Update: This article has been updated to reflect a Twitter response from Elon Musk, saying that if the company verifies the braking problem with the Model 3, the company will fix customers' cars, even if it requires a hardware repair.
Consumer Reports, the consumer product testing magazine famed for its independence, got its deposit in early for a Tesla Model 3 so it could pass judgment before too many non-Tesla diehards could plunk down month's salary to buy one.
Now the magazine has released its final test results for the Model 3, and they have found it wanting.
When the magazine's engineers tested the car at their test track, they found that it took longer on average to stop from 60 mph in an emergency than any contemporary car, and that it took 7 feet longer to stop than a Ford F-150 pickup truck. That prevented Consumer Reports from giving the Model 3 its recommendation.
2018 Tesla Model 3 Long Range electric car, road test in greater Atlanta area, Feb 2018
The magazine said that the car stopped shorter the first time, in 131 feet, similar to other small luxury cars such as the BMW 3-Series. Since its engineers are looking for repeatable results, the magazine repeated the braking test several times according to standards developed by SAE International on CR's test track, which is monitored continually for surface friction. CR never was able to repeat the first results. The magazine even let the car's brakes cool overnight and repeated the test, and borrowed a second Model 3 from a private owner to ensure it wasn't just a problem with their car. Its results were "almost identical," said the magazine.
In response to the Consumer Reports test, Tesla CEO Elon Musk Tesla responded with a statement saying that the company would address the concerns for existing and future customers. "Very strange," he said. "Model 3 is designed to have super good stopping distance & other reviewers have confirmed this. If there is vehicle variability, we will figure it out & address. May be just a question of firmware tuning, in which case can be solved by an OTA software update. Even if a physical upgrade is needed to existing fleet, we will make sure all Model 3s have amazing braking ability."
Even if a physical upgrade is needed to existing fleet, we will make sure all Model 3’s having amazing braking ability at no expense to customers— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 22, 2018
Patrick Olsen, the magazine's automotive editor, noted that Car and Driver also found a lot of variation in its tests of the Model 3's emergency stopping ability from 70 mph. One stop, Car and Driver's editors noted, took "an interminable 196 feet."
Tesla Model 3 via Model 3 Owners' Club video
The other major complaint centered around the dashboard's touchscreen, which the magazine says "forces drivers to take multiple steps to accomplish simple tasks," such as adjusting the mirrors and changing the direction of air flow from the climate control system. Taking multiple steps for simple, frequently used controls can cause the driver to keep their hands off the wheel and eyes off the road for longer than they would otherwise.
The magazine praised the Model 3's handling, steering, and power, and said it had the longest range of any electric car it had tested, at 350 miles with regenerative braking set on high.
Auto test director Jake Fisher said that while the touchscreen and the rough ride were annoyances, the car could have been recommended if it weren't for the problem in the emergency braking tests. The magazine recommends cars that do well in its testing and which readers report in surveys have above average reliability. If either of those factors is not present, the car won't be recommended.
By contrast, when Consumer Reports tested the Tesla Model S in 2012, it earned the highest rating the magazine had ever given a car, though it also does not recommend the Tesla Model X SUV.
Consumer Reports also released its Top Ten list of cars by category in February and named the Chevy Bolt EV as the best Compact Green Car. The new test results mean that the Model 3 won't displace it unless its braking performance is improved.