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Tesla’s Model X is finally here, and I got to drive it

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“I’m not sure anyone should make this car, really. I mean, yeah. There is far more there than is really necessary to sell a car,” Musk says, trailing off. There is a genuine sense of introspection that maybe — just maybe — the Model X is over-engineered, that Tesla took on too much, and that's why this car is multiple years late to showroom floors.

But having driven this thing today, I think the wait was worth it.

We're in Fremont, California — home of Tesla's 5.3 million-square-foot factory — for the official launch of the Model X crossover, a sort of pumped-up Model S that trades a small amount of performance for utility.

But what makes it so amazing? There is, to start, the fundamental matter that this is a Model S in new clothes — and we already know what a beast the S is. Little is lost in translation here: I sampled the P90D variant of the Model X with Ludicrous Mode enabled, and it's every bit as capable of putting a dumb grin on my face when I smash the accelerator. My brain is basically unable to mathematically comprehend how a car of this width, height, and girth is able to hustle like that. I'm not exaggerating: with Ludicrous turned on, the X will hit 60 miles per hour as quickly as a Porsche 911 Turbo.

Granted, to get that kind of speed, you're nearly spending as much money as you would for the Porsche: the P90D with Ludicrous Mode runs $142,000, which is rich people money. A Model 3 — the upcoming People's Tesla — this is not.


It's not just about the speed, though, which I only had a single short private straightaway to sample. (I hope to have much, much more time with this car in the near future.) The enormous windshield in this car may not sound like a big deal, but it is: you look straight up from the driver's seat, and there's nothing but sky above you. It's like having a sunroof that blends directly into the windshield. Again, that doesn't sound life-changing, but the sense of being outdoors, of having the interior of the car basically disappear, is pretty incredible. Tesla thinks that the outsized sense of panorama in the passenger compartment will actually have a positive effect on motion sickness, because riders will have a better view of the exterior (motion without visual context can make many woozy). "It's the largest piece of glass in a car ever, I believe," Musk says. "At least, that's what the glass manufacturers tell us."

"It's the largest piece of glass in a car ever, I believe."

And then there's the feature that every single bystander will immediately notice and ask about: the "falcon wing doors," rear doors that open upward, hinging in the middle so they don't swing outward. That means the X can park in a tight spot or garage and rear passengers will still be able to get in and out, because the doors get completely out of the way. (You need to be mindful of ceiling clearance, but ultrasonic sensors in the doors will stop them if they're about to hit something.) There's a lot of flashiness to these — there's not a lot of justification for them — though they make getting in and out of the back a breeze, and they're designed to make it especially easy to install a car seat for a child. Despite that 3.2-second 0-60 time, this is still a family car, after all. The rear and front doors are all motorized, of course; in fact, the driver's side door will automatically close itself if you get in and put your foot on the brake.

The remainder of the interior is Tesla typical: the seats look nearly concept-spec, mounted on thin, shiny posts that open up additional storage space around the floor of the vehicle. (The third row folds down, but the second row does not.) The dash will be immediately familiar to anyone who's seen a Model S, with a full LCD instrument cluster and 17-inch display in the center stack. The user interface, for better and worse, is identical to the S, apart from pictograms of the car that have been updated for the X.

As with recent builds of the Model S, the X features Autopilot — Tesla's semi-autonomous driving system — and the company says that both vehicles will stay in lockstep as Autopilot becomes more advanced and new software builds roll out. At launch, the Model X will only be available with a 90kWh battery — the largest that Tesla currently offers — but Musk says that a smaller capacity option will be available in the future at a lower price. For now, you can only choose between the P90D with or without Ludicrous Mode; a 90D is forthcoming, which is still capable of a sub-five-second 0-60 time. That's incredible, and it would keep pace with my BMW M3 from a decade ago.

It is difficult for the brain to comprehend a car this big moving this quickly

"You know, we don’t really we do marketing. At least, we try not to do marketing," Elon Musk says, introducing the X to a room of journalists. He wants this car to stand on the strength of its specs, not on flashy advertising. And after just a few short minutes with it, I think it's capable of doing that. This car is truly, legitimately insane.

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