2018 Tesla Model X Review

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2019
The Car Connection
2019
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

John Voelcker John Voelcker Senior Editor
May 30, 2018

The 2018 Tesla Model X is the only all-electric SUV you can buy this year. It’s swift, pleasant to travel in, and relatively practical, save for its somewhat silly doors.

The 2018 Tesla Model X is the sole all-electric utility vehicle sold in the U.S. this year. Available in five- or seven-seat versions with all-wheel drive standard, its rated ranges of 238 to 295 miles should deliver at least 200 miles in most circumstances even at highway speeds. Tesla doesn’t offer traditional trim levels, but the Model X has three versions: the “75D”  has a 75-kilowatt-hour battery pack, the “100D”  has a 100-kwh pack, and the top-of-the-line “P100D” also has a 100-kwh pack but more powerful motors. It’s Tesla’s hot-rod crossover SUV, a vehicle with startling acceleration.

We rate the Tesla Model X at 7.7 points out of a possible 10, with high ratings for its performance, comfort, safety, and energy efficiency. But it scores lower than its Model S hatchback sedan sibling on design. While the Model S is generally acknowledged as sleek and striking, the Model X unfortunately resembles an over-inflated version of the sedan from some angles. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The most noticeable and distinctive feature of the Model X are its so-called falcon doors, which replace side-hinged rear doors with door-sized side panels that pivot up from the center of the roof. When raised, they attract gawkers and curious onlookers who want to know all about the car. Novelty value aside, though, they add little in the way of features or functionality missing from plain old regular doors.

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Starting at $85,000, the Tesla Model X is an expensive vehicle that shares most of the positive aspects of the Model S while it adds more seats, more cargo space, and—unique to a battery-electric vehicle—5,000 pounds of towing capacity. Towing with an electric vehicle causes range to plummet, but the Model X can do it if you need it.

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2018 Tesla Model X

Styling

The 2018 Tesla Model X sacrifices a big, square shape for reduced aerodynamic drag; the result resembles an overinflated Model S.

The designers of the Tesla Model X, now in its fourth model year, had a tough tradeoff to make: seven-seat crossovers are usually big, square-edged, boxy vehicles, but they have the aerodynamics of a small municipal building. Maximizing the battery range of an electric car requires a smooth, rounded, teardrop shape.

We give the 2018 Tesla Model X 6 points out of a possible 10 for its design, adding one to the average of five for an interior that’s above-average even if it’s visually simple, bordering on stark. But it doesn’t earn the extra point for its exterior shape we gave to the earlier, sleeker, more impressive Model S. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Their designers’ compromise between those two conflicting mandates is visually identifiable as a Tesla. A flat, grille-free nose contains a slight incised V-shape, large 20-inch alloy wheels, and the tapered shape of the Model S and Model 3 sedans. The chrome door handles extend automatically for use as the driver approaches the vehicle, then retract flush with the bodywork to reduce aerodynamic drag while underway. The height and length required for a utility vehicle make the Model X blobby rather than sleek, with a steeply raked hatch rather than a vertical tailgate.

The doors that pivot up from the centerline of the roof are the most noticeable aspect of the design. They proved extremely difficult to engineer for tight sealing, long-term reliability, and ease of manufacturing, and still pose quality issues today for some owners. While Model X owners like them for novelty value, we remain unconvinced that they add much to function. They take too long to open, they prohibit any kind of standard roof rack, and occasionally they end up misaligned.

Like that of its sedan sibling, the interior of the Model X is either clean, simple, and elegant or somewhat stark, depending on where a buyer comes down in personal taste. The front cabin is dominated by the 17-inch touchscreen used to control many ancillary functions including ventilation, audio, and accessories like the sunroof. The windshield extends up over the driver’s head, which makes the cabin exceptionally light and airy. It requires design adaptations like sun visors that must be unrolled from inside the pillars.

The Model X launched with a slightly more elegant choice of colors, materials, and textures than the Model S. The leather and suede surfaces, and matte silver and dark wood inserts, convey a suitably luxurious feel, and give the cabin the needed premium ambience despite its lack of the dozens of knobs, switches, and buttons offered in other luxury makes.

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2018 Tesla Model X

Performance

The 2018 Tesla Model X combines excellent roadholding, a smooth quiet ride, and remarkable acceleration in a practical family crossover.

All versions of the 2018 Tesla Model X are powered by a lithium-ion battery pack under the cabin floor and a pair of electric motors (one per axle) that power all four wheels. Choices are limited to battery capacity (75 or 100 kilowatt-hours) and whether to opt for the very pricey Performance model of the 100D version.

We rate the Model X at 8 points out of 10 for its performance, giving it one extra point above the average of 5 for above-average acceleration, another for above-average ride, and finally one for its exceptional role as the sole long-range battery-electric family SUV on the market this year. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The two motors in the Model X are rated at 193 kilowatts (259 horsepower) motors, one on each axle. The higher-performance P100D replaces the rear motor with a vastly more powerful 375-kw (503-hp) unit, while the front motor stays the same. The “P” version also gets significant upgrades to its power electronics and various electronic control systems.

Not surprisingly, from behind the wheel, the Tesla Model X performs like a taller, heavier Model S sedan. The weight of its under-floor battery is as low as it can go, and its front/rear weight distribution is 50/50, so the instant torque and quiet operation of its electric motors provides remarkable acceleration for a vehicle that can reach 3 tons fully loaded. On our road test, we found ourselves consistently traveling 10 miles an hour faster through rural lanes than we realized.

Quiet, grippy, and towing too

The standard air suspension handles a variety of road surfaces very well, giving a smooth ride under pretty much any circumstance we encountered. The huge 20-inch tires balanced relatively quiet travel and grip, letting drivers toss the Model X through corners at speeds that would likely have conventional luxury crossovers bouncing, yawing, and keeling over. It cornered flat and predictably, though its weight can be obvious as the electronically controlled drive software and suspension systems work to keep everything stable.

The “Ludicrous” acceleration mode on the hot-rod P100D model does indeed provide stunning acceleration, when the battery is fully charged. While we didn’t time it with a stopwatch, we accept Tesla’s claim that it can do 0 to 60 mph in 4.0 seconds or less. It feels less dramatic than doing the same thing in a lower-to-the-ground Model S, but it’s even more impressive in a seven-seat utility vehicle.

From the start, the Model X had to offer the ability to haul trailers, and indeed it’s rated for 5,000 pounds of towing capacity. This uses battery energy at a prodigious rate, potentially cutting range from the rated 240 to 290 miles to as little as 100 miles at speed. And not every Supercharger fast-charging station can accommodate a Model X that has an Airstream behind it. But it remains capable of doing it, and some owners take advantage. More likely uses may be rented trailers from home-supply stores filled with the 4-by-8-foot plywood sheets that won’t fit inside the Model X.

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2018 Tesla Model X

Comfort & Quality

The 2018 Tesla Model X would have scored higher but for its falcon doors, a gimmicky idea that’s striking but has more drawbacks than advantages.

The 2018 Tesla Model X can be ordered with five, six or seven seats, and largely fulfills its mission of being practical (if pricey) family transport with enough cargo room to carry stuff as well as people.

We rate it at 7 out of a possible 10 points for comfort, adding points for very good front seats, a genuinely usable third row for two people, and a remarkably smooth and comfortable ride. But we had to knock off a point for the gimmicky falcon doors, which are striking but just not worth their complexity and reported reliability issues. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The Tesla Model X is, not surprisingly, similar to a Model S sedan with a higher driving position and a much taller cabin. The two front seats are comfortable and adjust to accommodate virtually any shape and height of driver. Taller drivers who push the seat back further may notice the panoramic windshield extending well over their heads, while it may not register for shorter drivers closer to the wheel.

Two second rows are available: a standard three-position bench with a folding backrest, or an extra-cost pair of individual seats with or without a sliding center console between them. The two-seat third row can be ordered with either second-row configuration. The center position in the second row bench seat loses several inches of head room due to the complex mechanism to hold up the falcon doors, making the individual seats encased in shiny plastic shells a better (but pricier) bet.

Those doors offer a bit more body-side opening for access to the third row than conventional hinged doors might, though occupants still have to clamber over the wheel well as in any vehicle. Opting for the individual second-row seats eases access as well. Once in the third row, the pair of seats is comfortable for longer trips, perhaps more for lithe teens than for stockier and older adults. Compared to what passes for third rows in other seven-seat crossovers, however, it’s fine.

The falcon doors are slow to operate, however, and they require users to stand well to the front or rear as they open. A simple open-and-close to toss something on a rear seat can take more than 20 seconds—which may not sound like much, but feels interminable if you’re in a hurry. Early-production vehicles had major problems with door fit, and owners say the sensors to prevent the heavy two-part doors from closing on people or objects remain finicky.

Cargo room is good for such a smooth, rounded shape, with a total of 88.1 cubic feet in the five-seat configuration. That’s not top of the class, but it’s enough to stow gear. Tesla doesn’t provide a cargo volume for the three-row version.

Befitting a family vehicle, the Model X contains a console between the front seats, map pockets and bottle holders in the front doors, six cupholders, a 12-volt power outlet, and either four or five USB ports, depending on configuration.

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2018 Tesla Model X

Safety

The 2018 Tesla Model X gets excellent ratings from the NHTSA, and the Autopilot feature now demands drivers pay attention.

The 2018 Tesla Model X receives the highest crash-safety ratings from the NHTSA, with an overall five-star rating and five stars in every category as well. That gains it a pair of extra points in our safety rating, taking it to 7 out of 10 possible points. (Read more about how we rate cars.) The electric vehicle hasn’t been rated by the IIHS, however, although the older Tesla Model S sedan earned good scores in most tests, less well in small-overlap front crash tests and in headlight quality.

The Model X comes with 12 airbags and a rearview camera as standard equipment. Active-safety features include active lane control, blind-spot monitors, and automatic emergency braking. The optional Autopilot system lets the car drive itself for miles at a clip, under certain circumstances on well-marked roads.

Shoppers shouldn’t mistake Autopilot, despite its name, for anything more than a collection of the latest active-safety features, but it’s on a par with those offered on the most advanced vehicles in the U.S. from other makers this year.

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2018 Tesla Model X

Features

The 2018 Tesla Model X is fairly well equipped, and offers a few unique features no other luxury vehicle can match.

The 2018 Tesla Model X is far from cheap, starting at $85,000 and topping out north of $150,000 for the fastest, most heavily optioned version. It remains unique, however, as the only long-range all-electric SUV on the market, available in five, six, or seven-seat versions. Rather than trim levels, Tesla offers three powertrains: the base “75D” is fitted with a battery with 75 kilowatt-hours of capacity, the “100D” upgrades to a 100-kwh pack, and the top-of-the-line “P100D” hot-rod model keeps that same 100-kwh pack but adds more powerful motors and electronics for much quicker acceleration.

We rate the Model X at 8 points out of a possible 10, adding a point apiece for a high level of standard equipment, the still-stunning 17-inch touchscreen, and the Autopilot suite of active-safety and Level 2 autonomous-driving features—which comes with the promise of far more future capabilities via over-the-air updates. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Luxury vehicle buyers will find most of the features they expect in the Tesla Model X, and may be willing to trade its battery-electric powertrain for high-ends frills it doesn’t offer, such as cooled massaging seats. The heated front seats have 14-way power adjustment, the mirrors self-dim, and keyless ignition, one-touch power windows, LED ambient lighting, dual-zone automatic climate control, and a nine-speaker 240-watt audio system are standard. So are Wifi connectivity, Bluetooth pairing, audio controls in the leather-wrapped steering wheels, and full internet connectivity through the center display.  The liftgate is powered, and both the rear cargo area and the front trunk can be opened remotely.

Options get pricey

Like all Teslas, options add up quickly. The base 75D starts at $79,500, while the longer-range 100D comes in at $96,000, and the high-performance top-end P100D version carries a whopping $140,000 base price.

If you want to expand beyond five seats, adding the two-seat third row to get seven seats costs $3,000. Alternatively, a six-seat version with individual second-row seats—with or without a sliding console between them—runs an additional $6,000. Autopilot adds $5,000, and a Premium Upgrades package at $6,000 bundles together a premium audio system with XM satellite radio; a collection of cold-weather features—heated steering wheel, heated seats for all passengers, wiper blade defrosters, and heaters for the washer nozzles—and cabin air purification that extends beyond a pair of charcoal filters to include a HEPA filter.

Tesla markets its Autopilot system as a feature that can be upgraded in the future to make a Model X more capable than it was when purchased. Today Autopilot bundles active-safety and limited self-driving features, but Tesla claims it will expand its abilities beyond today’s Level 2 autonomy in the future as it receives regulatory approvals after submitting test results for new features. The company also offers today’s Model X buyers an additional $3,000 option on top of Autopilot: a “Full Self-Driving Capability” that doesn’t actually do anything right now, but is promised for activation at some indefinite point in the future, without definition or clarity on what the system’s functions will be.

The Model X carries a 4-year, 50,000-mile vehicle warranty and an 8-year warranty with unlimited mileage on the battery pack and drive unit. Data from Model S cars dating back five years indicates a fairly durable battery, with capacity falling only around 10 percent on average after a distance of 100,000 miles—which speaks well to Tesla’s ability to keep its batteries heated and cooled to prolong their life.

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2018 Tesla Model X

Fuel Economy

The all-electric 2018 Tesla Model X gets our highest rating for energy efficiency and environmental impact.

Every version of the 2018 Tesla Model X is a battery-electric crossover utility that has no tailpipe, and hence emits nothing from the vehicle. That earns it our top Green score of 10 out 10 points. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The EPA rates the ranges of the three Model X variants from 238 to 295 miles. Steady highway speeds will cut that by 20 percent or more, and winter temperatures can deplete range by the same amount again. But range of more 200 miles covers the vast majority of U.S. daily driving, making the Model X worry-free for local and regional family use daily and on weekends.

With its larger size and higher weight, the energy efficiency ratings of the Model X are lower than those of its Model S sedan sibling. They range from 85 to 93 MPGe, which still underscores how efficient battery-electric cars use energy—no seven-seat SUV on earth can reach 85 mpg when powered by gasoline. (Miles Per Gallon Equivalent, or MPGe, measures the distance a vehicle can travel electrically on the amount of energy in 1 gallon of gasoline.)

The Model X will also cost one-fifth to one-third as much per mile to run as gasoline-powered SUVs, depending on the buyer’s local electricity rates. While that’s nice, of course, we doubt anyone spending $85,000 to $140,000 on an SUV cares much about running costs.

Tesla figured out early on—though other electric-car makers still haven’t—that a nationwide network of fast-charging stations to enable coast-to-coast trips pretty much eliminates range anxiety among buyers. They’re willing to make their road trips in 200-mile segments, stopping for an 80-percent battery recharge taking 20 to 40 minutes every three hours or so. The Model X navigation system automatically routes drivers through the most convenient Supercharger sites, and even calculates the length of time they should recharge to minimize wasted time. The low-hassle, effective fast-charging network also lets Tesla owners chat and network among themselves while waiting, which turns out to be popular all by itself.

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March 5, 2018
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From my first experience driving a Tesla at the Fremont Tesla factory & track, I was totally sold and knew I wanted to buy a Tesla. I spent a great deal of time driving both models (Tesla Model S & Tesla Model... + More »
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Styling 6
Performance 8
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