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I currently drive an Acura MDX and by the time I heard about and started researching Tesla the Model X had already been announced. For those that don’t know about the cars Tesla has offered or is planning on offering (where have you been??) i’ll cover some background to provide some context.

Tesla currently sells a single car, the Tesla Model S. Previously they sold a two seater called the Tesla Roadster which they stopped selling in 2011. The roadster was their first car but it wasn’t completely built by them — they bought the Lotus Elise and replaced the engine with a motor and did a bunch of other related changes. People who owned the roadster appear to have loved it and Tesla used the platform to prove the desire and viability of a pure electric car.

The Model S is Tesla’s first complete car from ground up. This is a big deal since the last successful car company to start successfully was about 100 years ago. As you’d expect from a small company making a complete complex product from ground up for the first time there was some noise in the early days. Tesla got through that with fantastic customer support and a lot of very dedicated and forgiving early adopters. As Tesla nears 40,000 Model S cars on the road the tolerance for quality issues is dropping rapidly in their customer and target market, but fortunately their quality control and improvements appear to be picking up at the same pace. I’d classify myself as a fairly early adopter but not the type that wants to spend my non-existent free time chasing their service people to fix issues.

The Model X is the next announced vehicle to be produced but is not yet available. The Model X was announced and an early prototype was shown in February of 2012. The date for availability of the Model X has slipped out several times with the latest update of production prototypes available by the end of 2014. There is currently a wait list of about 10,000 for the Model X. They currently plan to start high volume deliveries of Model X in second quarter of 2015 and with that backlog anyone reserving a Model X today probably wont see one until the middle of 2016. Thats if they don’t slip the dates even more.

So what is the Model X? It’s Tesla’s answer to the SUV. Seating for 7 adults (versus the 5 adults + 2 kids configuration in the sedan), all wheel drive (AWD), higher ground clearance, and even more interior cargo room. It’s built on the same battery/platform as the Model S and will be slightly heavier (10%) and somewhat slower than the model S. It is also supposed to cost slightly more than a Model S (10%?). I assume given the weight on the same battery that the range may also be slightly less although i’m sure they’re fighting hard to minimize the loss. Tesla also made a questionable call in putting falcon wing doors on the Model X. This is to allow easier entry to the third row seating and to allow access to the third row when car seats are installed. There are rumors that Tesla may be offering this as an option versus mandatory for everyone. It seems really gimmicky to me.

So now with that context i’ll break the decision down for myself, first the claimed benefits:

  • AWD – this is the thing i’m interested in on the Model X. Living in New England and having driven through several snow storms this winter AWD brings peace of mind. My last 2 cars over the last 13 years have been SUVs and it was very difficult to think about going to a rear wheel drive car as my next step. Sure I can put on snow tires (seems like a pain and something i’ve never done) or I can buy chains (also never gone there). It was hard to get past this one even with 3 other SUVs remaining in the family — you never know what the weather will do in New England. If other things didn’t contribute to the decision for S vs X this would have been the deal breaker.
  • Falcon Wing Doors – this is a huge turnoff. I have 3 rows of seats now and its never been an issue for access. Sure it may be a bit harder than the Model X, but the people that sit in that third row are generally more flexible. Definitely not something i’d want to take a flyer on with unknown technology. If they put drink holders in the doors, what happens? Roof racks? Snow build up? Garage clearance? So many things that i’m sure they’re thinking off but to me its one more complex piece that could have issues, could fail etc and there’s little return value for me.
  • Seating for 7 adults – this is a nice-to-have for me. I’ll be keeping my MDX so in a pinch I can use that. But we only use the 3rd row a few times a year. Most of the time my third row is hidden and I use the extra cargo room and thats just what i’ll have with the Model S.
  • More cargo room – The SUV will have more interior storage space, but with the missing engine and associated bits creating a front trunk (frunk) and a large hatch area with tons of storage I don’t really see this as a need. Again, I have ICE SUVs to fall back on including a massive F350 that gets a silly 13MPG.
  • More ground clearance – I was a bit worried about this because of the snow and poor roads in New England. I’ve read a bunch and it doesn’t seem to be a real problem for anyone except those with tricky driveways. People have never had an issue with my driveway and I don’t visit that many other driveways so this wasn’t a big concern for me.

Now the things that I see as negatives:

  • Delivery date – This is still completely unknown, but likely somewhere in 2016. My Acura hits 200K miles this year and I have a 3rd driver starting in the family this year. If it was available early 2015 perhaps I could wait for it, but from everything i’ve seen it’s unlikely i’d see the Model X before 2016 and thats about a year too far out.
  • Early adopters – I’m getting a Model S at about the 40,000 unit mark. If I reserved a Model X today i’d get one around the 10,000 unit mark. That’s a lot earlier and likely to have more initial quality issues which I don’t have the time or patience to deal with. I need a daily driver that will hold up for many miles over a long time from the start. The Service Center is an hour from my house through rough traffic. It has to work and work well the day I get it.
  • Falcon Wing Doors – Mentioned above, but a real negative for me. They’ve also done some odd experiments with trying to remove the mirrors (failed safety requirements from what I saw) etc. Seems like the Model X is still very much in flux and I don’t want to be the subject of the experiment.
  • 17″ Display – Not sure if anyone else has mentioned this but look at the pictures of it on the prototypes. Rather than being embedded in the dash like the Model S this display sticks up above the dash sort of like the screen is just stuck to the dash. Given the missing grab handles in the car and usual accidents that happen in a family hauler I can see someone grabbing the top of that screen and ripping it off the dash. This is also a major turn off. Could be a by-product of the prototype status but its ugly and not very practical to me.
  • Looks – The Model X looks pretty bland to me. Sort of like my Acura with all the extras I had to pay for stripped off (running boards etc). Its not an exciting looking car and it sort of feels like someone settled on the design. Granted the cars look so much better in real life than on their site and the Model X will probably be the same but for now its not a good looking car to me and there’s no chance of seeing a production prototype in person for another 6-8 months at least.
  • Cost – It costs more than the Model S, that is a bit of a negative too.

So in the end the decision for me came down to this:

Was I willing to wait an extra 2 years for a car with some questionable design decisions at an extra cost in order to get AWD on my next car?

No, I wasn’t which is why I ordered the Model S.

… but I really wish they just put a second motor in the frunk and made the Model S AWD. There are rumors they will but long after the Model X hits the street.