2016 Tesla Model X First Drive Review: Revolutionary Engineering, Unmatched Performance [Video]

2016 Tesla Model X P90D

On paper, the Tesla Model X seems to exist in its own universe. A seven-passenger electric SUV with a 250+ mile range, supercar-worthy acceleration, and rear doors that look like they were lifted from the set of a sci-fi movie. Elon Musk is on a mission to prove the electric car doubters wrong, and with the Model X, he just might have an irrefutable case.

Initially scheduled for a 2014 release, the Model X has been delayed several times, in part due to difficulties executing the unconventional design. Production is still just a trickle, with the first customer cars finally rolling off the assembly line late last year.

Fortunately, one such eager customer happens to be a close friend, and he recently received delivery of a Model X Signature P90D with Ludicrous Mode. I had the opportunity to spend an afternoon with his Model X, which included taking the car on one of our favorite long test loops out to the beautiful California coast.

2016 Tesla Model X P90D

Before hitting the highway, I had to find out if the acceleration claims were justified. With a 503 horsepower motor for the rear wheels and a 259 horsepower motor up front, Tesla claims 0-60 mph should take just 3.2 seconds. After a dozen hard launches, let’s just say that the Ludicrous moniker is not an overstatement. From 0-30, the Model X will run with just about anything. The acceleration literally pins you in your seat. It does seem to taper off a bit once you get closer to 60 mph, but I can’t remember driving anything this big that accelerates so effortlessly.

Although I would have been happy doing 0-60 runs all afternoon, fear of attracting undue attention from local law enforcement encouraged us to hit the road. Our loop would take us on a nice assortment of driving roads, including some of the best twisty back roads that the area has to offer.

One of the first things I observed is that driving at the speed of normal traffic feels painfully slow in the Model X. With the adjustable suspension set in its firmest setting, the Model X felt completely at ease taking corners well above the posted speed limit, while still offering a decently comfortable ride. The 22-inch wheels with sticky Pirelli Scorpion Zeros provide ample grip, and the low center of gravity courtesy of the floor-mounted battery pack completely eliminates the tippy feeling that you get when driving most SUVs.

2016 Tesla Model X P90D

You definitely notice that you’re driving a larger, heavier vehicle, but the confidence with which you can attack a corner is almost silly, given that there are two rows of seats in the back. The steering feel is also excellent, and brake and throttle response are all tuned very well. The level of regenerative braking is adjustable, and in the higher “regen” mode you can practically drive the car with just one foot.

After making it out to the coast on scenic Highway 1, I took advantage of the tourist traffic to test the Model X’s passing abilities, which are prodigious. If anything, you have to be careful not to hit the next car, as triple digit speeds are very easy to achieve. Driving north under the beautiful setting sun also allowed us to marvel at the front windshield, which extends all the way up and over the front seats. The expansive glass makes for a very cockpit-like experience.

Although perhaps a bit of a gimmick, the “falcon wing” rear doors are quite the engineering feat, and will attract a crowd whenever you decide to open them. We tested the door operation while parked quite closely to several large cars, and due to a cleverly located hinge, the doors have no trouble extending themselves upward without hitting anything. The only concern would be in garages with a low ceiling, as they do add several feet to the height of the car when fully open.

2016 Tesla Model X P90D

As you would expect, the Model X is overflowing with other cool tech features, including doors that open themselves and a huge in-dash touch screen monitor. Like the Model S, the Model X features Tesla’s Autopilot, which uses camera, radar and sonar systems to allow the car to drive itself. The system is limited to just freeway cruising for now, and you do have to keep your hands resting on the steering wheel, but otherwise it works as advertised, even in fairly dense traffic.

In trying to think of possible downsides to owning a Model X, we could only muster three potential issues. First is the price, which is around $140,000 for the fully loaded Signature. At that price one could buy a number of other impressive vehicles, although I can’t think of any that quite match the Model X in terms of performance and technological innovation. The base Model X 70D does start at $80k and still provides impressive performance, although it will be at least another six months before any of the these are available.

2016 Tesla Model X P90D

Another issue is the interior, which isn’t quite what you’d expect from a luxury car that costs well over $100k. The quality of the materials and fit and finish are more what you’d experience in a $50k car, and compared to other top-line vehicles the Model X definitely falls short. Finally, I have to wonder about long-term reliability, as the Model S has shown itself to be a bit less than robust, and the Model X even adds more complexity with its radical rear doors. Whether all this technology is prone to failure remains to be seen.

  • Buy itOn the TFLcar scale of:
  • Buy it!
  • Lease it!
  • Rent it!
  • … or Forget it!

Despite the reservations mentioned above, I give the 2016 Tesla Model X a ‘Buy It!‘ for being the world’s first all-electric luxury SUV that is a remarkably capable hunk of machinery.

Overall, though, I can’t help but marvel at what Tesla has accomplished. From an engineering and design perspective, the Model X is an unqualified success, and like the Model S, it provides another impressive glimpse into the future of automotive transportation.

The Model X has a lot of tricks up its proverbial sleeve. Watch this video to see the all-electric SUV’s top 5 hat tricks.