Tesla updates Model 3 braking software, earns Consumer Reports recommendation

Over-the-air brake update earns Tesla Model 3 a Consumer Reports thumb's up

In an about-face, one week after its original denial, Consumer Report now recommends the Tesla Model 3.

What happened? Telsa’s promised over-the-air (OTA) update improved the Model 3’s braking performance, which was responsible for Consumer Reports’ original decision. The test car now stops almost 20 feet shorter than in the original test.

Consumer Reports found plenty to like when it tested the Tesla Model 3 but had serious issues with the mass-market electric car’s emergency braking performance and user controls, leading its testing group to withhold from the vehicle its coveted recommendation.

Tesla took exception to Consumer Reports’ test results, citing its own testing, in which the Model 3 exhibited superior braking. Subsequently, Tesla CEO Elon Musk spoke with Consumer Reports on Tuesday, May 22, and confirmed the automaker would issue an over-the-air (OTA) update to recalibrate the Model 3’s braking performance. The OTA update was scheduled to happen last weekend — which it did.

The fact that Tesla can update its cars wirelessly, with no intervention by owners, is an impressive convenience. The effectiveness of the OTA update caught the attention of Jake Fisher, Consumer Reports director of auto testing.

“I’ve been at CR for 19 years and tested more than 1,000 cars,” Fisher said, “and I’ve never seen a car that could improve its track performance with an over-the-air update.”

When Consumer Reports retested after the braking system update, the Model 3 stopped at 133 feet from 60 miles per hour, identical to Tesla’s reported factory test results.

Nineteen feet shorter than the original 152-foot emergency braking distance, the improved result topped up the Model 3’s Overall Score high enough to earn the testing publication’s recommendation.

Consumer Reports also noted that Musk told the testing group that some of the controls testers were concerned about could also be adjusted with OTA updates. Consumer Reports also noted that some of the control functions have already been updated.

Earlier chapters of the Consumer Reports Tesla Model 3 story

Recapping what’s happened so far, here are the good points from the Consumer Reports original test: Similar to Digital Trend’s Tesla Model 3 review, Consumer Reports noted the Model 3’s 220-mile, Environmental Protection Agency-rated range with the standard battery and 310-mile capability with the $9,000 optional battery setup.

“The acceleration is swift and its handling is remarkably agile. The interior is uncluttered and nicely finished, and the front seats are comfortable,” Consumer Reports noted, again in tune with Digital Trends’ reviewer.

But then Consumer Reports listed its complaints, primarily braking distance (now remedied) and user control screens, which its testers found distracting and time-consuming to operate. The control screen objections have also apparently been addressed, at least in part.

Digital Trends didn’t test emergency braking distance but did comment on the graphical user control screen: “At first, this all feels too refined, too minimalist. Just an hour later, though, we can’t fathom why other cars have so many screens, dials, and physical controls.”

So it’s possible to chalk up opinions about the Model 3’s user controls to personal preference and experience.

Sixty-to-zero emergency braking performance was the greatest concern in the testing group’s original review. In a follow-up report about its testing and Tesla’s first response, Consumer Reports noted: “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.”

Responding to Consumer Reports and Electrek, Telsa reported that its Model 3’s 60-to-zero factory brake tests averaged 133 feet when equipped with the same tires as on the Consumer Reports tester.

In an identical statement sent to both organizations, Tesla also wrote, “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.”

Tesla CEO Elon Musk also said Tesla would address the issue with an over-the-air (OTA) software update if needed and would physically update any Model 3 at no cost to owners if that’s what it takes. As noted above, Tesla delivered on the promise.

“Very strange. Model 3 is designed to have super-good stopping distance [and} other reviewers have confirmed this. If there is vehicle variability, we will figure it out [and] address. May just be a question of firmware tuning, in which case can be solved by an OTA software update,” Musk tweeted.

“Even if a physical upgrade is needed to existing fleet, we will make sure all Model 3’s having amazing braking ability at no expense to customers,” Musk wrote in a follow-up tweet.

Updated on May 30: Added news about Model 3 braking system update and re-test results

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