By on May 30, 2018

tesla model 3

The Consumer Reports review that criticized the Tesla Model 3’s stopping distance and all-consuming touchscreen seems to have sparked CEO Elon Musk’s recent spat with the media, but a change of heart at CR might cause Musk to think twice about his proposed rating site for journalists.

After the automaker improved the model’s 60-0 mph stopping distance by nearly 20 feet (a feat accomplished via an over-the-air software update), the publication bestowed the car with a “recommended” rating, despite lingering concerns over certain features. Maybe the torches-and-pitchforks crowd can clear off CR‘s lawn now.

In the earlier review, two Model 3 testers averaged 152 feet to come to a stop from 60 mph. A dismal result, for sure — that’s worse than a Ford F-150. Tesla argued its own testing returned a result of 133 feet and demanded CR try it again, but only after the automaker performed an OTA update. Pundits scratched their heads after hearing this. An automaker promising a significant handling improvement via software update? Even CR admits it was “unheard of.”

Dutifully, CR tested a Model 3 with the download. The braking test returned a distance of 133 feet — acceptable, and a match for Tesla’s results, but not not class-leading.

According to the publication, a Tesla spokeswoman said the automaker “improved the software for the Model 3’s antilock braking system to adapt to variations in how the brakes might be used and to respond to different environmental conditions.”

The update also brought slight improvements to the usability of the touchscreen (“user interface”) for minor adjustments like steering wheel reach and dash vent positioning. CR argued these functions were unnecessary and distracting. “At first glance, these changes seem to be an improvement, but we need to spend more time evaluating them,” the publication reports.

Ride quality issues are being worked out in production models, Musk claims, while all Model 3s receive the braking and UI updates. Apparently, the Model 3’s tires are jam-packed with air, as Musk tweeted that drivers who find the ride too harsh can drop the PSI from 45 to 39. It would be interesting to see the model’s range after the deflation.

Nathan Bomey, a reporter at USA Today, asked CR’s director of auto testing, Jake Fisher, whether Musk’s anti-media tirade impacted the new recommendation. Fisher and Musk spoke for an hour following the review’s publication. No pressure, Fisher claims.

“There are still other flaws with the vehicle,” Fisher told Bomey. “Those have not necessarily been addressed. It’s not the top in its category but it’s certainly a vehicle that scores high enough to recommend.”

In the wake of the new report, Musk seems to have changed his tune on CR. The CEO praised CR‘s “high quality critical feedback” via Twitter, which is quite a climbdown from the “consistently inaccurate and misleading” label he saddled them with last fall.

[Image: Tesla]

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36 Comments on “Consumer Reports About-face Brings ‘Recommended’ Label to Tesla’s Model 3...”

  • avatar

    An impressive result, and congratulations to Tesla for making it work and work so quickly. If cars are becoming anything like the software industry, however, there’s no guarantee that at least some of these controversies won’t be reverted or altered in a negative way via subsequent updates after public attention dies down. That’s a scary potential thought when it comes to how slowly my car decelerates. I don’t think I would want to buy one of these right now, but I am probably just ignorant of how my own non-regenerative ABS system is tuned.

    • 0 avatar

      I like the virtuous cycle of “This isn’t working” “ok we can fix it”


      Tesla better start behaving because it feels like the stock holders are a bit skittish about the forward value proposition unless Musk starts reliably addressing production problems and deals with his bull in a china shop twitter personality.

      • 0 avatar

        When it comes to safety, after all the Musk antics, it offers a new appreciation for how completely dull and cautious a company like Toyota is. They speak softly and deliver stuff that just works without excuses or beta testing with customers.

        I won’t deny the man’s talents but the facts show his ego writes checks his vast talents cannot cash. He would do better to dump the Twitter account and stop with all the inflated promises. When Tesla delivers the results speak for themselves loudly. Tesla is largely owned by institutional investors anyway so there is only really the need to carefully communicate to them Tesla’s vision quietly and with precise estimates. Retail investors buying inflated hopes and dreams shouldn’t even factor into the CEO’s mind at all.

        • 0 avatar

          Seems to me that it wasn’t CR that did an “about-face,” but rather Musk/Tesla after all the ranting about how there was nothing wrong with the brakes and that CR didn’t know what they were talking about.

    • 0 avatar

      Wouldn’t it be odd if all of a sudden after an OTA upgrade, your car brakes/accellerates/etc differently?

      Talk about totally severing the relationship between car and driver…

    • 0 avatar

      The whole software update thing is interesting, with potential pluses and minuses. I bought a first-year Ford C-Max Hybrid and Ford had to climb down twice in the ensuing year over its debut MPG claims, ultimately rolling out a mandatory software update to improve MPG. It did improve MPG, but by ruining some of the characteristics I’d loved about the car when I bought it, notably its electric-like silence (replaced with higher and more frequent revving) and meat-locker-like air conditioning (replaced with more eco-friendly defaults). On the other hand, the infotainment system when I bought the car was criminally unusable and had a power leak that killed one 12 volt battery per year, and after a couple of updates it functioned acceptably well and stopped draining the battery.

      Growing up, I never would have thought that cars would be like computers, in that our satisfaction with them would be determined greatly by the last software update.

  • avatar

    Too bad an OTA update can’t download a grille, even a fake one.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m sure you can find one of those fake Rolls grilles they used to slap on VW Beetles to class up your Model 3.

    • 0 avatar

      Nah, I am with Tesla on this. If an electric vehicle doesn’t need a grille functionally then it shouldn’t have a grille. Tesla’s look almost Porsche like with that low, solid nose cone.

  • avatar

    Some transparency would be nice here – what did Tesla do to fix it? Tune the ABS sensitivity? Adjust the energy recover / regen? Honestly its amazing that CR reported this problem and Tesla corrected it so quickly. Its almost like someone already KNEW about this problem and had a solution ready to go.

    • 0 avatar

      My understanding was at the time of the CR test, Tesla was building cars with the upgrade, but had not rolled the upgrade out to sold cars. And CR’s car was one of the ones prior to the upgrade. So Tesla upgraded all of them.

      The only question might be the timing of the CR criticism and the upgrade. Could it have been done sooner, and if so, why wasn’t it. Lives were at risk.

  • avatar

    Best guess is Tesla knew this would be an issue and didn’t think anyone would notice until CR did the test. I doubt anyone who bought the car is going to do the brake test so no one would have complained. This is another example of Tesla putting out a product that wasn’t quite ready to be released.

    • 0 avatar

      That’s why my Model 3 reservation has me about 100000,the in line, and I like it that way.

      • 0 avatar

        Me too, since I’m not even in line. I figure by the time my new 3-year Chevy Volt lease is up, Tesla will have fixed the bugs, ironed out the quality, gotten around to building the base model, and started offering a lease on the 3.

        And if not, I figure I should be able to get a Buick Velite by then.

  • avatar

    Shortening braking distance is not an ABS adjustment as much as it is: …Adding load to the regenerative braking… which feeds a blast of extra current… and extra heat…
    into the battery pack.
    Heat affects battery life. Even short bursts of intense current.
    This is why it was originally calibrated as it was.
    There are always tradeoffs in engineering.

    • 0 avatar

      Should not the disc brakes alone provide ample stopping power in an emergency, without any regenerative braking happening at all?

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      It takes a 60 mph car 3 seconds to stop in 132 feet. You don’t get much regen in 3 seconds, and the Model 3 regen is pretty mild, so I’d argue the tweaks were done to the ABS threshold.

      • 0 avatar

        But how much energy do you get back? IE: it is a short time, but a big spike in voltage? Or would that just overload the system?

        I would guess that in a panic stop the amount of regen is basically zero as physical brakes are being used to their maximum. I assume regen only occurs in coasting or light braking applications. So maybe Telsa was trying to gain some extra mileage with a more aggressive regen program that used less physical brakes. And that combination extended the braking distance since the regen isn’t anywhere near enough to actually stop the car.

        • 0 avatar

          JMII: But how much energy do you get back?.

          I’ve used it to recover a fair amount of power on some long downhill runs in the past (especially I-89 NB in NH before Lebanon NH). Can’t remember the exact numbers but it did put at least 10 miles back onto the range estimate once. I have a leaf that I can adjust the regen aggressiveness and I had to the max that day.

          Regen does get less aggressive when the car is fully charged. I live on a hill and when I coast down in the morning under a full charge, it’s regen is almost non-existent even in the more aggressive mode. You have to give it extra brake pedal and it has the effect of feeling like the full charge is adding extra weight to the car.

          The Leafs aggressive mode can bring it down to creep speed – and a stop if there is an incline. I’ve had it slow down too soon on freeway exit ramps and have had to add a bit of throttle to get it to the end.

          Regen should never overload the car. The control systems will protect it.

        • 0 avatar

          On my hybrid there is no regen when ABS is activated.

  • avatar

    This fault should have been found and corrected long before any model 3’s were sold.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      It’s not really a fault. It’s a performance result that lags other cars.

      After a crash, *everyone* wishes they had another 20 feet.

      Such a comment is a bit ironic from “65corvair”.

      • 0 avatar

        Disagree. If his handle was 64 Corvair then I could agree. But it isn’t. He likes the fixed one with one of the first really decent IRS systems anywhere, no mere semi-swing arm like BMW held on to till the 1990s.

        • 0 avatar
          SCE to AUX

          Just having some fun. I understand the Corvair issues were finally addressed, although I do not proclaim to be a student of them.

          FWIW, I’ve owned 2 Pintos and a Bobcat, so I live in a glass house!

  • avatar

    Which begs the question, Why didn’t Tesla pick this when testing and fix back then. OH wait Testing, We the public are the beta testers for Elon’s BS

  • avatar

    Wow, 45 psi in the tires? Tesla obviously wants to minimize rolling resistance to squeeze out a few more miles of range, at the expense of ride comfort. The question is, is the car heavy enough to get the tire’s contact patch uniform or will Model 3 owners be replacing tires prematurely because the centers are worn out?

    • 0 avatar

      Your fears are overblown. I’ve been running my tires at 40-45psi for the past 20 years, on a 1996 Passat, on a 1997 Civic, on some mid-size GM cars, and on our Odysseys, and I have never had any abnormal tire wear whatsoever, and got almost 70K miles out of the set of Michelin Primacy tires on our 2001 Odyssey and they still had 3/32″ tread evenly across the whole width of the tires.

      • 0 avatar

        I’ve had to *fix* abnormal tire wear by running the tire at the tire manufacturer’s recommended pressure, rather than the automobile manufacturer’s recommended pressure.

        Holy Firestone SUV rollover scandal, Batman!

        Seriously, I had a set of tires during that era which would wear at the edges when pumped down to the placard pressure, but which evened out when run at sidewall pressure.

  • avatar

    Does anyone else feel like this kind of BS just totally discredits Consumer Reports?

    Like what other manufacturer “Negotiates” with consumer reports, and “fine tunes” their cars afterwards to give them better reviews?

    Like the whole process seems sketchy as heck.

    This feels like a highschool cafeteria, not two legitimate companies with legitimate processes.

    • 0 avatar

      My thoughts exactly. Almost as if Elon’s check suddenly cleared and CR decided to do an about face.

    • 0 avatar

      No, because a firmware fix can definitely be a real fix when a car is a rolling comouter on wheels.

      CR was right to call out Tesla for a measurable problem, and Tesla was right to roll out an OTA fix to resolve it in a timely manner.

      This isn’t the 1990s when changing the vehicle’s behavior requires a screwdriver, a torque wrench, or a factory scantool.

      Welcome to the future! I mean the present! Er, whatever… :-)

  • avatar

    I would still have reservations buying a car whose safety features can change via OTA updates so significantly.

    Plus, I have to think the hydraulic system should be able to bring the car to a halt in a reasonable distance alone since ABS does not shorten braking distances.

    I wonder what happens when the software crashes?

    And how does a big honking SUV have better stopping distances?

    (SRT Durango 115′)

  • avatar

    Basic physics tells us that the weight of a vehicle does not affect the stopping distance. Greater weight (mass) does require greater force to bring to a stop, but that is offset by the higher friction force, the normal force of the tires against the ground. In practice, larger vehicles tend to have harder tires with a lower coefficient of friction, and poorer brakes. Pickup trucks often have brakes biased for full load operation, yet are tested in unloaded conditions. Large vehicles also often do not have brakes large enough to do the job.

    A while back, I did a plot of vehicle weights vs stopping distances, using data from the previous 4 years of Road & Track. Results were all over the place. 2 of the best stopping vehicles were the Bentley Continental GT Speed, (5500 lbs) and the Porsche Cayenne (5200 lbs).

    With sticky tires, and bigger brakes, and optimized brake proportioning, I have no doubt that a F150 would equal the stopping distances of a Porsche. That said, we obviously tolerate poorer brakes on big vehicles, with nary a thought.

    • 0 avatar

      > Basic physics tells us that the weight of a vehicle does not affect the stopping distance.

      Seems to me that the rest of your comment is an argument against your first statement. The force of gravity pushing the vehicle’s wheels and the road surface together are only part of the system.

      From basic physics, force = mass x acceleration. Braking is an acceleration opposite the direction of travel. If mass increases, braking force must also increase in order for acceleration to remain constant.

      In order for the braking force to increase often requires larger brakes with more contact surface between pad and rotor and/or better tires with a larger contact patch against the road surface. Other factors include front/rear weight distribution and brake proportioning so that all wheels contribute as much as possible without skidding, as you mentioned.

      • 0 avatar

        Like I said, the factors that tend to make heavy vehicles take longer to stop have nothing to do with weight. Heavy vehicles can have brakes large enough to do the job. They just don’t.

        Heavy vehicles could have sticky tires. They just don’t, tending to have tires that are too small and are biased towards long tread life rather than traction.

        Heavy vehicles could have brakes that are proportioned correctly for the loads they carry, but they don’t Electronic proportioning systems are available that would do the job quite well in a hydraulic brake system, but we tolerate longer stopping distances rather than pay the extra money. Vehicles with multiple axles, like tractor trailers, would benefit greatly from systems like these, even with air brakes.

        • 0 avatar

          I think it’s mostly due to the tires. The brakes on modern trucks tend to be quite large to accommodate towing. They have plenty of heat capacity for a single stop from any speed within the truck’s capability.

          Put 155/80R13 tires on a 3000 lb compact car and it would still have more tread width relative to the weight of the vehicle than most pickup trucks and large SUVs. Additionally, under heavy braking or cornering, the higher center of gravity of the trucks means that more load is transferred to only two of those skinny tires.

          I don’t disagree with your main point though. An F150 would stop just as quickly as anything if the brake balance and tires were optimized for that purpose.

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