Tesla : Consumer Reports’ best car ever tested

The Model S, an all-electric plug-in car, earned a score of 99 out of a possible 100 in the magazine's tests.

CNN Money
May 10, 2013


By Peter Valdes-Dape­na @PeterDrives

The score would have been high­er but for the fact that the all-elec­tric car does need to stop and recharge dur­ing extreme­ly long-dis­tance drives.

If it could recharge in any gas sta­tion in three min­utes, this car would score about 110,” said Jake Fish­er, head of auto test­ing for Con­sumer Reports. Fish­er called the car’s per­for­mance in the mag­a­zine’s per­for­mance tests “off the charts.”

Depend­ing on price, the Mod­el S has dri­ving range of between 208 and 265 miles. A full charge takes about six hours from an ordi­nary 240 volt out­let, accord­ing to Tesla.

The Mod­el S has already won awards from car mag­a­zines like Motor Trend and Auto­mo­bile, but Con­sumer Reports is wide­ly regard­ed as being the most influ­en­tial mag­a­zine among car shop­pers. Con­sumer Reports, pub­lished by the non-prof­it group Con­sumer’s Union, pur­chas­es all the cars it tests and does not accept paid ads.

The score of 99 means the Tes­la (TSLA) Mod­el S, a sedan that can seat as many as sev­en peo­ple, per­formed as well or bet­ter than any auto­mo­bile the mag­a­zine has ever test­ed. The score is not unprece­dent­ed — most recent­ly, it was earned by the Lexus LS460 in 2009 — but no car at any price has ever scored higher.

Prices for the Mod­el S start at about $70,000, not includ­ing fed­er­al and state tax incen­tives for elec­tric cars.

The Mod­el S tied for the qui­etest vehi­cle the mag­a­zine has ever test­ed, was among the most ener­gy-effi­cient and had excel­lent scores for accel­er­a­tion, brak­ing and ride quality.

We don’t get all excit­ed about many vehi­cles, and with this car we real­ly did,” Fish­er said.
The mag­a­zine’s raves for the Mod­el S stand in sharp con­trast to the treat­ment received by the com­pet­ing Fisker Kar­ma that the mag­a­zine pil­lo­ried, call­ing it “plagued with flaws.” Fisker is now in dire finan­cial trouble.

On oth­er hand, Tes­la just announced its first prof­it and raised sales fore­casts for the Mod­el S.

Indus­try ana­lysts have cred­it­ed the qual­i­ty of the Mod­el S, in part, with Tes­la’s ear­ly suc­cess in an indus­try that has not been kind to start-ups. Just recent­ly elec­tric car mak­er Coda Auto­mo­tive went under and plug-in car mak­er Fisker is near its demise. Tes­la, mean­while, is finan­cial­ly healthy thanks to good sales of the Mod­el S plus deals it’s reached to sup­ply com­po­nents to major automak­ers like Toy­ota and Daim­ler as well as sales of elec­tric car cred­its, earned under Cal­i­for­nia reg­u­la­tions, to oth­er automak­ers that sell few­er elec­tric cars.
Tes­la had pre­vi­ous­ly stat­ed a goal of sell­ing 20,000 Mod­el S cars this year and has now raised that goal.
The ques­tion remains whether the car will con­tin­ue to sell well in the long term, said Todd Turn­er, an indus­try ana­lyst with Car Con­cepts in Cal­i­for­nia. A lot of that will depend on the longer-term depend­abil­i­ty of its bat­tery tech­nol­o­gy, he said.

All kinds of cars have com­plex­i­ties,” he said. “Every­thing has to work for a very long peri­od of time.”

Con­sumer Reports isn’t rec­om­mend­ing the Mod­el S, though. At least not yet. To be rec­om­mend­ed, a car has to have at least aver­age “pre­dict­ed reli­a­bil­i­ty,” some­thing that’s based on read­er sur­veys. Also, a car has to have good crash test scores from the gov­ern­ment and from the pri­vate­ly fund­ed Insur­ance Insti­tute for High­way Safe­ty. Con­sumer Reports has not yet col­lect­ed enough data to rule on the Mod­el S’s reliability.

So far, the mag­a­zine itself has had a cou­ple of minor issues with its test car, Fish­er said, includ­ing a radio prob­lem that was fixed by an overnight over-the-air soft­ware down­load and a cracked windshield.

To main­tain its momen­tum, Tes­la will need to move beyond this car, said Ed Kim, an ana­lyst with the auto mar­ket­ing con­sult­ing firm AutoPacific.

Ulti­mate­ly, Tes­la’s going to have to tran­si­tion from build­ing six-fig­ure cars for bleed­ing-edge ear­ly adopters to mak­ing a car for a more gen­er­al audi­ence,” Kim said.

Tes­la’s next vehi­cle is sup­posed to be the Tes­la Mod­el X crossover SUV but, after that, the com­pa­ny’s plans call for a less expen­sive car and, pos­si­bly, oth­er products