The Tesla Model X crossover is ubiquitous in big cities like San Francisco or New York City where distances are short and charging options plentiful. But can the upscale, high-tech vehicle also function deep in snowy rural Utah?
To find out, Trucks.com drove a $165,550 Model X P100D on a 430-mile roundtrip journey from Las Vegas to Brian Head, Utah, an elevation of 9,800 feet. It’s the second highest town in the U.S. and highest in the state. Much of the trip was in subfreezing temperatures on icy and snowy roads. We even tried it out on a steep, unpaved climb in the deep snow.
We brought along an expert panel of four snowboarders and skiers to help evaluate the vehicle. They pushed it hard in the snow at altitude. They loaded and unloaded their equipment and even tried out a tire chain alternative to see if the X could get more traction in the worst road conditions. This was part of the Trucks.com Brian Head 2018 Winter Adventure Drive, an evaluation of four vehicles that included the Tesla.
Trucks.com learned the Model X is as capable as any similar sized crossover in the snow but more fun to drive.
“Before this trip I associated the Model X with city cars but driving it in the snow now I categorize it as a trusted mountain car,” said Justin Mayers, an experienced skier from Jackson, Wyo., and participant in the Trucks.com Winter Adventure Drive.
The results surprised our experts, whose daily drivers include a Subaru Outback, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Audi S5 and Toyota Tacoma.
When given the electronic key fob to the Tesla, Arielle Shipe, a yoga instructor and expert snowboarder from Aspen, Colo., questioned the wisdom of taking an electric vehicle into the toughest winter conditions.
“That doesn’t seem practical,” Shipe said, “I was surprised that it was as capable even though it’s a Tesla and it’s the electric car.”
Seat time in the Tesla altered perceptions about what an electric car can do. But that didn’t mean there weren’t wrinkles. For example, a charging strategy is key and requires planning from the outset. The distinctive falcon wing doors also presented both pros and cons when hauling skis and snowboards.
Here’s what we learned:
1. Be winter equipped.
Before planning your route, consider winter tires. Even if your Tesla is all-wheel drive, winter tires will add a layer of security for snowy and mountainous driving. The vehicle we tested was the Model X P100D “Performance” version equipped with winter tires. Its grip and traction were excellent even on off-road trails covered with several inches of snow.
Rear-wheel drive models should have snow chains, or alternative traction devices such as the AutoSock handy.
2. Map charging stations along the route.
Driving the Model X required lots of thinking ahead. “I don’t like stopping,” said Steve Isbell, a snowboarder and attorney from Long Beach, Calif. “When we go on a road trip I like to get there.”
The route from Las Vegas required pausing at the Tesla Supercharger in St. George, Utah. In 35 minutes of charging the Model X gained 159 miles of range, bringing it to a total of 214 miles. That top off was sufficient to power the crossover up more than 5,000 feet of elevation in rapidly dropping temperatures.
3. Find covered parking.
Once at the resort, night temperatures dropped below zero. Keeping the Tesla parked in an underground lot with access to charging continued the next day’s mountain fun.
However, the Cedar Breaks Lodge‘s charging solution in the garage was a standard 110-volt outlet and extension cord. Though it worked, the “trickle charge” wasn’t ideal. In more than seven hours of overnight charging using the Tesla adapter, the crossover gained just 20 miles of range. We had to come up with an alternate plan.
Before leaving the mountain, we stopped at a nearby lodge — The Grand — that had an outdoor Tesla-owned Level 2 destination charger for a quicker top off. In just 30 minutes, we captured enough juice to get the Model X back to the St. George supercharger. Plan to charge to a range equal to the trip distance plus 100 miles before hitting the highway. The next time, we would go to the outdoor Level 2 charger first, get as much juice as we could in the Tesla and then find covered parking.
“It didn’t feel like the battery usage was that much of a pain — charging with the Supercharger is pretty quick, and I was surprised on that,” said Samuel Lippke, a snowboarder and photographer from Long Beach, Calif.
4. Turn on and pre-heat.
During both days on the mountain, our morning ritual included using the Tesla mobile app to remotely turn on the Model X. This process is what Tesla calls “preconditioning.” It warms the cabin and battery so when you’re ready to start driving, range is preserved. Without preconditioning, sub-freezing temperatures could reduce the range.
5. Limit stops and don’t speed.
The Tesla is most efficient at a reasonable and consistent speed. The more stops you make, and the more its speed fluctuates, the more battery power will be drained. Throughout different legs of a drive from Nevada to Utah and back, efficient driving preserved enough range to indulge in acceleration tests and off-road excursions for scenic photos. The crossover will also regenerate power as you drive. Coasting downhill is one way to increase range without a plug. The crossover’s cruise control also keeps it running at peak efficiency.
6. Use a hitch-mounted ski rack.
The most notable design feature on the Model X is its falcon wing doors that open upward. While visually appealing, the doors eliminate any ability to mount rooftop racks or cargo boxes. We used a hitch-mounted ski rack, built by Yakima with Tesla branding, which drew mixed reviews from the experts.
“I actually struggled a lot with the rack,” Shipe said. “I didn’t think it was intuitive. I had a hard time getting it to come down, which would mean it was hard to open the back of the Tesla.”
The rack carried two sets of skis or snowboards, opening more interior space for bags, other equipment or additional passengers. Its second-row seats folded flat for more cargo space. This does create potential trade-offs: the ski rack increases drag, which affects efficiency. It also extends the length of the crossover, which can make parking in tight spaces difficult.
Though there are concessions to using the ski rack, this is the best option.