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Tesla’s Model 3 represents the electric automaker’s first attempt at a more affordable mass-market car. In Consumer Reports’ tests, we found plenty to like about the luxury compact sedan (which starts at $35,000 but goes all the way up to $78,000), 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. Our testers also found flaws—big flaws—such as long stopping distances in our emergency braking test, and difficult-to-use controls.
These problems keep the Model 3 from earning a Consumer Reports recommendation.
The Tesla’s stopping distance of 152 feet from 60 mph was far worse than any contemporary car we’ve 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 our 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.
As its name implies, 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. Our testers get a 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 our 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.”
In our testing of the Model 3, the first stop we recorded was significantly shorter (around 130 feet, similar to Tesla’s findings), but that distance was not repeated, even after we let the brakes cool overnight. Consumer Reports publishes a distance based on all the stops we record in our test, not just the shortest individual stop.
Because we saw some inconsistency in the braking performance, we got a second Model 3 (a privately owned vehicle that was loaned to CR) to verify our results. CR has tested second samples in previous situations to double-check our findings.
When we ran the second Model 3 through the same tests, we got almost identical results.
In our tests of both Model 3 samples, the stopping distances were much longer than the stopping distances we recorded on other Teslas and other cars in this class.
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’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,” Car and Driver Testing Director K.C. Colwell said 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.
Another major factor that compromised the Model 3’s road-test score was its controls. This car places virtually all its controls and displays on a center touch screen, with no gauges on the dash, and few buttons inside the car.
This layout forces drivers to take multiple steps to accomplish simple tasks. Our 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.
These 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.
These performance and ergonomic problems were serious downsides to an otherwise impressive performance sedan. It delivered a blistering 0-to-60-mph time of 5.3 seconds, and its handling was reminiscent of a Porsche 917 Boxster. In fact, our 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 on a single charge—the longest distance we’ve 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 an impressive 310 miles, which is in line with what Tesla estimated for the car. CR tested the Chevrolet Bolt EV and the Tesla Model S using the lower-regenerative braking mode when we compared the range of those two cars.
That much range could make an EV a viable choice as a daily driver for even more consumers.
For detailed findings and specific ratings, see our complete Tesla Model 3 road test.
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