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Here's Why the Tesla Model X Is (Not) an Awful Car

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author photo by Doug DeMuro December 2016

I recently had the opportunity to drive the all-new Tesla Model X, which is a minivan with rear doors that open in a way that makes it look as if, with enough flapping, they may be able to lift the thing off the ground for a while -- which, if you ask Tesla people, is something Elon Musk could totally do with his next software update.

I say this because Tesla people -- a group of car owners primarily concentrated in the San Francisco Bay Area and known for a) their Tesla automobiles and b) their friendly relationship with the local DMV vanity-plate administrators -- are absolutely obsessive about their vehicles. Most automotive enthusiasts, however, aren't quite ready to be so praising. "What is this new... TESLA?" most car enthusiasts ask. "Some tech company? Whose vehicles don't even make noise?"

In fact, most car enthusiasts I've met have been downright mean about the whole Tesla thing. Which leads me back to my opportunity to drive the all-new Tesla Model X.

This opportunity came about via Turo, a service that allows you to rent other people's cars instead of the same old, boring models they have at airport rental places. I love Turo, and I've been using it for a couple of years -- then, Turo decided to give me a budget to rent cars with, so now I use it even more.

I especially felt Turo would be a great idea because I figured, from everything I'd heard, that the Model X would be horrible -- I wanted to be able to give it my unfettered hatred, without the fear of angering some car company. And so, I borrowed a Model X here in Philadelphia and spent a couple days behind the wheel, investigating all the major Model X complaints to find out why it's such an awful vehicle.

I'll start with the rear doors. Tesla calls them "falcon-wing" doors, which is charitable, because they open at approximately the pace of a desktop fan's swivel. But either way, people seem to have two major complaints about the doors. One is that they won't open in garages, and the other is that they won't open if you're parked close to another vehicle. So I tried out the doors in both of these situations, and I'm pleased to announce they open just fine in garages. They also stop before they hit anything and even open just fine when you're parked inches away from another vehicle. In fact, in that situation, they open even better than standard car doors.

So, with the door-related myths debunked, I moved on to the next topic: the screen. By now, everyone knows Teslas have a giant screen in the middle -- a screen so large that if we lived in a movie where Christmas ornaments come to life, the Tesla screen would be Times Square. But this thing freezes all the time, right? Well, I used it constantly every single minute I spent in the car, and I'm happy to report that not only did it not freeze, but it worked perfectly, responding immediately to each touch every single time I used it. I wish all infotainment screens were this responsive.

Next, I tried the Autopilot, which many car enthusiasts have called glitchy and dangerous. I used it on highways and city streets, and here's what I discovered: No, it's not perfect. Once, while I was attempting a lane change, it started to move over with a car directly next to me until I intervened. But it is quite good -- good at reading traffic speeding up, traffic slowing down, lane lines and road curves. No, it's not ready to automatically drive cars all the time (or, frankly, even most of the time), but it's tremendously impressive. Two tugs of the cruise-control stalk, and you feel like you're driving in the future.

The final two major Model X complaints are largely subjective: cargo capacity and range. It's been well-documented that despite range anxiety, most people hardly need an electric vehicle that will travel more than 90 miles on a single charge, let alone the 257 miles supposedly traversable by the Model X I drove. So, while range is dependent on your exact circumstances, I think most people could easily make do with a Model X. As for cargo capacity, it all depends on how much you need to carry. I'll admit the rear isn't huge, but don't forget the front. Since there's no front engine and the batteries are all underneath the car, the hood opens up to reveal even more storage capacity.

So the Model X isn't awful. But is it any good?

I spent an entire day and a half driving the thing around, and this is what I discovered: Just like any car, it has benefits and drawbacks. However, the Model X's benefits and drawbacks are a little different than most vehicles'.

For example, I find the road and tire noise to be a little more pronounced than in a traditional SUV. Drawback. But then again, there's no engine noise. Benefit. Speaking of no engine noise, there's no wonderful sound when you stomp on the gas pedal. Drawback. But acceleration is brutally massive. Benefit.

As for the Autopilot system, it has its flaws -- it doesn't recognize traffic lights or stop signs, for example -- but under the right circumstances (heavy traffic and highways), it's brilliant. Steering is a little vague, though handling is impressive, considering the Model X's heft. I also loved the giant windshield, and I was mesmerized by the center screen, both for how easy it is to use and for how many functions it performs. For example, did you know that you can use the center screen to adjust the rear seats? More on that when I go over all the Model X's quirks in my column tomorrow.

For today, I'll stick to the review and the following conclusion: Just like any other car, the Model X has its flaws and its strengths. And just like any other performance car, the Model X left me grinning for most of the time I spent behind the wheel. The Model X may not be perfect for every person's situation, but I promise it's not awful. It's not even bad. It's a fun car with exciting technology and impressive performance -- and if most car enthusiasts spent some time with one, I think they'd feel the same way.

Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.

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Here's Why the Tesla Model X Is (Not) an Awful Car - Autotrader