I was beginning to think Consumer Reports, the trusted bible for impartial consumer advice, had swallowed the Tesla Kool-Aid.
The magazine said today “it couldn’t wait” until its October car ratings come out to tell people how great the all-wheel-drive version of Tesla Motors TSLA +2.42% battery-powered Model S, is. It’s so good, in fact, that it busted the test curve. The P85D earned a 103 out of a possible 100, prompting engineers to recalibrate their ratings methods “to account for the car’s exceptionally strong performance.” In the end, Consumer Reports awarded the car a score of 100, setting a new standard for perfection.
A guest test drives Tesla Motors’ new version of its Model S sedan, the P85D, in Hawthorne, Calif., Thursday, Oct. 9, 2014. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)
So I called Jake Fisher, Consumer Reports’ director of automotive testing, to make sure he wasn’t hallucinating. (This is the same guy who gave the Model S a near-perfect 99 two years ago.) To my surprise, he sounded quite rational.
“Let’s be clear about something,” he told me. “We don’t test $120,000 cars. We’re not doing this because we want people to go out and find the best $120,000 car. This is really a glimpse into the future of what we can see in cars.” Consumer Reports could test high-performance cars, he said, but they all come with compromises, like poor fuel economy or harsher rides. “This is the first time that a car increases performance with all-wheel-drive and energy efficiency. It’s unprecedented,” he said. “It’s pushing the envelope in so many benchmarks that it really scored off the charts.”
That’s why engineers had to tweak their scoring system for things like acceleration. The original 85-kWh Model S goes from 0-60 in 5.6 seconds; the P85D needs just 3.5 seconds.
Does it really matter? Honestly no. As Fisher jokes, “How much of a hurry are you in?”
The point is that the Tesla is impressive because it can achieve such performance while being very energy efficient. The standard 85-kWh Model S gets the equivalent of 84 mpg. The faster, higher-performance P85D is even more efficient, delivering the equivalent of 87 mpg. And, because it’s fully electric, it doesn’t burn gasoline or produce any tailpipe emissions.
But keep in mind that Tesla’s perfect score is on Consumer Reports’ road test only — some 6,000 miles of general driving and more than 50 individual tests to evaluate things like braking, handling, comfort, convenience, safety, and fuel economy. The rating doesn’t take into account things like reliability or value.
Consumer Reports doesn’t have enough data yet to give the Tesla a reliability score, but Fisher noted, “It hasn’t been problem free.”
And at $127,820, the price is out of reach for most people. Even compared to other six-figure vehicles the organization has tested, the P85D falls a bit short on the quality of interior materials, Fisher noted. And because of its larger wheels, the ride is firmer and louder than the base Model S.
Then there’s the charging issue: While no other fully electric car comes close to its 200-mile-plus range, a lengthy road trip can be a logistical hurdle if a quick-charging station isn’t along the route.
“Let’s be clear. This is not the perfect car; there are lots of opportunities here. But this is as close to perfect as we’ve seen.”