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Consumer Reports downgrades the Tesla Model S for dumb, stupid reasons

Published Apr 26th, 2017 4:44PM EDT
Tesla Model S Consumer Reports

Consumer Reports, an independent testing agency that also likes generating headlines, has downgraded its rating of the new Tesla Model S. It’s now at at a score of 85, dropping it from first to third in the ultraluxury car rankings.

The reason? A delayed software update that’s finally arriving for owners tomorrow. But apparently, that’s one day too late for Consumer Reports and its eagle-eyed team of independent experts.

The issue centers around the emergency braking system in the new versions of the Tesla Model S and Model X. Last year, Tesla drastically updated the autonomous driving features in new cars, adding more sensors and cameras. Eventually, all those extra sensors will enable fully-autonomous driving features in excess of the current Autopilot system, but that takes time. With the new sensor suite, Tesla needs time and new data from the new cars to teach its computers how to drive again. In the interim, certain features that were enabled on the older Tesla models (like Autopilot and automatic emergency braking) don’t work on the newest Teslas.

To be sure, it’s an imperfect situation for some owners: a 2017 Tesla doesn’t quite have all the same features as a 2016 Tesla, which is frustrating. But anyone who bought a Tesla recently knows about the tradeoff, and has consciously decided that they are willing to sacrifice Autopilot now for more self-driving features in the near future. (If anyone really really wanted Autopilot could just buy an early 2016 Tesla on the used market and be happy.)

Nonetheless, Consumer Reports has decided after months of testing that the lack of automatic emergency braking right now deserves to drop the Tesla down two points. What makes this decision even stranger is that Tesla is rolling out an update, starting tomorrow, that will enable automatic emergency braking for all Model S and Model X cars that currently lack it.

Presumably, Consumer Reports will issue another breathless blog post next week confirming that Tesla has “resolved” the “critical safety issues” highlighted by their testers, and they have “full confidence” in recommending the Model S once again.