A week after Consumer Reports announced that it could not recommend the Tesla Model 3 because of poor braking performance, a software update improved its performance sufficiently to earn the magazine's recommendation.
Consumer Reports announced the update to the Model 3's ratings Wednesday.
In the organization's updated emergency braking tests, the car stopped from 60 mph in 133 feet, on par with the BMW 3-Series, and earned the Tesla a good score. Prior tests measured the braking distance at 152 feet.
Since braking is an important part of Consumer Reports ratings, the car's overall score improved from 72 to 77 out of 100 points, on par again with the BMW 3-Series, and third among compact luxury cars behind the 3-Series and the Audi A4.
"I've been at CR for 19 years and tested more than 1,000 cars, and I've never seen a car that could improve its track performance with an over-the-air update," Consumer Reports Director of Auto Testing Jake Fisher said.
While others, such as Edmunds, have complained about problems with their Model 3s, Consumer Reports bases its reliability recommendations on a collection of reader surveys, not on its own test cars. While it does not yet have representative survey data on the Model 3, the organization is rating its reliability as average, based on the history of the Model S, which is built in the same factory.
With cars that are too new for a sufficient sample to exist in Consumer Reports reliability survey or for the company to have had time to send out and process a survey, it predicts their reliability based on previous models or on that of its closest sibling. Once Consumer Reports receives representative survey data on the Model 3, its reliability score could go up or down, just as the Model 3's test score did after the new braking test. To be recommended by Consumer Reports, a car has to have at least average reliability.
As part of the over-the-air software that fixed the braking issue, Tesla also addressed some of Consumer Reports' complaints about the Model 3's controls on the center screen. The organization had complained that the mirrors and steering wheel could be difficult to adjust from the driver's seat. Now those controls appear in the center of the screen whenever the driver adjusts the seat using physical buttons on the seat.
Consumer Reports initiates Tesla Model 3 software update [CREDIT: Consumer Reports]
Consumer Reports also complained that the Model 3 had a hard ride and excessive wind noise.
In a tweet about the new recommendation, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said that the braking and user-interface improvements will roll out to all Model 3s, and that the company is working to improve the ride and wind noise. He told Fisher in a phone call last week that the company had already made improvements to those areas of the Model 3, Consumer Reports said.
Really appreciate the high quality critical feedback from @ConsumerReports. Road noise & ride comfort already addressed too. UI improvements coming via remote software update later this month. https://t.co/ZMLPJxmPlM— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 30, 2018
Consumer Reports has agreed to rent another Model 3 from Tesla to update its findings in those areas, though they won't affect the car's overall score, because Consumer Reports only publishes formal ratings on cars that it has been able to buy independently.
Musk said that those upgrades are available for existing owners, but suggested instead that to improve ride comfort, owners drop tire pressures from 45 psi to 39 psi. "45 psi is really best range, but lower comfort," he said in a tweet. Otherwise, "unless you're really bothered by them, don't replace," he tweeted.