Consumer Reports raises ratings on Teslas

Dana Hull
Bloomberg News

Tesla Inc. has earned back half the points it lost in Consumer Reports’ vehicle rankings after deploying automatic emergency braking to its recently built electric vehicles.

The carmaker, whose newer models were originally released without functioning automatic emergency-braking systems, has clawed back one point on both the Model S and Model X after losing two each in April. The scores, based on a 100-point scale, could rise further if the updated braking system becomes operational at highway speeds like in earlier models, Consumer Reports said.

“It’s uncommon for a newer vehicle to be less capable than an older vehicle, especially when it comes to safety,” said Jake Fisher, director of automotive testing at Consumer Reports.

The changing scores show the challenges that Tesla, which rolls out features to consumers via over-the-air software updates, can face when there isn’t parity among its vehicles. The cheapest car in Elon Musk’s suite now retails for about $70,000, so consumers looking for all the bells and whistles don’t want to wait for a feature that was supposed to be available by the end of 2016.

Tesla disabled automatic braking when it transitioned to new hardware in October that it said would render every one of its vehicles capable of self-driving at a later date. The carmaker began deploying updates last month in stages but not in time to keep its models from dropping on the magazine’s scale.

The braking update only works on vehicles moving 28 miles per hour or slower, not at the highway speeds of up to 90 miles per hour like in older models, keeping it from gaining the additional point, Consumer Reports said. Tesla says the higher limits will come later in the roll-out, the magazine said.

The deployment of the feature gives the Model S sedan a score of 86, making it Consumer Reports’ No. 2 ultra luxury car, one point behind the Lexus LS. The Model X’s rating moves up a notch to 57, still ranking it near the bottom among luxury midsized SUVs. Consumer Reports said it will re-evaluate the scores once the automatic-braking feature is operational at higher speeds.

Consumer Reports testers have gone from calling the Model S the best car evaluated in 2014, to awarding an off-the-charts rating the next year, to dropping its recommendation of the car in late 2015 over owner-reported reliability concerns. The magazine has built credibility by paying for the vehicles it tests and refusing automakers’ advertising, and Tesla’s stock has surged on Consumer Reports’ praise and plunged when its cars have come under criticism.