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Tesla Model X Review: Kids and Carseats

I’ve been driving my Tesla Model X for a long time now and I finally feel I have enough data to write about it without sounding like an advertisement. We’ve been through a couple of Vegas summers together and a couple of winters. I’ve been thrilled, frustrated, and entertained by my SUV with a personality. Hop in and see what the fuss is all about.

Probably the first thing you notice about the Model X (MX) is the windshield. It’s humongous and when you sit inside, you instantly feel like you’re in a fishbowl. Even though Tesla has tinted the top portion, the sun is still intense during the summer and I did get sunburned during long afternoon drives, so it was a little weird to get in the habit of putting on sunscreen before hopping in the car to run an extended errand (I know, I know—I should be wearing sunscreen all the time anyway but I hate the stuff). The 2nd row has windows in the ceiling as well, which makes it feel even more spacious than it already is.

To access the car, you press on the door handles, which is different than the Model S (MS) sedan, where the door handles pop out at you as you approach it. There’s an option to have the driver’s door open automatically, but when I enabled that option, I had a problem with the door opening and closing wildly in a parking lot when we went to dinner one night so I disabled it. It was pretty hilarious and the guy who parked a space over thought the car was having a fit. That was right after we picked it up and I haven’t been brave enough to try it again to see if Tesla fixed the problem. We also live in an area with wild winds and I don’t want to take the chance of a gust hitting the door and sending it into the car next to mine in a parking lot. Call me less than adventurous if you must.

The falcon wing doors are definitely a conversation starter! The question I’m most often asked is if the MX will drive with them open. Yes, it will :). They open in tight parking spaces, needing only a clearance of 12” on the side and have sensors to detect obstacles on the sides and above. I have had problems with the sensors seeing obstacles that weren’t there, but it’s easy enough for me to close the door and open it again. On the other hand, for a vehicle that’s this expensive, it should work the first time. There’s also a learning curve for new passengers using the back seat door controls for the first time; they tend to press on the switch instead of tap—kind of like the first time a person uses a smart phone.

Storage in the MX on the sparse side. There aren’t many cubbies and places to stash random goodies, just as you would expect in a sleek, ultra-modern design. The glove box wouldn’t hold a pair of gloves; it would dump them on the floor. I’m not sure what they were thinking with that one. There are 4 cup holders for the front seats, 2 in a pop-out in the center console for the 2nd row, and 2 between the 3rd row seats. Tesla did include a frunk (front trunk) in the MX, though it is smaller than that of the Model S, and there’s a deep well covered by a board (yep, it’s not elegant) in the rear trunk. Because the 2nd row seats don’t fold, and the back of the car slopes down, storage for large items in the back is limited.

 

Inside the car everything is sleek and space age-y. The backs of the vehicle seats are black and so shiny you can use them as mirrors. My 2nd row seats are on monoposts (pedestals) and move forward for easy access to the 3rd row. There are options for 3 monopost seats across the center or a bench seat that folds. It’s a Tesla, so the front center console is the equivalent to a 17” iPad, and yeah, I’m not gonna lie—it really is that awesome. Everything is controlled from the screen except for adjusting the back seats and the buttons on the dash for the hazard lights and to open the glove box.

  

   

There are 10 airbags in the MX. The most unique airbags are the ones in the falcon wing doors which deploy up and out of the base of the window to cover the window. The other airbags include the standard driver and passenger side frontal airbags, front seat torso airbags, 2nd row outboard torso airbags, front knee airbags, and side airbags for the front seats. Interestingly, there isn’t airbag coverage for 3rd row passengers.

It’s important to note that while this is a self-driving vehicle, it’s not a driverless vehicle and there’s a difference (technically it’s called semi-autonomous). I may take my hands off the steering wheel for a time, but *I* am still in control of the MX and it is *my* responsibility while it’s in motion. The self-driving mode, called Autopilot, requires driver interaction in the form of hands on the steering wheel from time to time—a jiggle of the steering wheel is enough to tell the sensors that you’re paying attention. This is not a perfect technology so you can’t zone out.

The self-driving mode works in conjunction with the traffic-aware cruise control, though the cruise control does not need to be turned on first. The driver can set a time-based following distance so that when the cruise control is set, the speed automatically adjusts when there’s a vehicle in front of the MX. If you like to maintain a constant speed, this can be frustrating, so you’ll want to set the following distance low and change lanes early so your speed doesn’t dip.

Here’s a demonstration of a lane change while Autopilot is engaged. It doesn’t quite show the abruptness of the movement—it changes lanes like my 15-year-old daughter with about 10 hours of permit driving experience does—but you’ll get the point.

When you don’t want to Autopilot, driving is an enjoyable experience. I find it to be a feeling between a manual transmission and an automatic transmission, but I never have to shift at stoplights. The vehicle has instant power—and I mean serious power—whether from a stand-still or at highway speeds. I have to be a careful driver and not sneak up on drivers too fast and scare them by coming out of nowhere. When stopping, I take my foot off the accelerator and the car immediately starts slowing down; it’s a great way to learn to judge distances. I often don’t use my brakes at all to slow down because the MX will roll to a stop based on friction from the tires on the roadway and the regenerative braking (where the brakes don’t actually engage, but the motor recovers the energy). I will press the brake pedal once stopped to put a brake hold on at a light, though. It’s a stiff, sporty ride: I’ve never been one to make “oof”-ing sounds when I go over speed bumps, but I do in the MX.

The center screen is indeed a computer. When it goes bad, the vehicle goes dead and it’s an expensive repair (we know this since it happened in my dh’s Model S recently). It controls charging, climate, doors, suspension—everything—and you can surf the web! It displays up to 2 apps at a time; I generally have the map app in the upper window and the media app on the bottom. Climate controls display permanently across the very bottom. The backup camera will display in the upper position automatically when the vehicle is placed in reverse or the app can be “permanently” on in one of the windows, though I get carsick if I leave it on ;). It’s fun to do it once.

 

I’ve had the center screen go out on me while driving a couple of times and surprisingly, it’s very disorienting. I generally drive close to home and only use the map’s search features occasionally; it’s much more useful as a traffic guide since it shows real-time traffic flow. However, when the screen shuts down while driving, I lose audio and climate controls. So, if I’m listening to a playlist I’m tired of or a station I want to change, there’s nothing I can do about it. I can reboot it, but it usually requires my husband reminding me how to do it since it happens so infrequently.

Very much of the MX is customizable and saves to the driver’s setting and it’s all done from the screen. All standard driver seating positions are customizable, of course, as well as door settings, suspension, the amount of force required to turn the steering wheel, creep (“on” means it will move forward like a gas-powered vehicle when you take your foot off the brake), garage door settings, and more.

The climate controls do take a bit of getting used to because really, sometimes twisting a knob is easier. The basic controls are at the bottom of the screen at all times: temperature control and the on/off control. However, to control fan speed from the screen, you have to press on the “front” or “rear.” I do have fan speed control from the wheel on my steering wheel, but it’s only for the front seat fan speed. From this 2nd level screen, you make vent choice as well as choose fresh air or recirculated air.

Model X: Kids and Carseats

Installing carseats in the MX is a frustrating proposition. The 2nd row seats that are on pedestals (called “monoposts”) are all one piece, meaning there’s no bight (or crack), and they are comfortably stiff; the padding gives very little so you can’t “squish” carseats down into it. They’re also fairly narrow “captain’s chairs.” I’ve found this tricky for rear-facing only infant seat bases that have anti-rebound bars or an anti-rebound feature to them (like a high edge that rests against the vehicle seat back) because there will be space between the base and the vehicle seat back. The seat belt buckles are flush with the vehicle seats which I like when installing carseats, but hate for booster riders. Buckles that are flush with vehicle seats mean that they’ll never be up and in the way of a carseat belt path; on the flip side, for booster riders, it’s incredibly frustrating for a child with limited dexterity to try to buckle a seat belt over the side of a booster seat into one. Buckle extenders are a huge no-no: they alter the geometry of the belt path and often place the buckle right under the booster arm which no manufacturer allows.

Some high-end carseats that you want to love in this model of the MX are just difficult, like the Nuna Pipa using LATCH. It may work better with the fold-flat bench 2nd row seat that is not on the monoposts since that seat is built differently. It took me a good, long time to come to terms with the Pipa installed with LATCH in my MX. (My criteria for installing carseats in general? I am not willing to spend a significant amount of time or injure myself installing a carseat. If *I* have to spend a 20-30 minutes and end up needing to ice myself installing a carseat, how long is it going to take a less-skilled parent?) I haven’t found any carseats to date that have been incompatible, but I have found many—in all price ranges—to be difficult to install because of the shape and padding of the 2nd row seats.

(Unless I say otherwise, in all pics, rear-facing carseats are not touching the vehicle seat in front.)

          

Tether anchors for the 2nd row are located at the base of the back of the seats; the 3rd row tethers are mid-way down the back of the seats. Tethering is unconventional as well because of the design of the head restraints. Tesla wants tethers on the outboard seats to go on the outside edge of the head restraint; center seating positions differ depending on whether it’s a bench or monopost seat. Britax tethers, which are dual-strapped (V-shaped), go around the head restraint and will need to be tied in a very tight Y-shape or have the tether extender strap ordered from Britax (see pic) to keep from sliding down the smooth sides; otherwise, the Britax tether will be ineffective.

  

The 3rd row is tight. To access the 3rd row, there are buttons on the sides of the 2nd row seats that move the seats forward (and front seats too, if no front seat passengers are detected), including any installed carseats. I installed a forward-facing Nuna Rava and a rear-facing Cosco Scenera NEXT. There are 4” of legroom between the Rava and the 2nd row vehicle seat in front of it. The car warns of driving without the 2nd row seats locked in position, but the manual doesn’t say anything about leaving them in a forward position. I chose the Scenera NEXT because it’s a small seat that can be at any recline once a child is able to sit upright. Even nearly all the way upright, the NEXT is leaning heavily against the 2nd row seat. Also, I give credit to Tesla for including lower LATCH anchors in the 3rd row, but either get a friend to lean over the back and help you pull apart the bight or forget about using them. They are attached to the upper vehicle seat back and there is very little play in the leather; the outboard lower anchors are also tucked behind the shoulder belt. In short, it’s much easier to install in the 3rd row using the seat belt.

The roof line slopes down pretty severely at the 3rd row. I have the Nuna Rava headrest set to its tallest position so you can get an idea of height, but very tall people and children in elevated carseats may not do well in the 3rd row. Given that neither NHTSA nor IIHS has rated the MX yet (though neither rates 3rd row seating positions), and especially since the 3rd row doesn’t have side airbags, I’m cautious about using it too much myself.

     

Tesla does NOT allow belt-positioning booster seats to be installed with lower LATCH connectors when booster riders are using them. They’ve been adamant about this since we got our MS almost 5 years ago. So don’t bother buying the fancy expensive booster with rigid LATCH expecting to use the anchors. As I said about the 3rd row, the seat belt covers one of the anchors anyway. Teach your kids to buckle their booster seats in after they get out.

The individual vehicle seats are pretty narrow, so it will be difficult for kids to buckle themselves in while using boosters because the edge of the booster will be right on the buckle.

Also, I found this to be very interesting coming from a technology company:

As early adopters for both our Model S and Model X, my husband and I knew we were getting vehicles that may have problems both mechanically and with finish. Our MS was one of the first few thousand made and it’s had its problems, but we expected it—we wanted a green vehicle with power manufactured by a visionary company. Our MX has also had some minor issues, but our service center is staffed by excellent professionals who have gone above and beyond, more than any other dealer in town we’ve dealt with for our other vehicles. The MX is so fun to drive and roomy enough to fit the stuff I haul as well. Tesla has fan groups in many cities, including my own, and owners often check out each others’ cars. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been asked about our cars in grocery store parking lots! I can’t write a review without mentioning Elon Musk, the man behind Tesla. Think what you want about him, but he does have a playful side. Check out this Easter Egg from a couple of Christmases ago:

Music: Wizards in Winter by Trans-Siberian Orchestra

We’re coming up on the end of my lease next year and my husband wants to look at less expensive options. My MX certainly has its quirks but I don’t think I can give it up. Oh, I know! Maybe a new one! Yeah.

Pros:
  • It’s electric, so there’s no exhaust (as I remind myself every time I drive behind a diesel dually)
  • Regenerative braking: this alone makes me never want to drive an internal combustion engine vehicle again
  • Instant power: see above Pro
  • Huge windshield takes getting used to, but you have a spectacular field of view with it
  • Myriad of driver customizations available
  • Impressive center screen display and map feature
Cons:
  • Internal storage space lacking
  • Falcon wing sensors can be buggy
  • No 3rd row airbags
  • 3rd row is tiny for both adults and carseat installations
  • Carseat installations can be hit or miss, but definitely interesting. Vehicle seats need more padding.