The Tesla Model X Is (Almost) the Perfect Winter Car
Driving out of New York City at 5 p.m. on a Friday is a stressful endeavor any time of year. Add some slushy snow to the mix, and it’s mayhem.
But driving the Tesla Model X P100D away from the company’s newest store in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District I was relaxed and comfortable, despite the gridlock.
I approached the drive in Tesla’s top-specced SUV with some caution. It’s been two years since I last drove a Tesla, then a Model S P90D, and that was on a sunny day in early fall. How would such a heavy—and extremely quick—vehicle handle conditions that were deteriorating by the hour?
I needn’t have worried. The car, equipped with a good set of tires, gripped the road and provided the confidence to drive at normal highway speeds. Even with some aggressive throttle there was minimal wheel slippage: the car’s ability to almost instantly send torque and brake the wheels as necessary makes for the least jarring traction control I’ve experienced. The effects of the snow were almost completely neutralized.
By far one of the biggest changes to Tesla’s cars since I last drove one is Autopilot—a driver assistance package that provides a small taste of autonomous driving. Perhaps because the sensors were covered in rock salt, or the road lines were not visible, the system was reassuringly cautious and did not offer me the ability to engage Autosteer for most of my 90 mile journey out of the city.
Tesla’s “Traffic-Aware Cruise Control” or TACC was available, and made the two hours of gridlock slightly more bearable.
Autosteer was available once the roads had been plowed and the slush drained away, This is, to be perfectly clear, is not self-driving as most people imagine it. In its current guise, it’s a driver-aid the same way lane-departure warnings or adaptive cruise control are.
The car would often take a line that was perfectly safe, but was far closer to the left-side barrier on a highway than I, or most human drivers, would naturally take. It was disconcerting enough that I felt compelled to take back control on occasion. I found it worked best, or I felt more comfortable, in the slow-moving highway traffic before I returned the car on Monday morning.
What’s keeping the Model X from being the perfect winter car is unfortunately the physical limitations of battery technology. The P100D has an advertised battery range, in ideal conditions, of 289 miles. I picked up the car with about 90% juice and it was estimating I had 240 or so miles left on the charge. Just over a hundred miles later I was scrambling to find the nearest Supercharger as I’d drained down to 7% battery.
Batteries work within a relatively narrow thermal window, and the car spends battery power to heat and cool the cells for perfect operating conditions. In the 20- to 30-degree Fahrenheit weather I was driving in, the car was spending a lot more power to heat the cells than it would on a balmy 65 degree day in Palo Alto. Compounding the issue is that the car uses more battery to heat and maintain cabin temperatures.
Still, I have a longer than average commute at just over 60 miles, and with conservative driving I’d be able to get to work and back even in sub-zero conditions. And Tesla is reportedly working on a battery pre-heat feature for customers in cold climates. That could come in handy this weekend…