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Consumer Reports Finds ‘Big Flaws' with the Tesla Model 3, Skips Recommendation

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【Summary】Consumer Reports (CR) published the results of a thorough test of Tesla’s Model 3 and found enough problems to keep the car from earning a coveted CR recommendation. Among the issues were ‘big flaws’ including long stopping distances while emergency braking.

Eric Walz    May 21, 2018 12:24 PM PT
Consumer Reports Finds ‘Big Flaws' with the Tesla Model 3, Skips Recommendation

Consumer Reports (CR) published the results of a thorough test of Tesla's Model 3 and found enough problems to keep the car from earning a coveted CR recommendation. Among the issues were ‘big flaws' including long stopping distances while emergency braking.

Tesla's Model 3 represents the electric automaker's first attempt at a more affordable mass-market car. The Model 3 starts at $35,000, but goes all the way up to $78,000 for the dual motor all-wheel drive option.

CR found plenty to like about the Model 3, including record-setting range, thrilling acceleration and nimble handling that could make it a direct competitor to performance cars such as BMW's 3 Series and the Audi A4. CR testers also found 'big flaws', such as long stopping distances in emergency braking tests and difficult-to-use controls.

Brake Performance

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CR reported the Model 3's stopping distance of 152 feet from 60 mph was far worse than any contemporary car they 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 installed on CR's test 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's 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, a global engineering association.

For the braking tests, a test driver accelerates up to 60 mph, then slams on the brakes until the car comes to a full stop. They repeat this multiple times to ensure consistent results. Between each test, the vehicle is driven approximately one mile to cool the brake components to prevent degraded performance due to overheating.

The test are performed at CR's own 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," says Jake Fisher, director of auto testing at CR. "We've conducted it on more than 500 vehicles, and we are always looking for consistent, repeatable results."

The first stop CR recorded was significantly shorter (around 130 feet, similar to Tesla's findings), but that distance was not repeated, even after letting the brakes cool overnight. For accuracy, CR publishes an average distance based on all of the stops recorded, not just the shortest individual stop.

Due to inconsistencies in the Model 3's braking performance, CR procured a second Model 3 to verify their results. When the second Model 3 was put through the same brake tests, CR recorded almost identical results. The stopping distances were much longer than the stopping distances we recorded on other Tesla Model S and other cars in this class.

The Tesla Model 3's stopping distance of 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 Model X SUV.

CR's 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."

"I've been testing cars for 11 years," said Car and Driver Testing Director K.C. Colwell in an interview with CR, "and in 11 years, no car has stood out with inconsistent braking like this. Some trucks have—It was just weird."

The Tesla spokeswoman says the company has the ability to update its vehicles over the air. "Unlike other vehicles, Tesla is uniquely positioned to address more corner cases over time through over-the-air software updates, and it continually does so to improve factors such as stopping distance," she says.

Cumbersome Controls

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The Model 3 Touch Screen Display

Another major factor that compromised the Model 3's road-test score was its cumbersome controls. Almost all of the car's controls and displays are accessible only on the center touch screen, with no familiar gauges on the dash, and few buttons inside the car. This setup requires drivers to take multiple steps to accomplish simple tasks, which increases driver distraction.

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 display. These types of complex interactions with a touch screen forces drivers to take their eyes off the road and a hand off the steering wheel.

Ride Quality

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The Model 3 Rear Seat

In addition, CR reported the Model 3's stiff ride, unsupportive rear seat and excessive wind noise at highway speeds which also hurt its road-test score. In the compact luxury sedan class, most competitors deliver a more comfortable ride and supportive rear seats.

These performance and ergonomic problems were serious downsides to an otherwise impressive performance sedan. The Model 3 can go 0-to-60-mph in 5.3 seconds, and its handling was reminiscent of a Porsche 718 Boxster. Despite the flaws, CR testers found the Model 3 thrilling to drive.

Impressive Electric Range

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In addition, the Model 3 set a range record in CR testing. It managed to go an impressive 350 miles on a single charge—the longest distance CR ever recorded in an EV—when set to Tesla's Standard Regenerative Braking Mode. This mode aggressively slows 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 real-world driving experience of a conventional vehicle, the Model 3 still managed to go 310 miles on a charge, which matches Tesla's estimates. This range could make the Model 3 a good choice as a daily driver for many consumers.

The report is not likely to sway fans of Tesla. The Model 3 is in high demand. In July 2017, when the first Model 3's began rolling off the assembly line, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said it received deposits from nearly 500,000 people wanting to reserve one.


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