Payne: Tesla’s Model X is an SUV/sports car cross

Posted by hpayne on November 9, 2017

tesla_fr3-4-doors-red

The new Tesla gallery in the Somerset Collection mall is next to the Apple Store. Which is appropriate because, just as the iPod, iPhone and iPad re-imagined familiar devices as high-tech luxury objects, so have Tesla products re-thought the automobile.

Tesla products are singular vehicles in today’s market.

Like Apple, they’ve introduced new terms into the automotive lexicon — Ludicrous acceleration, 17-inch Google map displays — and vaulted an American automaker to the forefront of global luxury. In the 21st century, European makes like Porsche and BMW benchmark to Tesla.

Unobtainable to most Americans, $70,000-plus Teslas have nevertheless captured the public’s imagination and whetted its appetite — 450,000 orders and counting — for the more affordable $35,000-$59,000 Model 3. To put that in perspective, BMW’s Model 3 competitor, the 3-series, sold 70,458 units in 2016.

The Tesla gallery (don’t call it a “store” because, by Michigan franchise law, Tesla can’t sell directly to consumers) entrance features a bright red Tesla Model S, a car I have driven many times. But overshadowing the Model S at the back of the store is the Model X crossover. Like a male peacock in full tail-fan next to its female mate, the X’s falcon-wing doors wow. This is a show car in the grand tradition of auto show prototypes. Except the X got built.

Out of its cage in the wild, the peacock does not disappoint. This paparazzi-magnet is a cross between SUV and sports car.

Premium, performance SUVs are all the rage these days — just look at $100,000 Porsche Cayennes and Maserati LeVantes that borrow design cues from their long-hooded, sports car kin but are made on different platforms with different dynamics.

Not the Model X. Its fundamentals are the Model S down to its aluminum bones: Same 50-50 weight distribution. Same switchgear. Same 75-100 kWh batteries. My two X testers — a P100D and 100D — were instantly familiar to Model S P100D and P90Ds I’ve driven (alphanumeric check: P is for “Performance” rear motor. 100 is 100kWh battery. D is for dual-motor AWD). The X’s added plumage adds about 500 pounds.

The effect is a 5,531-pound hippo that runs like a cheetah.

There is no SUV — and few cars — that can hang with a top-trim, P100D Model X off the line. So addictive is the Model X’s acceleration that my buddies drove it like the Model S. Or a McLaren. Every stoplight is a drag race.

Its 2.9-second, zero-60 acceleration is on par with a Corvette Z06. The torque is so concussive, you have to do a U-turn at 60 mph to go back and pick up your stomach.

The interior is a Model S clone, too: same mesmerizing 17-inch display. Same steering wheel-based controls. Same over-the-air computer upgrades. One morning the X offered a software upgrade to my smartphone. I concurred and 90 minutes later I had an upgraded vehicle, including an “Automatic Lane Change” self-driving feature.

Approach the X with key in pocket and the driver’s door cracks open. Hello. Another step and it swings open by itself. Climb in, push the brake and … the door thunks shut.

Welcome to the X-rated show. Never seen that before, even in the $80,000-$130,000 market the Tesla shares with the Cayenne Turbo, Range Rover HSE and Mercedes GLS.

The panoramic front glass is like seeing an Apple screen for the first time. Arcing over the front passengers like a fighter jet canopy, it’s the best view for skyscrapers — or M-119’s Tunnel of Trees. Be sure to store a pair of sunglasses in the voluminous center console storage for long, sunny drives.

Reach into the center console’s touchscreen controls and open the doors. The huge second-row wings rise majestically to the sky. I half expected a Martian to emerge, so unusual is the experience. Rugrat passengers who will never tire of the experience — even when the doors sense my cramped garage ceiling and stop short of full spread.

Less impressive was the groan in my right door hinge, a reminder of quality issues that have plagued the X. And rear adult passengers who found the bucket seats narrow and lacking in armrests.

The middle seats work in concert with the front seats to move forward to allow third-row access. These aren’t Lincoln Navigator rear seats — they’re kid-size only. I recommend opting for middle-row bench seats both for larger seating, and so you can flatten the seat back to make for cavernous cargo room as in the Model S. Just check the bench seat box on the online order form; eschewing auto trim tradition, Tesla allows customers to order features a la carte.

For all its attributes, however, the Model X doesn’t make the case for an electric future. I have friends who own the Model S as their urban mobile — for work, for weekend cruising — but who rely on their SUV as the family-trip car.

With less range than the Model S due to its girth, the Model X is a difficult sell for the long-range demands of an SUV. Given its performance capabilities, I drove it like I drive any performance vehicle — but at significant range sacrifice. Sixty miles on the odometer doing stoplight drags and 80 mph interstate speeds took 100 miles of range off the battery.

Even if I drove the X at G-rated speeds, the maximum, 295-mile range (100D) is a limitation for going up north or away for extended weekends. Tesla promises to double Superchargers nationwide by the end of this year, but that still leaves huge holes in the X’s travel abilities. Like the S, the X remains a niche luxury vehicle.

But what a vehicle. Among a sea of performance iron — Z06, Lamborghini Diablo, Porsche 911s — at Lingenfelter’s Halloween Cars ’n’ Coffee in Brighton, the Tesla wowed.

I parked it wings-up (with a 100 kWh battery on board, there’s no fear of draining the battery!) and watched people swarm to it, ogling the doors, the interior, the crisp displays.

Tesla has delayed orders for its Model 3 due to production difficulties. Similar delays hampered the X — and today it’s in high demand. I’m guessing Model 3 customers will wait, too. Tesla is that different.

In the meantime, they have a gallery to visit.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-1 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.

2017 Tesla Model X

VEHICLE TYPE

ELECTRIC, ALL-WHEEL DRIVE, SIX- OR SEVEN-PASSENGER SUV

Powerplant

75-100 kWh lithium-ion battery with

electric motor drive

Transmission

Single-speed transmission

Weight

5,531 pounds (Model X P100D)

Price

$79,500 base ($102,000 100D and $140,000 P100D

as tested)

Power

532 horsepower, 713 pound-feet torque

Performance

0-60 mph, 4.9 sec. base (2.9 sec. P100D/4.7 sec. 100D as

tested); top speed: 155 mph

Fuel economy

Range: 237 miles, base (289 mi. P100D/295 100D. 100 miles of range to cover

60 miles as tested in 100D)

Report card

HIGHS

HIGH-TECH SHOWCASE; ROAD-HUGGING, 5,500-POUND BOWLING BALL

Lows

Tight third row; EV range limits SUV practicality

Overall:★★★★

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