car will go from point A to point B without really needing the driver. It could happen as soon as this year, depending on Tesla readiness.
That’s the other competitive advantage of this technology energy company that happens to make gorgeous cars that happen to be fully electric: fixes and updates to the car are made through over-the-air updates, simple as updating a smartphone (except it takes longer and should be plugged into a 240V Level 2 charger).
Our concern for the infotainment systems in new cars is how obsolete some of them feel from day one. What happens in two or three years? With a Tesla, you just plug it in and the software updates. Other automakers require a trip to the service center.
One of the things other automakers shouldn’t adopt are the falcon-wing doors that make the X so distinctive, it makes all the kids and adults at the elementary school stop and stare at this thing. Yes, they’re cool, but they cause production delays and owner complaints.
Unlike the single hinge on gull-wing doors (think DeLorean or Mercedes SLS-AMG), falcon-wing doors are double hinged, once in the center of the roof like gull-wing doors, and again where the door would traditionally meet the roof. They rise up from the roof to offer easy access and ample headroom in all three rows, while still using an aerodynamic design that can optimize efficiency and performance.
Rear falcon-wing doors can open with less than a foot on either side. If there’s no clearance, the X in our garage held its wings hunched, affording enough of a gap for the kids to slide out.
The tester came equipped with six out of an available seven seats. Mid-row seats are on their own post so they can move independently of each other. More demanding passengers requested armrests.
With the falcon-wing doors raised to full flight, it’s really easy to get in and out of the third row. Headroom is limited in the third row for taller adults, but the middle row has plenty of space. The third row folds flat, though we needed the rep to find the inconspicuous button no bigger than a dime on the seat top that flips down the headrest and folds the seat flat. You do need to raise the third row from inside the vehicle the old-fashioned way: with human power. It might be the only thing on the car without a button. The seats can be adjusted by the driver via the peerless 17-by-11-inch touch screen.
The coupe-like roofline of the X means rear visibility is poor, and the small rearview mirror doesn’t help. The optional rear spoiler can create a split rear windshield effect not unlike the Prius V.
Up front, the cabin is domed in panoramic windshield like a helicopter. The windshield extends overhead to make for excellent visibility. It’s really cool, and kind of odd. There are slim sun visors to cut the windshield in half if the sun is near the horizon, and there is a screen that can entirely cover the tinted upper part.
While the windshield encourages star gazing, the centerpiece of any Tesla is the peerless, touch screen command center. It keeps the dash clean and gorgeous, and is the best system on the market with the clearest backup camera projection. You get what you pay for.
All this technology, including even the key fob, which can open and close all doors, or even back the car up without a driver, and open driver-side door on approach, may seem a distraction to the most impressive thing about the X: how it drives.
With the massive battery pack at the bottom of the car between the axles, the center of gravity is low, and that, along with the long wheelbase makes for great handling. The car weighs a lot, over 5,200 pounds, which is enormous, but it never feels like it.
It feels like the future at the speed of now.
2017 Tesla Model X P100D
Vehicle type: AWD electric SUV
Base price: $138,800 (excluding $1,200 destination and $7,500 federal EV credit)
As tested: $162,000
Estimated range: 250 miles
Motor: Dual motors powered by 100 kWh battery pack
Parting shot: You get what you pay for.