Published on April 17th, 2016 | by Kyle Field


Tesla Levels Up The SUV With The Model X — Exclusive Model X Review

April 17th, 2016 by  


Our CleanTechnica tour de Southern California was a weekend chock full of electric vehicles to such an extreme that I went from not having seen a Model X in public to seeing them in what seemed like every other parking lot we looked in. Our first real encounter with the Model X was some quality time with Teslarati Founder Gene Liu’s beautiful black-exterior-with-white-interior X at the Unplugged Performance BBQ & Tour.

We had time to see what junk could be packed in the frunk, what the white interior looked like up close and in person, and even had a chance to try out the seats in the very back … which are typical of 3rd row SUV seats — tight, but still fine for adults to cram into for short rides if you have to. I’ve not been in an SUV that has rear seats that are as roomy as those in the front, and I wouldn’t expect that kind of accommodation for the third row, as the number of times someone actually rides back there is generally extremely infrequent.


Zach in the back of Gene’s Model X | Image Credit: Kyle Field

After a crazy whirlwind of a weekend, we were treated to some quality time with the Model X, as reader Don Baumhefner and his son Max drove down from the Bay Area in Don’s brand new Model X on Sunday for us to poke around in (which Zach already shared his thoughts on).

Luxurious Ride

The first thing that hit me about the X — especially after having driven the S for a few days straight just prior — was the smooth, floating feel of the suspension. To qualify my comment a bit, my Model S has spring suspension but I’ve also driven a loaner Model S that had air suspension and they both had a very sporty, tight feel to them, much like other sporty luxury cars. The S keeps the driver in tune with the road with a tighter feel to the suspension that’s really noticeable on corners and at freeway speeds.

In contrast, the Model X has a more luxurious suspension to it that’s in a class of its own. Conventional SUVs have more plush suspension but feel top heavy, with the top of the car leaning more around corners, bouncing a bit on larger bumps and the like. The X has a secret weapon in the batteries, as they act as a counterweight to the suspension, keeping the bulk of the weight of the car at the very bottom of the car, which changes the entire feel. It’s as if Tesla took the heart and soul of a sports car and gave it just a bit more room in the cabin … and raised it up a bit without compromising on the quality of the suspension.


This was the resounding theme that stood out to me when driving the X, and it affected my mental posture in the car as well. In the S, I have a more eager, anticipatory mindset … ready to go, with the posture of the car and the silent lightning hiding behind the accelerator pedal just waiting for me to give it a green light … like a caged tiger (just ask Zach). The suspension of the X translates into a more relaxed feel that instead says, “come in, chill out, let’s just cruise home in silent comfort.” Maybe it’s just me, but I prefer the chill ride of the X compared to the eager power of the S and I blame the suspension for the difference. (Note from Zach: I actually agree … and did not expect that to be the case beforehand.)

Elevated Seating Position

Beyond the fluffy, floating-on-clouds sensation of the drive, I appreciated the slightly higher vantage point of the X. It’s high enough to provide a better view but not so high as to be awkwardly aloof from what’s happening down below. I had enough of the improved visibility that SUVs offer while also being able to see what was going on around the car. Many SUVs I’ve driven have poor visibility and I appreciated the stance of the X in comparison.

Choreography of Rear Seats

This is a minor point and up there with the falcon-wing doors for me … but I loved watching the various ways the middle seats would dance around at the touch of a button. Need to get in the back? One side and the middle angle forward just enough to optimize room for entry. Need to fold the 3rd row seats down to make more room for storage? The middle seats would move forward just enough to allow the headrests from the rear seats to clear them as they folded down.

Along similar lines, I’m generally not a fan of motorized movement in seats, doors, etc, and the X packs a lot of that in. Obviously, the falcon-wing doors are a huge part of this and are beautiful, the rear seats, the rear lift gate … and the front doors. In my brief time playing with the car, I did enjoy the way the front doors opened with the front handle being an actual button that is depressed to trigger the doors to open up, but I’m curious about the durability of all these moving parts.

My personal preference is to have more mechanical parts, as they tend to last long and fail gradually, whereas electronic components and actuators are either working … or not working … with nothing in between. This might be something that just takes a bit of time to get used to, and definitely feels a bit like the future, but I would need a month or two to see if it’s something I would get used to and enjoy or if it would lose its luster.


Roomy Rear Entry

The falcon-wing doors are one of those features that people seem to either love or hate. For me, they definitely have a “wow” effect to them which is nice, but they are honestly a bit too showy for me. I don’t like a car that screams high tech … or really anything. I just want a car that works. Having said that, they are extremely functional, and having 2 kids in a garage with 2 cars, I could see these doors being fantastic for improving access in and out of the 2nd row (and 3rd row) seats — both in our garage as well as many tight parking spaces around town.

Autopilot for Days

While this is more of a general statement on current-gen Tesla gear, Autopilot is great. Don had not made up his mind about it yet, but I’m all for it. I would love to go on a long trip, slap the car in Autopilot, and just go. That sounds like a fantastic way to travel long distances, as I could read, write, watch a movie, or just kick back and talk without having to worry about the whole driving thing.

The only reason I’m not completely sold on Autopilot today — and why I wasn’t willing to kick down the extra $20,000+ for a newer car with the feature — is that we are currently in various iterations of beta hardware. Basically, I know that the hardware we have today will not allow for completely autonomous driving in the future. And with that … I will have to buy another car in the future for fully autonomous driving. So … while it’s great and amazing and I would get a ton of value out of it, I’m fine waiting a few years for the solution that truly is next gen, that will allow me to literally sleep while the car drives me to … whereever.



Safety is another general feature of Tesla but this truly is huge. The fact that just about every Tesla presentation out there starts with global warming, then safety, shows an amazing focus on what really matters. Tesla isn’t just trying to sell cars — it is selling cars that disconnect emissions from the point of use in a vehicle and allow for a cleaner future that people can control. I can (and did) buy an electric car and some solar panels, and boom … my transportation and home energy emissions drop to nearly zero. It’s fantastic, and I love that Tesla is focused on what matters … first.

Safety is huge because it’s not fun, it’s not sexy, but with 30,000 people dying on US roads each year, I would rather be in a car that’s going to keep me safe than not. If a Tesla Model 3 is otherwise completely equal to a Chevy Bolt (I’m not saying that the two cars are) but the Model 3 is 5 star safety rated across the board, you’ll choose the Tesla every time. It’s important, and I’m glad that Tesla is raising the bar when it comes to safety.


The Model X is the best SUV on the road today, hands down, and I didn’t even mention the instant torque that throws you back in your seat, the supersplendulous windshield, the Supercharging, zero tailpipe emissions, the silence of electric cars, the regeneration that happens when braking, the comfortable seats, the huge touchscreen, the great service, the amazing buying experience, the fuel savings, all the innovation they pack in … I could go on, but I think you get my point.

For me, the Model X isn’t different enough from the Model S to warrant an upgrade, but it is a strong enough contender (for me) to consider it the next time I’m looking for a car.

Zach Model X filming Zach Model X Tesla Model X side Tesla Model X Gene Tesla Model X front Tesla Model X front seats Zach Model X behind Tesla Model X back seats Tesla Model X front low Tesla Model X black Tesla Model X front seats door Tesla Model X from back Tesla Model X 3rd row seats Tesla Model X 3rd row Tesla Model X middle seats Tesla Model X front corner Model X Tesla Model X red 3 Tesla Model X Don Max Zach Tesla Model X Don & Max Don Max Zach Tesla Model X Tesla Model X red 2

Video Credit: Zachary Shahan and Kyle Field | Images by Kyle Field

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About the Author

I'm a tech geek passionately in search of actionable ways to reduce the negative impact my life has on the planet, save money and reduce stress. Live intentionally, make conscious decisions, love more, act responsibly, play. The more you know, the less you need. TSLA investor. Tesla referral link:

  • Neil

    The rear view mirror looks like it’s blocked by the middle seat on the 2nd row….why don’t they just use the rear camera to view on the mirror at all times??

  • Mitt Zombie

    Those doors are just stupid, expected more from Tesla. They are nearly unusable in any place with snow, and dumb in any place that rains! If they happen to fail when in use… have fun driving home with them open!

  • Zachary Pernikliyski

    OMG this was amazing

  • Pete-In-Oz

    Thanks for the great review and video guys as it really did feel like I was there with you guys. Especially want to say thanks to Don and his son for the quality time they spent with you guys. They seem like “top blokes” as we would say in OZ. Unfortunately, the Mod X is still not available here in OZ so I am unable to take it for a test drive as yet. I am very keen to feel that “driving on a cloud” experience you spoke of. Also, I laughed with reminiscent envy when Don mentioned in one part of the video where he had stopped off in Atascadero to have lunch. I used to live just north of Atascadero myself in the mid 90s. Ahh the memories! ?

    • Thanks!

      And shouldn’t be long till you get in one. Kyle had seen 1 before we met up, I think, and we saw dozens in the following few days. They are getting out there… finally. 😀

      • Pete-In-Oz

        G’day Zach. Unfortunately the right hand drive model X’s destined for Australia are not due here until the end of the year, as I understand. I really want to test out the air suspension system you mentioned as I have a health condition that would benefit immensely from such innovation (the autopilot could be of particular interest also). I would love to own an X but the current Australian price is a real barrier. I suspect I will need to wait for one of the Mod E/3s that I ordered (i.e. I ordered 2 – one for me and my oldest son also). Like yourself and Kyle it would seem, I too have a wife who “has to be obeyed” and she is not as passionate about EVs as I am …. though she is starting to come around. And on that front, the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV has been a good intro and a kind of “breaking ground” exercise for her I feel. However, we are still plagued by inadequate charging infrastructure here in OZ and that is unlikely to change as while we have politicians that are to interested in themselves than to deal with real tangible issues. It will be interesting to see what policies they conjure up in our forthcoming elections, now set for (as of yesterday) the 2nd of July this year.

        • The rEVolution will be televised! …but it will also be a few more years in the making, during which, the gaps can and will be closed. The more we all do our part, the faster it will happen 🙂

        • Oh yeah, forgot about the delayed launch in OZ.

          And, yeah, the price is a barrier in the US, so know it must be for all but a super minority in OZ!

  • Nice review, Kyle. I wish me driveway were wide enough for it. 🙂 (wide enough for the Model X, not the review… in case that wasn’t clear)

    • Haha. And honestly, I’m still disappointed that didn’t work out for you! (Seriously.) You were a great source of info and original thought on the TMC forum around this topic, and also a great voice to help keep things from getting too dramatic over there at times.

      • It’s ok. I went through a period of mourning. Then I realized I could buy a house in the Poconos for the same price. And I’m sure I can fit a Model 3 on that driveway. ?

  • Mark Hannah

    You cannot read, sleep or watch TV while the Tesla is on autopilot. Your article is unclear on this and you should clarify it. Operating the car on autopilot requires the driver to have both hands on the steering wheel and be paying close attention to the road so you can take over at any moment. This is what Tesla requires and not doing so can result in an accident. Autopilot is just not ready for prime time. In my opinion they should not have released it in its current state. I have owned and driven an autopilot equipped Model S since the feature was enabled.

    • I thought it was clear that he was talking about future-gen autopilot (full autonomy). The line clarifying that was after the lines about this stuff, though — was it not clarified for you as you read on?

  • Superb review. Was curious what you’d do with it. Busting out the literary flow more and more! Lovin’ it. And your perspective as an attentive Model S owner is really useful here.

    Like you, I have never been into SUVs, but this is the most tempting vehicle on the planet for me (if you don’t count the Model 3 & Y) and just seemed to get so many things *just* right.

  • rsexton

    Great review. Maybe later the cost will down and the range go up or somehow I will get the dollars for one of these. 🙂

    • Thanks! 😀 I’m hopeful for the Model Y coming in at a lower price point as well as I prefer compact utility vehicle size cars myself.

      • Yes, exactly. Think the Y could be an ideal vehicle for us… Hope 3 demand doesn’t push it back too far.

        • Greg Hudson

          I’ve said it before, but we have 3 full blown modern auto factories closing down soon here in Australia… GM, Ford and Toyota, all here in my hometown of Melbourne – the Detroit of the underworld, and where the BOLT was created. 50,000+ people are going to be jobless due to the closures, which is a huge pile of experience to lose. Choosing one or more factories to create the new Model Y would be ideal.

          • Neil

            Why is Toyota closing? I thought they were huge in Aussie, NZ n the South Pacific.

          • Greg Hudson

            The main problem is the size of the market… Total sales of just over 1m cars per year. The Corolla is the best seller (I think) but even that is not a huge seller.

        • I wonder whether the Y and 3 might be released concurrently, and whether that may be “part 2” of the reveal. But that would be risky. 400,000+ people reserved a Model 3 based on what they saw (well, OK, 100K of us made a reservation without seeing anything, but the other 300K had an idea what they’ll be getting). Tesla’s best move now would be to make that prototype Model 3 sedan awesome and then make and ship a ton of them before moving onto the next big thing. And I think it’s more likely that “part 2” is either full autonomous driving or a HUD or both. 🙂

          • Yeah, been wondering about that… would be awesome if they were. Would be useful for us on a few fronts.

            But I agree that it would be riskier.

            Agreed on Part 2. And some other things we aren’t imagining yet.

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