2016 Tesla Model X

2016 Tesla Model X

The Tesla Model X electric luxury vehicle has widely been referred to as an SUV or a crossover utility vehicle by the media, the company, and buyers.

And indeed, it's taller and somewhat boxier than the sleek Model S "sedan," which is actually a hatchback.

But we've had some energetic discussions internally about what segment the Model X falls into: Is it indeed an SUV or crossover? Or is it a wagon? Or a hatchback?

DON'T MISS: Tesla Model X Spreads Its (Falcon) Wings: Production Details Revealed

Knowing the passion of Tesla owners and advocates, we suspect there will be plenty of opinions on this topic.

What follows is our take on each of the candidate terms, and how well they may be suited to describing the new Model X--taking into account both physical characteristics and general usage in the U.S. market.

2016 Tesla Model X

2016 Tesla Model X

Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV)

While the terms SUV and crossover are often used interchangeably by car buyers, the industry considers them two distinct categories.

A sport-utility vehicle is a truck-based, usually tall and boxy vehicle. It has a separate frame, either rear-wheel or all-wheel drive, and generally handles abysmally--the tradeoff for robust off-road capabilities.

ALSO SEE: Why Tesla Model X Electric SUV Was Late: Range, Towing, 'Falcon Doors' (Feb 2015)

The Model X has no ladder frame, it's not based on an existing truck model, and its off-road abilities are likely limited to muddy lacrosse fields and gravel estate roadways.

So we can rule out SUV, at least in the auto industry's definition of the word.

Crossover (utility vehicle)

The auto industry defines a crossover utility vehicle (sometimes abbreviated CUV) as a vehicle with an SUV-like body that offers all-wheel drive and has more ground clearance than a passenger car.

2016 Buick Enclave

2016 Buick Enclave

But, crucially, it's not built on a truck platform, but using the unibody underpinnings of a passenger car.

The Model X presently comes only with all-wheel drive, and given the Model S experience, that likely boosts its efficiency over a hypothetical rear-wheel drive variant.

It also has 8 inches of ground clearance, with air suspension that can add or subtract 1.5 inches. That's more than large crossovers like the Buick Enclave, for instance.

2016 Tesla Model X

2016 Tesla Model X

So if you think the Model X sufficiently resembles a classic, boxy SUV, then this definition might work.

Except that it doesn't resemble one by any stretch of the imagination: It's nothing so much as an overinflated Model S fastback.

On the other hand, BMW, Mercedes, and other luxury makers are introducing so-called "sport utility coupes" that are crossovers with fastback rooflines.

MORE: Tesla Model X: Will Falcon Doors Be A ‘Killer App’ Or A Handicap?

Wagon, or tall wagon

The classic wagon, or station wagon, has the same front end as a sedan from the front doors forward, and then a longer, squarer, taller body with a tailgate behind the rear doors.

That definition of "wagon," however, has morphed into a loose "tall wagon" category that include such "square box" vehicles as the Kia Soul, Scion xB, and others. Those have only front-wheel drive and the ground clearance of conventional cars.

By either measure, the Model X clearly isn't a wagon--since it shares no sheetmetal with the Model S, and it has all-wheel drive and substantial ground clearance.

2016 Tesla Model X

2016 Tesla Model X


Then there's the troublesome "hatchback" word.

Technically, it's a body style in which a car forgoes a conventional separate trunk for a hatch or liftgate at the back that opens up the entire rear end of the vehicle--especially with seats folded down--to carry larger items than can be fit into a sedan trunk.

By that definition, the Tesla Model S is not a sedan but a hatchback--though with a fastback roofline very similar to that of the Jaguar XJ and XF sedans, you can be forgiven for thinking it's a conventional four-door sedan with a trunk.

2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class

2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class

Often, like wagons, hatchbacks are identical to conventional sedans from the center pillar forward, just another body version rather than a separate model.

The problem with "hatchback" is that, in the U.S., they are widely envisioned as small, basic, often unpleasant economy cars.

RELATED: Tesla Model Y: Lower-Cost Electric SUV? Deleted Musk Tweet Hints At It

Companies like Ford, which offers its Focus compact car as a sedan and a hatchback, will go to extreme lengths to avoid the "H-word," including coinages like "five-door".

There are a lot of cars with a rear hatch that aren't considered hatchbacks: Take the Mercedes-Benz GLA, which the company insists on calling a "crossover utility vehicle."

2016 Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid

2016 Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid

Granted, it has the AWD and ground clearance of a crossover, but its shape, form, and function are closer to that of a Subaru XV Crosstrek--which is a jacked-up Impreza hatchback.

In the end ... it's complicated.

For now, we think the Tesla Model X is the world's first electric luxury crossover.

But we're open to other points of view.



Follow GreenCarReports on Facebook and Twitter.