Consumer Reports, although finding “plenty to like” about the Tesla Model 3, including record-setting range as well as exhilarating acceleration and handling that could make it a healthy competitor to performance-oriented cars such as BMW’s 3 Series and the Audi A4, declined to recommend the EV.
Consumer Reports said that its testers found big flaws with the vehicle, such as long stopping distances in the emergency braking test and difficult-to-use controls.
CR said that in its testing, the Model 3’s stopping distance of 152 feet from 60 mph was far worse than any contemporary car it had tested and about 7 feet longer than the stopping distance of a Ford F-150 full-sized pickup.
A Tesla spokesperson told CR that the company’s own testing found stopping distances from 60 to 0 mph were an average of 133 feet, with the same tires as the CR Model 3. The automaker noted that stopping-distance results are affected by variables such as road surface, weather conditions, tire temperature, brake conditioning, outside temperature, and past driving behavior that may have affected the brake system.
CR said that its braking test is meant to determine how a vehicle performs in an emergency situation. The test is based on an industry-standard procedure designed by SAE International. The testers take the car up to 60 mph, then slam on the brakes until the car comes to a stop. They repeat this multiple times to ensure consistent results. Between each test, the vehicle is driven approximately a mile to cool the brakes and make sure they don’t overheat.
The test is done at CR’s 327-acre test facility on dedicated braking surfaces that are monitored for consistent surface friction.
Before each test, we make sure the brake pads and tires have been properly conditioned. We’ve conducted it on more than 500 vehicles, and we are always looking for consistent, repeatable results.—Jake Fisher, director of auto testing at CR
In CR testing of the Model 3, the first stop recorded was significantly shorter (around 130 feet, similar to Tesla’s findings), but that distance was not repeated, even after the brakes cooled overnight. Consumer Reports publishes a distance based on all the stops we record in the test, not just the shortest individual stop.
Because CR saw some inconsistency in the braking performance, it got a second Model 3 (a privately owned vehicle that was loaned to CR) to verify the results. (CR has tested second samples in previous situations to double-check findings.)
The results of testing on the second vehicle were almost identical. The Tesla Model 3’s 152 feet is 21 feet longer than the class average of 131 feet for luxury compact sedans and 25 feet longer than the results for its much larger SUV sibling, the Model X.
CR noted that is experience with the Model 3’s braking is not unique. Car and Driver, in its published test of a Model 3, said it noticed “a bizarre amount of variation” in its test, including one stop from 70 mph that took “an interminable 196 feet.”
CR noted that Tesla responded that the company has the ability to update its vehicles over the air, and that such over-the-air software updates can improve factors such as stopping distance.
Controls. Another major factor that compromised the Model 3’s CR road-test score was its controls. This car places almost all its controls and displays on a center touch screen, with no gauges on the dash, and few buttons inside the car.
CR noted that this layout forces drivers to take multiple steps to accomplish simple tasks. The CR testers found that everything from adjusting the mirrors to changing the direction of the airflow from the air-conditioning vents required using the touch screen.
Such types of complex interactions with a touch screen can cause driver distraction because each act forces drivers to take their eyes off the road and a hand off the steering wheel.
The Model 3’s stiff ride, unsupportive rear seat and excessive wind noise at highway speeds also hurt its road-test score. In the compact luxury sedan class, most competitors deliver a more comfortable ride and rear seat.
The upside. The performance and ergonomic problems were serious downsides to an otherwise impressive performance sedan, CR said. The Model 3 delivered a “blistering” 0-60 time of 5.3 seconds, and its handling was reminiscent of a Porsche 718 Boxster. CR testers found the Model 3 “thrilling” to drive.
In addition, the Model 3 set a range record in CR testing. It managed to go 350 miles (563 km) on a single charge—the longest distance CR has ever recorded in an EV—when set to Tesla’s higher regenerative braking mode (which the company refers to as Standard Regenerative Braking Mode). This mode will aggressively slow the vehicle to charge the battery as soon as the driver removes his or her foot from the accelerator pedal.
When set to the lower regenerative braking mode, which more accurately reflects the driving experience of a conventional vehicle, the EV still managed to go 310 miles (499 km)—in line with what Tesla estimated for the car.