Doors Done Differently – Tesla Model X, BMW i8 & BMW i3

2 years ago by Peder Norby 47

Tesla Model X - all doors open

Tesla Model X – all doors open

BMW, Tesla… Doors done differently.

*A needed disclaimer, I’m an i8 driver and an i3 driver. So bias detection is allowed by the reader.

Car doors are typically generic & mundane, but doors can be so very “aufregend!”

With the BMW i3, BMW i8 and the Tesla Model X, doors can be downright friggin amazing! Gizmos, gadgets, carbon fiber and lightness.

Tesla Model X

Let me be “Captain Super Obvious” here and point out that an engineering overdose, and an engineering reboot was required to provide for the Tesla Falcon doors.

Tesla Model X Falcon Door

Tesla Model X Falcon Door

*Editor’s note: This post also appears on Peder’s blog. Check it out here.

Tesla can rightly lay claim to the most incredible structure ever required to get the doors of a car to open. My guess is this is the last time we will see the Falcon door solution on any production car sold due to the cost and complexity of the door.

For Model X owners this rarity could be very valuable and super exclusive….sort of like the third directional headlight of the Tucker 48 “Cyclops” that rotated the headlight in the direction that you turned the car, an innovation that was 60 years ahead of its time.

Recently at auction a 1948 Tucker 48 sold for $1,567,500

On the other hand, the Falcon doors could be remembered as an unneeded over complicated, over sensored, trouble prone solution to the simple act of opening a door.

Tesla Model X

Tesla Model X

Time will tell if the Falcon doors was a “kitschy gadget” partnered with traditional doors for the front seat occupants, to wow us demanding our attention… or… a great piece of engineering, albeit a complicated one including many sensors, situational awareness, springs and struts that provides a solution to a real problem.

BMW i8

Of the three different doors, I like BMW’s solution of the Swan door for the BMW i8 the best. Swan or Butterfly doors have heretofore been very hard to do, but with the BMW i8, it’s accomplished very simply with a beautiful minimalist approach. Strong fixed attachment points on one plane, Strong and light carbon fiber, and a single strut that’s visible, accessible, easy to inspect and replace if necessary. Due to this very straight forward simplicity coupled with BMW’s increasing use of carbon fiber, I do expect to see future BMW Coupe and Sports models with Swan doors.

BMW i8 Door

BMW i8 Door

BMW i8 Spreading Its WIngs

BMW i8 Spreading Its WIngs

The Swan door provides great functionality for taller drivers like myself by making it much easier to swing the legs in via the much longer door opening. Getting in and out is remarkably easy for such a small sports car once you find your grove. Yes hitting your head can be an issue on the way out, but you only do it once.

For tall drivers in a traditionally doored small car or sports cars, contorting your head, sliding down the seat and leg gymnastics is required every time you get in or out of the car. Some cars you simply just can’t get in or out of. The long Swan doors also provide great access to the 2+2 back seats, small as they are. When opened the doors project just 18″ away from the car. This is a similar or less space than a traditionally operated door requires.

With the BMW i8 Swan doors, It’s a stunning beautiful design that will be easy to maintain through the years. If you look really closely at the engineering of the Swan doors for the BMW i8, It’s a master class of simplicity, lightness and design.

Design matters…

BMW i8 Door

BMW i8 Door

Both the BMW i3 coach doors and the Tesla Falcon doors have some clumsiness associated with them. You must close the rear door in the i3 before you close the front door. You “should” close the front doors on the Tesla X before you close the Falcon doors. Neither of these actions are required on a traditionally doored car.

BMW i3

BMW i3

There’s additional oddities in the BMW i3 coach doors such as the driver and front passengers seatbelt being attached to the rear coach door making it weird dropping off the kids from the rear and having to undo your seatbelt. Parking in tight spaces and using the coach doors can also be problematic.

For the Model X, the Falcon doors are slow to open and close and I can imagine the novelty wearing off quickly as the slow operation of the doors becomes an irritant. Have you ever seen how rough an impatient kid can be on a car door?

Both the BMW i3 coach doors and the Tesla Model X Falcon doors offer greater access to the cabin and ease of entry exit than traditional doors, with the Falcon doors being vastly superior in that important area.

Both Tesla and BMW deserve a lot of credit for giving us innovative, interesting and in the case of the BMW i8, drop dead gorgeous doors.

Doors can be so “aufregend” cool.

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47 responses to "Doors Done Differently – Tesla Model X, BMW i8 & BMW i3"

  1. Dan says:

    I’m going to go with (d) None of the above. There is a certain elegance that comes with simple engineering, where you can immediately see the connection between form and function. All of these ideas look like they were added in by garage hobby geeks. If I had to put my money on it, I would wager that none of these designs will last into the 2020s.

  2. Liz says:

    I love the coach doors in my i3. When I need to put something big in the back seat, the lack of a B pillar is very useful.

  3. Pushmi-Pullyu says:


    Thanks for another informative and well-written article! I always look forward to reading what you write.

    If I may offer two minor suggestions:

    1. The two photos of the i8 doors offer close-ups, but no wider shot that allows the reader to see what they really look like when opened. May I respectfully suggest that you add another photo to the article, such as this one:

    2. This is a minor “Grammar Nazi” nitpick, which I offer only because you generally have very well copy-edited articles, and so I know you do care about such things: You’ve used “it’s” where you mean “its”. Remember, “it’s” = it is, vs. “its” = belonging to it.

    Peder, thanks once again for adding real value to this website.

    1. ffbj says:

      The confusion between it’s and its occurs because with virtually every other word, ‘s indicates possession. Consequently, English speakers naturally want to use it’s to mean “something belonging to it.” But it’s is only used when it’s a contraction of it is or it has.

      The ironclad rule – no exceptions – is that if you can replace the word with it is or it has, use it’s. Otherwise, it’s always its.

      1. Peder says:

        Grammar is a weakness of mine, so are sexy doors 🙂

        1. Jay Cole says:

          I’ve got your back, all fixed up like it never happened…admit nothing Peder! (=

    2. Dane McCalla says:

      The door style is neat. However, I don’t like the idea of getting my head out of the way. Plus, one hinge doesn’t seem like the best way to adequately secure the structure of impacts in a heavy collision. Just an opinion.

  4. England, California, and the BC West Coast all get sufficient rain to get good feedback on the Model X doors soon enough, but a real test would be found in a Florida T-Storm, or Malaysia Rainy Season cycle! Also, Prince Rupert, BC, gets even more rain than Vancouver, so eould be a hood addition to Tesla’s Testing area. It gets more snow, too.

  5. Aaron says:

    The real question is how do the “swan doors” on the i8 really benefit the vehicle’s usefulness. The answer might be that it reduces the radius the door needs to have to open. This is important for a 2-door vehicle.

    The other side of the coin is that it makes it even more difficult to enter or exit the vehicle. Ingress and egress for the i8 is notoriously difficult. Could standard doors have helped this issue? What real problem was solved by having these doors on the i8?

    The “falcon doors” on the Model X, however, have real usefulness. If you have children, carrying them and putting them into a car seat frequently causes you to bump their heads into the roof. The falcon doors increase the headroom significantly so putting children in a car seat is much easier.

    It also makes accessing the 3rd row seats much easier with the wide door. These are real problems with SUV-style vehicles that the sliding doors of minivans already solve.

    The i3’s use of “suicide doors” solves the problem of a short-wheelbase 4-door vehicle having tiny doors. It’s a good solution for such a tiny vehicle.

    For comparison, the Mitsubishi i-MiEV has regular doors in a similarly-sized vehicle but rear ingress is a bit more difficult. With the i3, you can just fall into the rear seats.

    1. jimmyjim says:

      As a supercar, I think the i8 has to address function the least. The doors make people do double takes and drop their jaws which I could argue is the intended purpose. There’s a technique to entering and exiting the car smoothly but it becomes second nature once you get used to it.

      In conclusion, yes, I love the i8 design haha.

      1. ffbj says:

        A supercar? Please.

        1. Stimpy says:

          It’s a supercar, alright, and the market agrees. It’s had no problem selling at it’s $150k price.

    1. Peder says:

      That guy would have a problem getting in and out of any and all sports cars. Height is not his biggest issue 🙂

      1. RexxSee says:

        But it’s funny to see! thanks kdawg.

    2. JJJ says:

      I think guys in BMW should make a spring seat 😀 than you could always get smoothly out of the car if you are big

    3. Richard Needham says:

      I’m betting that he could roll in and out of a Model X with ease.

  6. Priusmaniac says:

    “You “should” close the front doors on the Tesla X before you close the Falcon doors.”

    I wonder if this is true since there is no apparent reason for this.

    1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

      I wonder about that claim, too. Not saying it’s wrong, but I’m curious about why this would be so.

      1. Stuart22 says:

        Body flex with front doors open most likely. Resulting in off-fitting closure of the falcon door.

        I imagine Elon is considering changing the design to a more simple, reliable door after honoring the orders that have come in. Which means he might soon make an announcement putting a cap on orders coming in for the original X with FDs.

        1. RexxSee says:

          “most likely” As an official Tesla hater, you had to find something of course…

        2. Sting777 says:

          Body Flex? Really. Where’d you pull that out of?

          1. Stuart22 says:

            Latched closed front doors should help minimize any twisting as the falcon doors close. The falcon doors are weighty and anchored in the middle of the roof – not a typical structural spot.

            And if an X is sitting on an uneven surface the issue should be easier to see in action.

            1. floydboy says:


              I’ve neither seen nor heard ANY evidence of what you say about body flexing from door use. Wishful thinking perhaps?

            2. RexxSee says:

              Remember the roof of the Model S broke the machine testing it at the NHTSA, and the X’s is even stronger.

        3. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

          Stuart22 said:

          “…he might soon make an announcement putting a cap on orders coming in for the original X with FDs.”

          Many people, including myself, have called for Tesla to offer standard rear doors (or else minivan-type sliding rear doors) on the Model X as an option, but it’s not realistic to believe the falcon wing doors will be entirely eliminated from the “X”. The entire body is designed to allow for those, including the stiffening spine running along the middle of the roof.

          Eliminating the falcon wing doors would require a radical redesign; it wouldn’t be a “Model X” anymore.

      2. Peder says:

        It would be a good question to ask Tesla. I made this comment after seeing a video clip from the first or second Tesla X owner. In that clip it was his statement that Tesla said to him the front doors should be closed before opening the Falcon Doors.

        To be clear, the comment I relied on was from a Model X customer via a video clip and not from Tesla.

        1. quartzav says:

          From the discussion on the Tesla Motor Club that this unfortunate rumor were spread through misinformed Tesla’s delivery specialists. There is apparently no substance to this requirement according to a prominent forum member who has closer access to Tesla’s engineering staff.

          1. floydboy says:

            Quite right quartzav.

            The doors are at their closest when they are closed. As both doors have a fixed plane of arc, once they start moving, they are getting further away from each other.

    2. Ambulator says:

      If you close them at the same time they can clip each other. So far as I know either can be close first.

      1. floydboy says:

        The doors will NOT clip each other!

        Don’t spread FUD! The door swings do not overlap at any point in their travel. The closest they get to each other is a few millimeters, and that’s when they’re closed. There are quite a few videos on the internet of the doors operating simultaneously.

        1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

          Thank you, floydboy and quartzav, for clearing up that misconception. Looks like this is a bad meme which needs to be drowned in the bathtub.

          The idea that any auto maker would be so incompetent as to mass produce a car with doors which would “clip” each other in normal use… well, some people need a reality check.

  7. Warren M says:

    Any disadvantages of the coach doors on my i3 are counteracted by just as many advantages. So with two small kids, and always using them, they aren’t a problem to me at all. Car is easier to clean, load, etc. And kind of a cool looking feature when parked at the EV car shows I attend. With all the doors open, and the excellent HK stereo, the i3 becomes a nice outdoor jukebox too!

  8. Loboc says:

    Wish I could find it. I saw a vid once about a car with doors that went DOWN under the car. With the low clearance nowadays that probably wouldn’t work, but, it was a very cool solution. The door was completely out of the way like taking the doors off a Jeep.

      1. Acevolt says:

        Those are pretty cool.

      2. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

        Awesome! Thanks kdawg.

        I wondered if that was a CGI hoax, a faked video; but no, see here:

      3. Steven says:

        But you’re not showing the large compressed air tank in the trunk.
        Yeah, it had one, I saw it.

        Instead, I’d rather go with the sliding doors found on the Renault 1007. They gave access to the rear seats and only extended out from the car a few inches. (Think mini-van doors) They could easily be motorized for the “cool factor” or not.

        But that’s my 2¢.

    1. Stuart22 says:

      In the mid to late ’70’s GM’s large station wagons had a tailgate which which opened downward and slipped under the load floor, with the back window opening upward into the roof.

      It was a rather clumsy looking design which was dropped with the next generation of big whoppers from GM.

  9. kdawg says:

    These ‘gull-wing’ doors predate Tesla’s.. just a bit.

      1. vdiv says:

        Falcon wing, second hinge that allows them to open in tight quarters. Also they are motorized.

  10. Omar Sultan says:

    Two things:
    1) I have not seen any restriction on which order you open/close doors on the Model X, so would love to see a source for that statement
    2) Telsa has already sunk the R&D expense and built the supply chain for the Falcon Wing Doors–assuming folks like them (and they seem to be getting good reviews so far) you will see them again.

    I see lots of armchair engineers predicting problems with the doors–we will see–we will see, but I tend to have faith in Elon & Co.

  11. mememe says:

    “Parking in tight spaces and using the coach doors can also be problematic.”

    It is funny that Americans are talking about parking in tight spaces. You are just inviting “Top Gear” style American jokes.

  12. Nix says:

    The i3 door design has been used in extended cab pickup trucks since the 1980’s, so it is pretty old technology. And it is generally disliked by truck owners, and has mostly been replaced by regular 4-door crew cab’s.

  13. tiburonh says:

    The suicide doors on my i3 are the one aspect of the car that I hate. They are totally impractical for loading passengers (human or canine) in any location that doesn’t offer a good six or more feet of clearance on the side. Which rules out my garage and pretty much any public parking lot. Meanwhile, regarding the doors on the Tesla X, all I can say is how do these make ANY sense at all? Extra cost, extra risk of failure, and ridiculously exposed in inclement weather. Just one more big reason not to pay the inflated price of this Tesla that is NOT the SUV that was promised, either in terms of its ability to haul more people (other than perhaps double amputees) or more stuff (have you seen how ridiculously limited the load floor is even with the third row “folded”?).

    1. Benjamin says:

      I expect the Model X to be a big hit in the luxury SUV market.

      The performance, efficiency, and wow factor will snag a huge number of Lexus, Audi, etc … SUV customers.