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Car and Driver: Tesla Falcon Wing Doors Are "Pretty Dumb"

By Daniel Sparks - May 23, 2016 at 2:09PM

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Another reviewer is unimpressed with Tesla's falcon wing doors. Were they worth it?

Car and Driver is out with an extensive review of electric-car maker Tesla Motors' (TSLA 4.53%) 2015-launched Model X SUV. For the most part, the magazine was impressed with the vehicle, even saying it "has no competition" and citing the SUV's effortless performance and efficiency. But what you won't find in Car and Driver's review is praise for Model X's falcon wing doors. In fact, Car and Driver had quite a bit of criticism for the flashy double-hinged wings.

Model X. Image source: Tesla Motors.

Too complex?

Tesla's falcon wing doors are packed with technology, including capacitive, inductive, and ultrasonic sensors. These sensors are supposed to assess surroundings -- both above and to the side -- helping them open in custom arches, avoiding objects like other cars and low ceilings. But the doors don't always work right.

"They're probably the smartest doors ever fitted to a car," Car and Driver's Tony Quiroga admitted. But Quiroga wasn't impressed. He proceeded to list a host of reasons the Model X's falcon wing doors don't make sense:

But do you want complicated doors? Mostly you just want doors to open easily, quickly, and provide a large-enough portal to let you into the cabin. Fully open, the Falcon Wing door provides a large entry, but it's still easy to smack your head on the tip of the wing.

There's a wait, too. The Falcon Wing doors take five and a half seconds to open -- six to close -- and occasionally the sensors halt their progress, even when there's nothing in the way. For as smart as these doors are, it turns out that even semisentient doors with echolocation are pretty dumb. And yet, the dumbest part of the Model X is the first thing you will show off.

And Car and Driver wrapped up its review with an official endorsement of regular doors over Tesla's falcon wing doors: "We should also note that there are no other SUVs with gullwing doors, but now we know there's a good reason for that."

Ouch.

Car and Driver joins more criticism for the doors from other reviewers. Auto Blog, for instance, noted in a March review of Model X that the doors "have a tendency not to open because they sense something in their way, even when the coast was clear." Further, the doors don't always close correctly either, "jutting out maybe 1/8th inch from the body sometimes," Auto Blog said.

In April, The Wall Street Journal shared some customer anecdotes of Model X door issues, including one instance where the doors wouldn't even open.

To be fair, Tesla emphasized in its first-quarter shareholder letter earlier this month that the company has recently hit some important internal milestones when it comes to improving the quality of Model X production. It's likely, therefore, that Tesla is making inroads on solving some of these issues.

However, the Model X falcon wing door problems highlighted so far make it difficult to imagine them working as flawlessly as the traditional single-hinged door.

So, why Falcon Wing doors?

It's inevitable that such complex doors will be accompanied by a range of issues -- even after Tesla's production of the vehicle is moving more smoothly. This is simply the nature of such a complex door.

This begs the question: Why does Tesla believe in the doors strongly enough to actually bring them to market?

Model X with falcon wing doors deployed. Image source: Tesla Motors.

While there are some serious drawbacks, reviewers have admitted to some benefits, too, including style, greater space for entering and exiting the back seats, and usefulness in tight spaces (when operating correctly.) And a case can also be made that the flashy doors serve as a marketing tool for the company, drawing eyeballs, pulling foot traffic into Tesla stores, and initiating conversations between potential customers and Model X owners about electric vehicles.

But are the winged doors' benefits worth their troubles?

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