Reports of Bugs and Weak Braking Plague Tesla Model 3

By · May 23, 2018

Tesla Model 3

Nearly a year since the Tesla Model 3 went into production, road-test reviews of the all-electric compact are revealing a rash of quality problems. The most damning of the bad news comes from Consumer Reports, which reported braking distances that were “far worse than any contemporary car,” and from Edmunds, the car shopping website, which wrote: “Sixteen weeks into ownership, we’ve had so many issues with our Model 3 that we started a Google Doc to catalog various warning messages, necessary screen resets, and general failures.”

Both organizations previously gave stellar marks to Tesla vehicles. And they continue to praise many of the Tesla Model 3’s core capabilities. Consumer Reports wrote: “We found plenty to like about the luxury compact sedan, 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.”

CR also reported “big flaws” with the Model 3, such as a stopping distance of 152 feet from 60 mph, which it said was “seven feet longer than the stopping distance of a Ford F-150 full-sized pickup.” Tesla’s internal tests indicated a stopping distance of 133 feet. In a tacit acknowledgment of shortcomings in the Model 3’s braking capability, chief executive Elon Musk said that Tesla engineers were validating changes to the braking system, which would be deployed in an over-the-air update to all Model 3 vehicles. Later, Consumer Reports raised some doubts about the ability to remotely fix the problem, writing, “It would be an industry first if they could improve brake performance remotely.”

Musk also said that the Consumer Reports braking tests were conducted on an early-production model—and that Model 3 cars produced more recently had resolved some complaints, including poor ride quality and excessive wind noise.

Consumer Reports declined to recommend the Model 3 also based on difficult-to-use controls, mostly related to the dashboard touchscreen—where nearly all of the cabin features are controlled. “This layout forces drivers to take multiple steps to accomplish simple tasks,” the non-profit consumer organization reported.

That’s when the dashboard screens and electronics are working correctly. In the vehicle driven by Edmunds in months of local commuting and some freeway trips, the reviewers experienced a long list of glitches including flickering and dark screens, error messages, the car not recognizing its keycard, and an audio system that repeatedly turned on by itself at full volume. Other build-quality issues include uncomfortable rear seats and a vanity mirror that fell off.

In the midst of these complaints, one Edmunds reviewer continued to praise the Model 3’s performance on the road. He said the car was “a joy to drive,” favoring its handling and acceleration over a BMW 3-Series.

The challenge for Tesla will be to address these quality issues while ramping up production. The company has successfully produced about 50,000 Model 3s to date—all of which are relatively expensive versions of the car costing between about $50,000 and $60,000. Musk this week also promised even more costly future performance and all-wheel-drive versions of the Model 3, with a price that could climb to $78,000 or higher.

Meanwhile, Tesla’s big-vision goal of producing an affordable $35,000 version of the Model 3 will likely be delayed until at least early 2019—until the car has been steadily produced at the cost-effective rate of 5,000 units per week.

Update: On May 30, Consumer Reports reversed its decision and now recommends the Tesla Model 3, after an over-the-air (OTA) update that improved the car’s braking distance by almost 20 feet. The new shorter distance is typical for a compact luxury car and matches the 133 feet that Tesla claims its own testing found.

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