Mr. Green Car: Tesla update: Tesla X crossover SUV and Model P85D

By Allen Penticoff
Freelance Writer

As has been reported many times in this column in the past, I keep a close eye on what is happening with Tesla Motors, makers of the most advanced electric cars available to the public. This week, I’ll report on the Tesla X crossover SUV and the new Model P85D — which is the performance version of the Model S.

First of all, the little two-seat Roadster had a production run of about 2,000 units and is no longer being produced. Emphasis has been made on making the Model S sedan a profitable car. So far, 20,000 of those have been sold. The Tesla X, an all-wheel drive crossover SUV (CUV), has been in the works for several years, with the production roll-out date set back several times — the latest forecast is to see them on the street by summer of 2015 (20,000 $5,000 reservations have already been made). In researching this article, I came to find out that the Model S has three new variants. AWD has been added to the drivetrain options, along with two different battery packs (60 kwh and 85 kwh) and a performance version — the P85D. The letter “D,” for dual, designates a Tesla with two motors/AWD.

First, I’ll report on the Tesla X, as I’ve referred to it in previous columns without describing it. The Model X is intended to be more the everyman’s Tesla. Americans like a big, roomy high feel in their vehicles. They like the security of all-wheel drive, even though they don’t go off-roading. The X is not an off-road vehicle, but with two 188-horsepower electric motors driving all the wheels, its acceleration will be of the sling-shot variety. Spurting out into traffic will be no problem. Range with the larger 85 kwh battery pack should be similar to the Model S 85D of 295 miles. You will also be able to take advantage of the national network of Tesla Superchargers to keep you going on a long interstate trip.

Originally, the seven-seat Model X was to have video cameras in place of side-view mirrors, but this good idea has been stymied by outdated U.S. vehicle regulations — in time, we should see them, and they’ll be a big improvement in safety. Very unique to the Model X will be the Mercedes 300SL “gullwing” doors that lift up rather than swing out. Tesla is calling their version “Falcon doors.” Whatever. In any case, as long as you watch out for them bumping into something overhead in your garage, a 6-foot person can walk under an open Falcon door, step in, and sit down. That should have a lot of appeal. There will also be a rear hatch over the generous cargo area — and a front hatch, or “frunk,” as Tesla calls it, for a smaller cargo area à la an old VW Beetle or Chevy Corvair. In keeping with its price range (which has not been published), the interior will be first class and quite comfy. Tesla depends on two large flat touch screens in the Model S for all information and control of things, and I’d expect the same of the Model X. This model of Tesla will compare well with a Porsche Cayenne, but perhaps priced lower as the new Tesla battery factory comes online. I certainly look forward to driving the Model X in the future. Heck, I’ve still yet to drive a Model S — and I see them around Rockford.

With the release of the three new AWD versions of the model S, Tesla is already working out the bugs for their two-motor AWD system planned for the Model X. Both the Model S 60D and 85D have identical 188-horsepower electric motors front and rear. That’s 376 horsepower, putting massive instant torque to the ground. Quick is an understatement, but if that isn’t fast enough for you, then truly high-performance Model S P85D (adding a P for performance) weighs in with a 221 horsepower front motor and a 470 horsepower rear motor — combining to produce a whopping 691 horsepower and a 0-60 mph acceleration of 3.2 seconds. The P85D will have a 275-mile range and a 155 mph top speed (but not at the same time). From personal experience with my Volt, putting your foot down to demonstrate your excellent acceleration really gobbles up the KWH. Still, with a 275-mile range, you can splurge a little. While not official, I’d heard that Tesla has been having transmission troubles with the Model S, precisely because of so many “acceleration demonstrations.” It would take a very tough transmission and drive system to absorb the instant input of 687 foot pounds of torque. So, my guess is that they’ve worked this out with the P85D, since its purpose in life is to … wow your friends with quarter mile times of 11.8 seconds. The P85D also has the handling cred of a race car, with glued-to-the-road lateral acceleration measuring 1.0 Gs (1.0G is the holy grail of sports car handling — few come close). Look for the big red brake calipers to spot a P85D from an ordinary Model S.

If the performance of the P85D were not impressive enough, Tesla includes their new autopilot system. With a 360-degree sonar/radar monitoring traffic and hazards — and a display on the screen of what is where — it ties into an auto driving system featuring tunable electro-mechanical brakes and self-steering. The system will follow what the traffic is doing and slow you to a stop if need be — easy or hard. Changing lanes, flip the turn signal lever and the car will go there. If you try to do it yourself, and the computer system thinks you need to be alerted, the steering wheel will vibrate to get your attention. It goes without saying that if you have to ask the price of the P85D, you can’t afford one. But this is one Tesla I’d REALLY want to take for a test drive — on a track!

Worldwide, there are 500,000 plug-in electric vehicles on the road — 250,000 in the U.S., mostly in California. As more practical models like the Tesla X appear in the market, we can expect an ever-increasing percentage of the new vehicle market will be electric drive. For a statistic-filled (and too boring for a column) update on worldwide implementation of electric vehicles, go to Wikipedia and search for “electric_car_use_by_country” — there, you will find Norway has the highest per-capita use of EVs, while the U.S.A. has the greatest number on the road, but ranks eighth in per-capita use. Buy an EV, drive it, and help make us No. 1!

From the Oct. 15-21, 2014, issue

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