Do the “falcon wing” doors work?
Car designers have toyed with upward-opening gullwing doors for more than 60 years, from the iconic Mercedes-Benz 300SL (1954-63) to the ill-fated DeLorean DMC-12 (1981-83) and more recently, the $1.3 million Pagani Huayra supercar (2012-present).
Yet gullwing doors have been fraught with problems. Poorly designed, they are prone to leaks. They can slam into low ceilings. They can even trap occupants if a car flips over.
Tesla seeks to overcome the shortcomings with the “falcon wing” doors on the Model X. If they work, Tesla will have an eye-catching feature to set itself apart. If they don’t, Tesla will have a headache, as with the failure-prone retracting door handles on the Model S.
So, are they a stunt or a success?
To me, they’re highly functional and sure to draw crowds, but they don’t quite feel natural.
Park near another car in a parking lot, and the doors will gauge the distance, folding and rising to open as wide as possible. The driver can open and close the hatches from the giant 17-inch touchscreen in the dashboard. It’s all very impressive.
However, opening the doors is a bit of an ordeal. The falcon-wing doors are slower than regular doors, and they beep a lot. If you’re inside the car, they make unsettling whirring sounds, lacking the visceral thunk of slamming shut a traditional door. None of these are fatal flaws, to be sure, but it may take time for owners to feel comfortable with them.
Tesla’s biggest challenge with the doors was sealing them so they wouldn’t leak. That will be the true test, and one that I could not have tested without sneaking out to a car wash.
Are the backseats as functional as promised?
To understand the design of the Model X, it helps to understand that Musk has five sons: a pair of twins born in 2004 and a set of triplets born in 2006. Sensitive to the needs of large families, he conceived the Model X with decent leg room in the third row and sliding second-row seats that allow for easy entry.
It turned out that the second-row seats were a bigger engineering challenge than the falcon-wing doors, Musk told analysts during an August earnings call. "It's an amazing seat, a sculptural work of art," Musk said, "but a very tricky thing to get right."