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Testing The Limits of Winter Driving in a Model X

My wife Karen and I have opposing viewpoints on winter driving. She likes to drive an expendable vehicle in case something bad happens. I like to drive a capable vehicle to minimize the odds that something bad will happen. Her choice: a 2004 AWD Sienna with all season tires. My choice: a P90D Model X equipped with a 20-inch rims and Pirelli Scorpion winter tires.

This past winter was the first time I was really prepared for driving several thousand miles on snow and ice, and I’m happy to report that the Model X does not disappoint. A highly optimized traction control means you can accelerate on slippery surfaces much faster than other vehicles with very little risk of a spinout. The vehicle’s heavy weight means unparelled gripping power when turning. And All Wheel Regen (AWR) means you can slow down faster than other cars that rely on mere brakes.

Very little has been said about AWR, but in my mind it’s a huge advantage. When braking, some 70% of the force is on the front wheels, so even with a good anti-lock brake system the ability to slow down on slippery surfaces is a compromise at best. Tesla’s AWR, on the other hand, uses the vehicle’s highly optimized traction control system to slow down, which means all four wheels are used to their full extent to achieve deceleration. The system works so well on the Model X that you have to be careful about the cars that are behind you. They can’t slow down nearly as fast as you can in slick conditions (I almost learned this the hard way; my daughter and I traded vehicles during a ski trip and I narrowly avoided rear-ending my own Model X).

My second favorite winter driving feature is the Model X’s heated steering wheel. Once you order the Winter Driving Package, you can never go back.

The advantage of driving a Model X in winter conditions really shines through on uncrowded highways and freeways. The vehicle is stable and comfortable at 50 mph, even on glare ice. If there’s any question about how slick the surface is, you can twitch the steering wheel and note the tail wag. The weight balance is so ideal that the vehicle just wants to go straight. In the unusual situation that the car varies more than about 30 degrees from its direction of travel, the stability control kicks in and it is pretty effective.

The combination of wind, slush, and freezing temperatures can take a heavy toll on driving range. It’s not unusual to see readings of 500 Wh/mile. The Trip Planner does a pretty good job of estimating required charge levels, but in adverse conditions you may want to double the number of miles you plan to drive in case temperatures drop lower or winds pick up. The Model X’s heater is quite efficient, and is further helped by good seals on the doors and windows. If you’re only running heat for the front passengers, the impact on range is less than 15% down to about 0 degrees F. As such, there’s almost no advantage to turning on Range Mode (it’s better to leave it off, which keep the car’s eyes lit for any fog that might come along). And unless it’s really cold, there’s not even that much of an advantage to turning off the heater. Most of the time when I needed to stretch my range, I’d just slow down, especially on long uphill mountain passes.

Sub-zero temperatures come with their own set of challenges. Around -10 F, the tire pressure drops about 10%, which is enough to start getting low pressure alerts. I carry a bicycle pump so I can top off my tires anywhere, but in temperatures like that it is hardly a pleasant experience taking off your gloves and doing 25 strokes per tire to gain 2 psi. So maybe run your normal tire pressure a bit high if you anticipate driving in really cold weather. Once during a sudden temperature plunge to -15 F while driving from Boise to Winnemucca, I lost all my range headroom (I didn’t have much to begin with) and had to charge from a 14-50 outlet at an RV park in Jordan Valley. It took 45 minutes to gain 10 miles of range because half the energy was needed to run the heater. And once when I was at the Jackson Wyoming Supercharger after an overnight low of -15 F, I had to muster all my strength to endure the three-minute wrestling match that was necessary to plug in. Fortunately it was early in the morning so there was no one else around to laugh. On the plus side, sub-zero temperatures turn the frunk into a mobile freezer. Bringing back some frozen bison from a West Yellowstone market required nothing more than a grocery bag!

Snow and slush can sometimes become a problem. It’s easy to get a thin layer of slush or snow covering the front or rear radar sensors, at which point Autopilot and/or the cruise control are no longer options. You can also get continuous beeping alerts at low speeds because the car thinks it’s about to hit an obstacle. Driving in heavy slush at high speeds is asking for trouble. One time I tore a wheel well liner, which the Tesla Service folks fixed for free. Another time it pushed the plastic trim on the front wheel wells out of position, causing two sensors to become misaligned, which made Autopilot hesitant to do lane changes. It was easy to snap the trim pieces back in place once I figured out what the problem was. Sometimes slush can get into the shocks and freeze overnight. You might notice a bad case of shuddering, as if a wheel is out of balance. It usually disappears within 10-15 miles of normal driving.

Snow and ice can also impair door function, especially wet snow that freezes overnight. Surprisingly, the Falcon Wing doors were no more problematic than the front doors in this respect. The rear liftgate, on the other hand, frequently rebelled from any significant snow weight or from ice on the roof. That might be a good thing in some situations. If there’s a lot of loose snow on the roof, you don’t really want to open the rear liftgate if any of the Falcon Wings are open, unless of course your center-row passengers are looking to make a small snowman in the car.

The Model X grips well in deep snow. Several times I returned home to a driveway covered more than a foot deep, and with the height set at maximum it was no problem driving up a slight incline, even with the nose scooping a few inches of snow out of the way. But caution is warranted when driving over snowplow ridges. Blasting through them is easy enough if you have a decent amount of momentum, but driving over them in the same direction as the ridge is asking for trouble. I high-centered myself twice that way, once at a Supercharging site that hadn’t been plowed right (incorrectly plowed Supercharger sites were only a problem about 10% of the time), and another time when I tried to get around a parked car in the middle of a plowed road. You can get out of a high-centering situation by digging all the snow out from under the car with a small shovel, but it’s not easy or fast.

Finally, I should also point out that while the Model X is an outstanding cold weather vehicle, winter driving involves a lot of wear and tear regardless of vehicle type. My paint finish is worn in places where sand and slush collect. I took a lot of hits from small rocks, and while the windshield held up just fine, I’ve got my share of paint chips. I once drove straight into a snow-covered curb at 20 mph because it looked like the entrance to a parking lot (the damage to the undercarriage was minimal, and Tesla Service fixed it for free).

Throughout my winter excursions, I rarely saw any other Teslas at the Superchargers, even at popular winter destinations. Perhaps this article will help put some winter driving fears to rest. On the other hand, if your main concern is wear and tear, all I can do is suggest an expendable vehicle: a three-year-old Chevy Volt, which should come pretty cheap. Just be sure to buy a set of chains to go with it!

 
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Yinn

Active Member
Nov 15, 2016
2,100
1,925
Behind you
My wife Karen and I have opposing viewpoints on winter driving. She likes to drive an expendable vehicle in case something bad happens. I like to drive a capable vehicle to minimize the odds that something bad will happen. Her choice: a 2004 AWD Sienna with all season tires. My choice: a P90D Model X equipped with a 20-inch rims and Pirelli Scorpion winter tires.

You can get out of a high-centering situation by digging all the snow out from under the car with a small shovel, but it’s not easy or fast
[/WPURI]

After digging my former Subaru Forester XT out several times, I finally got one a portable winch to get me out of being stuck due to high centering. Amazon.com: Master Lock 2953AT 12-Volt DC Portable Winch: Automotive

I haven't needed to use it for the X yet, but it's rated for 2,000lb straight pull but 6,000lb rolling so I expect it to work fine. It can mount to the trailer hitch if you have the tow package or you can use it by itself on the front tow eye. Much better than digging in stupid cold weather.
 
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One reason i wouldn't take MX is fear of some other cheap car hitting you. Especially in snow/ice that is the greatest danger not the fact MX works best. I have also heard from 2 of my friends who have MS, that after an accident it takes roughly 6-8 months to fix things with Tesla, and both situations they ended up totalling and getting a new vehicle. The repair cost and the depreciation due to accident sometimes come to around 60-70% and you would rather have a new vehicle in that case.
 

sleepydoc

Member
Aug 2, 2020
742
937
Minneapolis
The vehicle’s heavy weight means unparelled gripping power when turning. And All Wheel Regen (AWR) means you can slow down faster than other cars that rely on mere brakes.
I have to disagree with you on this. I’m in my 2nd winter driving our Model Y Long Range AWD in Minnesota. We also have a Honda Odyssey and Subaru Forester and previously owned an Audi A4 quattro. All of these do better than my MY. The model Y has good traction control but the rear end will start to fishtail incredibly easily, worse than any car I’ve owned. The traction control kicks in and I’ve never had an issue controlling it, but it’s not confidence-inspiring to say the least.

I don’t have actual data on this, but my suspicions are that it’s caused by several issues:
  1. Low rolling resistance tires are poor in snow and ice. Yes, I still have all season tires on, but the other 3 cars I mentioned above also have all season tires, so I’m making a fair comparison. I know winter tires will help and I will likely get a set next year (they’re already sold out this year) but In general this is the first car I’ve owned where I’ve felt winter tires to be a necessity.
  2. Rear motor bias. From the reading I’ve done, the rear motor is more efficient and so the computer automatically gives more power to the rear motor vs the front motor so as you start to accelerate half way through a turn the wheels are more likely to spin. I still have issues skidding even if I don’t accelerate, so this is a smaller part of the problem, but it does contribute.
  3. No engine - in ICE cars, the engine sits over the front tires. In Teslas, the battery is under the floor in the middle of the car, meaning the center of gravity is further back and closer to the rear wheels. That combined with the heavy weight means the tires have more lateral force placed on them during a turn.
I’ll also say that AWR can be a big liability, too. On dry pavement it’s great, If it’s icy then AWR alone can actually cause you to start skidding. You can control this by feathering the gas pedal, but it definitely takes more skill. Fortunately, the AWR is usually significantly reduced in the cold, so this lessens the impact.

The AWD system is great for getting you going and I’ve never gotten stuck or even gotten close to getting stuck in my MY, but in winter driving stopping is more important than starting and managing corners is more important than going straight when it comes to staying out of the ditch. All things being equal, the heavy weight of BEVs tends to be a liability simply because you have more mass to try and stop.

I don’t think my MY is unsafe, but it is far from the best winter car I’ve driven. I wish Tesla would make a ‘snow mode’ that helps compensate for the above issues. Instead they’ve hidden the controls for the defroster and seat heaters so it would seem they don‘t care about anyone north of Texas or southern California.
 

NovemberXray

Member
Apr 21, 2016
301
404
Portland, OR
FWIW, Having driven the Model X, Model Y, and Model 3 extensively in snow, my experience is that the X is by far the best of the three, and in my opinion the best snow vehicle I've driven, including numerous Subarus, Audi (A4, A3, Allroad, and SQ5), and BMW X5.

Model X was the first Tesla I owned in 2016, so I was very happy that it was just as good as, and in most cases better than, my previous cars in the snow. I was then quite surprised when I got my Model 3 (and now Model Y), by how much worse they are. They still have great traction control, and I would consider them to be good winter cars, but they feel much more "squirrelly", and likely to fish tail, than my previous cars, including the Model X.
 
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sleepydoc

Member
Aug 2, 2020
742
937
Minneapolis
FWIW, Having driven the Model X, Model Y, and Model 3 extensively in snow, my experience is that the X is by far the best of the three, and in my opinion the best snow vehicle I've driven, including numerous Subarus, Audi (A4, A3, Allroad, and SQ5), and BMW X5.

Model X was the first Tesla I owned in 2016, so I was very happy that it was just as good as, and in most cases better than, my previous cars in the snow. I was then quite surprised when I got my Model 3 (and now Model Y), by how much worse they are. They still have great traction control, and I would consider them to be good winter cars, but they feel much more "squirrelly", and likely to fish tail, than my previous cars, including the Model X.
I wonder what the difference is? Motors? Weight distribution? Cost was more of a consideration with the 3 and the Y so it may be that Tesla used a cheaper front motor for them and diverts more power to the rear? That still doesn’t account for the propensity to fishtail even when not accelerating.
 

NovemberXray

Member
Apr 21, 2016
301
404
Portland, OR
I wonder what the difference is? Motors? Weight distribution? Cost was more of a consideration with the 3 and the Y so it may be that Tesla used a cheaper front motor for them and diverts more power to the rear? That still doesn’t account for the propensity to fishtail even when not accelerating.
Indeed, I would love a scientific answer. Both my M3 and MY are performance, so my assumption was that Tesla had simply tuned them to be a bit more sporty, what with track mode, and drifting and all that, but that doesn't really hold up if the LR MY exhibits the same behavior. My wife's 2018, long range M3 is better, but not nearly as good as the X. I wonder if the M3 and MY send power to the front and rear less evenly, e.g. a higher percentage to the rear wheels until slippage is detected, when compared to the X?


I was lucky enough to take delivery of a new 2022 MX on the 28th (after a year wait), and will be driving in the snow tomorrow. It still has the factory all seasons, as I have not had a chance to put on my snow tires yet, but it will be interesting to see how it feels after driving the MY all last winter.
 
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It will help if people post their installed tires. Tire selection, in my experience, makes a huge difference in ice and snow (and type of tire matters for best ice or snow behavior as well. Most tires don't do well on both. Sounds like OP may have had a good snow rated tire on his.)

I haven't had much time on our X, except for a fishtailing incident last winter in our new, to us, X. I was pretty surprised at the time, given I have generally had very good snow behavior in my cars. Over the summer I had to replace a tire and looked at what came with our used X. There were Goodyear F1s on the rear and an all weather tire on the fronts... Needless to say, the F1 is not a snow tire in any respect. The mix of traction response made things very interesting in the X (not in a good way.)

I've since replaced the rears and am looking forward to some test drives if we get a layer of snow. I'm expecting the all around all-seasons (with good snow rating) to make worlds of difference in the behavior. If the traction control is as good as OP says (with balanced tires), I'm going to love the X in the snow...

I can't speak to 3 or Y, but it's possible the response is poor on those models. That's sad if Tesla had good balance on X but did not carry it forward to the newer cars.
 

FirstInTown

Member
Sep 22, 2020
213
297
Northern Wi
I wonder what the difference is? Motors? Weight distribution? Cost was more of a consideration with the 3 and the Y so it may be that Tesla used a cheaper front motor for them and diverts more power to the rear? That still doesn’t account for the propensity to fishtail even when not accelerating.
The 3/y favor the rear motor as it is the most efficient. The Raven X (2019+) got that same motor tech on the FONT motor so it is more like a Front Wheel Drive. Don't know about the balance in pre-Raven S/X.

As for snow going, the X is NOT the best we have. I have replaced the stock tires with Nokian Hakkapellita R3 SUV WINTER tires on the X, our Caddy SRX and our Volt. Three very different cars, all running the same winter tire (SRX and X are AWD, Volt is FWD) I also downsize and go taller, narrower tire when I can. X has 19" Aero Rims from a S and narrower 245 tires vs stock 265/275. Caddy has stock 20" 235s and Volt went from 215/17" to 195/15".

Volt and Caddy are better than the X, all with the same brand winter tires. All I can think is the X is the heaviest by alot and the tires are still too wide. Get float and slip where the Caddy and Volt dig down and grip the road. If I push hard, the X will understeer and plow, where the other two don't as they will grip better in corners. Also the X has a rear-wheel drive bias when come out of a corner under moderate throttle. Back end will get squirly and have the DRIVE the car to keep in line. The stabilitrac, if it has it, is not agressive at all and keeping the car going the direction you want when do something bad on purpose and test the limit in snow.

Volt is the most fun in snow. Can induce a trailing-throttle oversteer that is very controlable. Caddy just tracks when you point it, and the X like to understeer and 4 wheel slide sometimes. (Two came from a company that knows cold and snow from Detroit, The other hid defrost and heated seats buttons for NO REASON. Says alot about snow capacity)

And don't get me started on the X and inability to kill regen on slippery roads. Volt has a D and L shifter mode. D allows a free wheel coast with little regen. L is agressive but not as agressive as a warm Tesla. There are times a car is safer w/o any regen, but NO can't choose that on a Tesla. Unless the battery is a little cold, then 'no regen for you!'
 

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