This past week, I’ve had the chance to try out a brand new Tesla Model X P100D, on loan from Tesla for my use during a trip in and around San Francisco.
Needless to say, the car got a lot of attention, especially given its all-black exterior and high contrast all-white leather cabin styling. And of course, the P100D’s instant, extreme acceleration was a blast to use first-hand, especially on the winding roads looping in and around Palo Alto’s scenic foothills. But surprisingly, my favorite feature ended up being Autopilot, something I haven’t had the chance to spend much time with before.
Bay Area residents are well-familiar with the traffic that clogs the major traffic arteries between Silicon Valley, San Fransisco, Oakland and the rest of the East Bay. Even if you’re not from around here, you may have either experienced it yourself, or you’ve had equivalent misery by way of your own local thoroughfares. For myself, the biggest frustration has been traveling back and forth between a family vacation cabin and my own house in Toronto, using a route that’s incredibly bogged down by traffic most of the summer.
Tesla’s Autopilot system alleviates a ton of this stress, maintaining distance between yourself and cars ahead of you, keeping you centered in the lane and also managing emergency braking should that be required. It’s not exactly new, but it recently underwent a revamp as Tesla introduced its own vision and perception system into the mix.
Based on the two and a half days of my time with the car I spent using Autopilot for a significant chunk of time to navigate California freeways, the system, and its recent updates, all work remarkably well. Even more advanced features like automated lane changes worked exactly as advertised, in some cases even helping me avoid risky merges I might’ve attempted on my own.
The particularly interesting thing about the timing of this test drive is that I also got into an accident in a startup’s Hyundai Genesis, equipped with Level 2 semi-automated features in testing, which was designed to provide the same kind of features as Autopilot to other OEMs, right in the middle of my Model X loan. Despite that, my confidence in Tesla’s own Autopilot software actually grew.
Tesla’s ADAS features never gave me pause or cause for concern, and after my experience with the other company’s system, I was on high alert for the remainder of my trip. It still proved an unshakeable feature in highway driving, especially during traffic, and something I’m going to sorely miss now that I’m moving back to my regular ride.
I don’t want to understate my appreciation for the rest of the Model X experience: The car was a dream to drive, with ample storage and passenger space for me and my TechCrunch colleagues, amazing handling and performance, great sound isolation and a front canopy that made it feel, to quote a colleague, like we were in “some kind of amazing hyper-real virtual reality experience.”
Some of the cabin features weren’t quite as impressive, however: Of particular note, the sun visors are super narrow and do remarkably little to actually block the sun at most times of day. And there’s a little too much in-your-face carbon fiber trim dotted throughout the inside of the car for my liking. In terms of charging and range anxiety, neither proved to be an issue – my hotel had a Tesla destination charger, but that’s a pretty good simulation of what it would be like to have a home charger and use one mostly within an hour’s drive of home.
But the day I got to take it up to the Palo Alto hills and drive the winding roads (with a few decent straightaways thrown in for good measure) was like a micro-vacation. Taking off in this car really feels like actually “taking off,” and if you don’t involuntarily giggle from pure excitement the first time you experience its acceleration at its best, you’re made of stronger stuff than I.
With a price as tested north of $150,000, it’s not the car for everyone. But if it happens to be something you can afford, and you want the storage and convenience of an SUV, there’s no question that this should be on your shortlist.