Monday, October 5, 2015

So that's the Tesla Model X then.

I write this blog entry having driven a couple of Model S's in the real world (neighbours, friends etc) and having read many reviews of it, I can say in my opinion that it is absolutely not as good a car as many of the reviewers would have you believe. Yes it's fun to drive, yes it's an electric car and yes the performance is wild. But once you get over the initial fun factor of a pure electric drivetrain, there are practicalities that the reviewers all seem to miss. That giant touchscreen is a huge distraction, and in any amount of sunlight it behaves like a giant mirror inside the car, blinding the front seat occupants. Whilst the exterior is well presented, the interior fit and finish in all the ones I've driven has all the finesse of a 1970's Trabant. The panels squeak (especially around the touch screen), rattle and vibrate and the A-pillar panels either side of the windshield constantly pop out of place. The pop-out door handles work about 50% of the time, and the rear seat headroom is awesome as long as you're not over 5ft tall. In a car that costs over $100,000, I find these sorts of problems to be simply unacceptable.
But finding a mainstream review that criticises the Model S is rare. I don't know why but it seems all the journos have been - what - paid off? Have they reviewed versions of the car that the public can't buy? I just can't reconcile my experience behind the wheel with those reviews. Go ahead and call me a hater if you like, but my experience of the Model S is nothing like the amazing hypercar unicorn-that-emits-rainbows that I see reviewed everywhere.
And thus I fear the same will be true for the Model X.
By now you've no doubt seen the initial reviews and videos of the first production Model X's that appeared last week. Already the evidence of the mainstream pro-Tesla bias has become evident with headlines like "it's as awesome as we hoped".
Let's step back for a moment and play armchair-quarterback with the Model X. The most striking feature is obviously the gull-wing doors, but they're only on the back, meaning that if you drive this car as a single occupant like 90% of us would, you'll be using the front doors, not the back. Tesla make a huge song and dance about how the doors can open in super tight spaces - which is kinda cool, sure - but in the real world, if you park that close to the car next to you, (a) you're a total dick and (b) your passengers can get out but you can't because you have regular doors in the front. It's a crazy complex, over-engineered and pointless system that is almost certain to break, and I would not be surprised if they didn't make it into the second production run of the Model X. I bet that v2 will have regular doors which will knock a hundred kilos off the weight, simplify the design and give the car more range as a result. More range should beat novelty doors any day of the week, right?
The second thing that struck me was that they used air suspension. Why? Air suspension always fails. Why not use electromagnetic shocks to adjust the ride height like Audi? The Model X is the perfect car for EM suspension.
The third item is the windscreen - yes, yes it has an amazing panoramic view but that much glass means the thermal load inside the car is going to be massive. In an all-electric car, running the A/C 24/7 to deal with that is going to crucify the range. Plus - go ask Ford S-Max owners how much it costs to replace a giant panoramic windshield like that when it gets cracked. And finally the giant cartoon touch screen / solar reflector makes a reappearance. Why? Why not give us actual physical buttons that we can use without having to take our eyes off the road to read a TV screen?
I suspect all these real-world practicalities will be skipped in the mainstream reviews and you'll be treated to magazines, blogs and websites going completely gaga at the prospect of a new Tesla, because they've all bought in to the PR machine and for one reason or another can't write an objective review of Tesla's cars.


Anonymous said...

People might call you a "hater", but you do make some valid points.
I have never been in a Tesla (S), much less have driven one. So all the information I had was from these "excited" reviews that you mention. It's great to see a different opinion, and better yet, a more objective opinion. They only other "hater" review I remember was Jeremy Clarkson's :)

Coming back to Model X, my personal opinion is that it looks kind of ugly. The first time I saw the rear doors all I could think of is "why?", especially because the front doors are normal. I'll tell you why: so the can also over-engineer that forward-sliding roof rack :) All these stuff are good on a prototype, but not so useful in real life.
Yes, you can get out (of the back) in really tight spaces. So can you from the new BMW 7 series (from all seats), because you don't even have to be in the car when you park it. But, as you said, what about the cars next to you? How would their doors be accessible if you block them with your "novelty" system?

Leaving all the negativity aside, the car industry is moving forward so we should see better designs from well established car manufacturers. And also Tesla has the potential to improve. Here's hoping for a no-nonsense Model 3!

Chris said...

Seems RoadAndTrack agree with me ...

Justin said...

Regarding the air suspension, the Model S has air suspension as well. I haven't done any research to see how that is working out so far. Audi also uses air suspension on many of their cars. I agree (as the owner of an original Audi allroad) that air suspension will likely fail at some point, but the newer systems are much better than what is on my allroad. Air suspension is still the most economical and practical way to adjust the ride height of a vehicle. Electromagnetic shocks from what I have seen so far (Audi, Cadillac, etc) are used to adjust or control damping on the fly, but they can't adjust the car's ride height. Unless you mean fully active EM suspension, which no cars are using yet.