Last night, Elon Musk introduced the Tesla Model X to the world. We've long known that the all-electric crossover was coming—it was promised in 2013, then 2014 before reaching us this week—and that it would feature those crazy "falcon wing" doors and a drivetrain pilfered from the Model S. But at the official unveiling, Musk told us about a bunch of crazy features we never saw coming.
1 | Those wacky doors
Okay, yes, we've known about the roof-hinged rear doors for a long time. But we didn't know how advanced they'd be. The fully automated falconwings are hinged both at center roof spine and where the roof meets the side windows. They use a plethora of sensors, including what Musk calls the world's first ultrasonic sensors that can see through metal, mounted behind the aluminum door skins. The amount of free space around the door determines how it opens: In a narrow parking spot, the doors open nearly vertically, while in a garage with low overhead clearance they'll swing more to the sides. Musk says they're designed so a parent can hoist a young child into a carseat without having to hunch over, but he admits they were also designed to look cool.
2 | The panorama windshield
Musk and his designers claim this is the largest piece of glass ever used on a production vehicle, and it's a believable claim. The windshield runs from the base of the hood all the way over the two front seats, ending at the B-pillar. To achieve the gradient from clear glass in front of the driver to deep tint over her head, the glass is built with many elaborate layers. "Like a tiramisu," Musk says. The rearview mirror floats halfway up the windshield on a little island, while the sun visors pivot down from the giant A-pillars and magnetically snap into place, anchored on the rear-view mirror housing. "It's definitely the most complex sun visor in history," Musk quips.
3 | A ventilation system that protects from biological attacks
Sometimes, Musk will be halfway through explaining something outlandish before you realize he's not joking. That was the case with the HVAC system in the Model X. "We calculated it," he told journalists. "If there was a bioweapon attack, all you would need to do is get in your car. So we have a button, Bioweapon Defense Mode." Sure enough, it's a setting in the HVAC menu. During the unveiling to customers, Musk claimed this is the first car in the world with a true HEPA filter, and fans cheered as he held up the Model X's yard-long filter in one hand and the paperback-sized filter of a competitor in the other. Side note: The Tesla customers in attendance would cheer about almost anything.
4 | The "Monopost" rear seats
The second-row seats in the Model X each float on a single beefy stanchion. Whether equipped with two or three seats in the second row, each chair can move fore/aft and adjust individually. The monopost design opens up under-seat storage for purses, laptop bags, and the like. While the second-row seats don't fold down, they do motor forward and tilt to open up enough rear cargo space to carry sheets of plywood, two-by-fours, or even a surfboard, a Tesla engineer reassured us.
5 | It's apparently crazy safe and almost impossible to flip
Musk and Tesla engineers claim that the Model X will be the first SUV or minivan to receive a five-star rating in every subcategory—including rollover, where even the best current offerings fall short. "In the Model X, the probability of a rollover injury is half that of the next-best SUV or minivan," Musk says. That's thanks to the extremely low center of gravity afforded by mounting the half-ton battery pack in the floor of the Model X. One engineer said that it lands on its feet "like a cat" in all but the most severe crash scenarios.
6 | Musk kind of regrets making it so complex
There's a lot of crazy tech going on inside the Model X, even by Tesla standards. In his remarks to journalists ahead of the official debut, Musk confided that he probably wouldn't attempt so many outlandish things if he had to start the Model X project over again. "There's far more there than is really necessary to sell a car," he said. "In retrospect, if we'd known the true engineering cost and manufacturing complexity, I think we would have done fewer new things."
7 | But still: Ludicrous Mode lives up to the name
I got to take a very brief test-drive in Elon Musk's personal Model X P90D with Ludicrous Mode. It was astounding. Tesla claims that flipping the Ludicrous switch gives you a 3.2-second 0-60 sprint, an 11.7-second 1/4 mile, and a top speed of 155 mph. All this in a seven-passenger SUV that the automaker says weighs 5,441 lbs and can tow a 5,000 lb trailer. We like the sound of that.