Consumer Reports Restores “Top Pick” Rating for Tesla Model 3

Consumer Reports has restored the “Top Pick” rating for the Tesla Model 3 after it passed a rigorous test of the automated braking system. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has also restored the Top Safety Pick+ rating for the Model 3 after previously expressing concerns about Tesla’s decision to remove radar from its Autopilot and Full Self-Driving software for the Model 3 and Model Y in favor of a purely camera-based system.

The IIHS’s latest tests gave the Model 3 its top rating of “superior” for avoiding other vehicles and second-highest rating of “advanced” for avoiding pedestrians. These tests were good enough for Consumer Reports to restore its rating.

“We work closely with IIHS on many things. We are very confident in their testing protocol,” says Consumer Reports head of connected and automated vehicles Kelly Funkhouser. On the topic of Tesla’s switch to a camera-based system, she said only, “We don’t see an issue with it being camera-based systems. All we care about is that it works.”

The U.S. regulatory agency NHTSA seems less than impressed with the high ratings of the Model 3’s braking system, however. It recently added a requirement that manufacturers of vehicles with driver-assist programs like Tesla’s Autopilot report all accidents in which the driver-assist program was active within ten days of becoming aware of them. The NHTSA claims that this is purely for data collection purposes to analyze the safety of driver-assist programs.

Last November, Consumer Reports had downgraded the Model S and questioned the reliability of the newer Model Y in its Auto Reliability Survey. The survey relies on reported consumer experiences that have included concerns about safety. The Model Y got dinged for issues with body hardware and paint and owners of the Model S reported problems with the air suspension, main computer, and touchscreen controls. The Model 3 remained on Consumer Reports’ “recommended” list with very few reported issues.

Consumer Reports has also expressed concerns that Tesla vehicles’ interior cameras could be used to compromise privacy by sending footage of activity that would reasonably be expected to remain private to one of the company’s servers. These privacy concerns could be exacerbated by Tesla’s decision to turn on a camera mounted to the rearview mirror to track driver alertness in response to safety concerns surrounding the Autopilot. Tesla also publishes a disclaimer that drivers should remain alert at all times while using its driver-assist programs on its official website and has booted Tesla owners from the beta testing program for Full Self-Driving because they weren’t staying alert while using it.

The exterior cameras have already proven instrumental in cracking crimes that include vandalizing Tesla vehicles, one case of vehicles on a Californian highway being shot at with a BB gun, and another case that involved a string of hate crimes against members of a primarily African-American church in Missouri. The capture of footage that helped crack these crimes was made possible by Tesla’s Sentinel Mode, which can act as a security monitor for Teslas when their owners were away from the vehicle.

Tesla lacks a public relations department and has not responded to requests for comment on the new Consumer Reports rating of the Model 3.