Consumer Reports: Tesla Model S Has Drawbacks, Too

Model S. Source: Tesla's official Twitter feed.

Tesla's (NASDAQ: TSLA  ) Model S is well known for its long list of accolades, which include Motor Trend "Car of the Year" and the safest car ever tested. Consumer Reports even gave the Model S 99 out of 100 possible points -- the highest score it has given any car in five years. And Tesla owners echoed the agency's positive sentiment for the vehicle in a Consumer Reports survey, where the car again scored 99 out of 100. But a year after the driving the car, Consumer Reports can now weigh in with a few drawbacks, too.

Even the best cars have flaws
Importantly, Consumer Reports was still impressed with the car after driving 11,380 miles through all four seasons: "After a year with the Model S, everyone at CR who drives this car is still impressed by the quiet glide, instant and irresistible power, serene ride, agile handling, and well-done, ultramodern interior. The short list of shortcomings hasn't dampened our spirits yet."

But 11,380 miles was also enough driving time to pinpoint a few "notable quirks."

Range
Though Tesla's 85 kWh Model S boasts 265 miles of EPA-rated range, Consumer Reports says that you shouldn't expect to always drive away with a max EPA-rated range after a charge. For instance, Tesla actually advises against charging the vehicle to its max range very frequently.

Consumer Reports' Gabe Shenhar also says the range suffers in cold weather: "Sometimes when driving along in weather that's 30-something degrees and you've got the cabin heat is on, the remaining-miles calculator tends to drop 3 miles for every mile that you actually travel."

Shenhar also noted that the vehicle used to lose 10-15 miles of range when it was parked outside overnight. Even after an over-the-air update from Tesla that said it would reduce this range loss, Shenhar says they still see drops of "5 to 10 miles when the car is left off the charger for 24 hours." Notably, however, that's actually a significant improvement considering all Tesla did was send an over-the-air update. And keep in mind that the first scenario of 10-15 miles was just overnight. The second scenario of five to 10 miles of range lost was in a period twice as long.

Hot weather
The Model S has a few issues in hot weather. First, says Shenhar, the air conditioning falls short of what Consumer Reports considers to be the comfort zone. Second, the rays beating through the sunroof that lacks a retractable shade "doesn't help."

Inside the Model S. Source: Tesla's official Twitter feed.

But as far as drawbacks go, that's about all Consumer Reports had to say after driving the Model S for a year. Though the range issues seem like the biggest challenge for Tesla, the car still boasts far more electric range than any fully electric car on the market. The other issues of the air conditioner and the lacking retractable shade seem easily addressable.

Ultimately, the shortness of the list of quirks Consumer Reports discovered is good news for investors (though not a surprise). Any major complaints about the vehicle wouldn't be good for its reputation. And as the only vehicle currently in production at Tesla, any damage to the reputation of the Model S probably wouldn't bode well for investors.

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Read/Post Comments (16) | Recommend This Article (6)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On December 31, 2013, at 9:54 AM, duuude1 wrote:

    Another drawback: I don't have one.

  • Report this Comment On December 31, 2013, at 10:02 AM, dimestop wrote:

    I'm thinkin'

    Tesla... will probably put "some kind of Solar Panel" on rear roof to "charge while driving" ...thereby:

    a. increasing RANGE even more...

    b. cover any "heavy use" of AC, etc.

    something like that is probably gonna happen...

  • Report this Comment On December 31, 2013, at 11:16 AM, evenglemmestad wrote:

    Solar Panel on the roof of the car has been discussed, but Elon thinks (and I agree) that it is better to place solar panels on top of the supercharge locations (and have a lot of superchargers). They can collect much more sun there, per $ cost of the panel, than on top of a car that is not always in an optimal position, in a tunnel, under a tree, in the shade behind a tall building, etc. Then the chargers, which deliver 120 kW/hour charging power, charge the 60-85kW/hour package. You could do a 50% charge in as little as 20 minutes.

    If that's still not fast enough for you, Tesla is also in the process of rolling out battery swaps at the supercharging stations. These will be powered by the same solar panels, and can change out your nearly empty battery with a fully charged one, in approx. 90 seconds!

  • Report this Comment On December 31, 2013, at 11:19 AM, duuude1 wrote:

    Great idea, Dimestop, but I don't think a couple square feet of solar panels on the rear roof alone will produce enough watts to run an automotive a/c - even the Tesla's feeble a/c.

    Now, if you could totally cover the entire care with high-efficiency solar cells you might have enough area to help boost range or offset the overnight or a/c drain.

  • Report this Comment On December 31, 2013, at 11:39 AM, Fatherofifty wrote:

    "Everyone at CR who drives this car..." I think it is important to remember that the CR Model S is driven by several people, who no doubt have a hard time resisting the temptation to drive the car hard whenever they get the opportunity, sort of like a rental. If you own this car, it will be your daily driver, and you will get much closer to your expected range. Last week, I drove my S60 130 miles, and my remaining range dropped from 200 to 71 while I averaged about 72 mph on the hwy portions (~105 miles).

  • Report this Comment On December 31, 2013, at 1:01 PM, weaponz wrote:

    If they are losing 10 miles over night after the software patch, they should see about having Tesla replace their 12v. GCR had the same issue and replacing the 12v made it much better.

  • Report this Comment On December 31, 2013, at 7:18 PM, TecnamTwin wrote:

    This is a non-issue, unless you drive 200 miles every day (73,000 miles a year!).

    The range of the standard charge is for day to day driving. Whenever you want to drive more than 200 miles in a day, that's when you do a range charge.

  • Report this Comment On December 31, 2013, at 7:30 PM, gr8twhtebuffalo wrote:

    It's clear that the car itself is an excellent piece of work.

    Tesla will continue to improve charging speeds and think of ways for the car to have a longer charge. It's not a question of if it will happen but when it will happen.

  • Report this Comment On January 01, 2014, at 8:13 AM, thegreentreefrog wrote:

    The Tesla S at 4,741 Lbs The Electric Pig!Who would spend $75,000 on a car that couldn't beat a 1981 Chevy Vega in a race from NY to Philly?Its range drops while parked over night and of you dare put on heating or a/c you in big trouble.

  • Report this Comment On January 01, 2014, at 9:47 AM, duuude1 wrote:

    Hey greentreefrog,

    According to sales figures, Tesla is already having an impact on other equivalently priced conventional auto brands:

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/markrogowsky/2013/08/24/numbers-...

    http://articles.latimes.com/2013/aug/27/autos/la-fi-hy-prius...

    Are you more of a NY Daily News or USA Today reader than a Forbes reader? Well here you go:

    http://www.nydailynews.com/autos/tesla-model-s-outselling-po...

    http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/cars/2013/08/26/tesla-mo...

    The sales numbers - and the test drives - speak for themselves.

    So this tells us that given equivalent priced vehicle options, more people are opting for the Tesla over conventional autos.

    By the time Tesla comes out with the more affordable Model E, I think most people will be making a similar smart decision to go with the Tesla over the conventional ICE cars. Of course, we know that not everyone makes smart decisions... but most will go with the best performing electric over ICE.

    So greentreefrog, do you really want to put your 1981 Chevy Vega up against a Tesla in any kind of competition? Go ahead... set it up and let us know how you and your Vega do.

    Duuude1

  • Report this Comment On January 02, 2014, at 5:20 AM, mrbofus wrote:

    "Sometimes when driving along in weather that's 30-something degrees and you've got the cabin heat is on, the remaining-miles calculator tends to drop 3 miles for every mile that you actually travel."

    So if you want to use the heater in 30 degree weather, you can't drive more than 66 miles? (Assuming you're getting the full 265 mile range). And that's assuming you never hit traffic...

  • Report this Comment On January 02, 2014, at 7:58 AM, ponchoman49 wrote:

    It also manages another feat, an interior that manages to look cheaper than that of a 30k Chevy Impala! Another car that scores high in CR's testing. Amazing!

  • Report this Comment On January 02, 2014, at 8:33 AM, walleye88ED wrote:

    I would love to own an electric car,but the problem is no one in the world makes one.all I see and read about are run by batteries.why no install a generator in the rear axel for the power needed to run the motor.everything can be converted to the amps and volts needed.just think,cal.to ny. non stop.

  • Report this Comment On January 02, 2014, at 9:33 AM, ToddRLockwood wrote:

    "Sometimes when driving along in weather that's 30-something degrees and you've got the cabin heat is on, the remaining-miles calculator tends to drop 3 miles for every mile that you actually travel."

    This is only true when the battery is stone cold. After fifteen minutes of driving, the efficiency will return. The issue can be easily avoided by pre-warming the battery while the car is still plugged in.

    "...the air conditioning falls short of what Consumer Reports considers to be the comfort zone. Second, the rays beating through the sunroof that lacks a retractable shade "doesn't help."

    I find this hard to believe. I've driven my Model S in 95-degree temps with no issues. The A/C is quite adequate. The sunroof is very darkly tinted. (The article photo is misleading.) I've never felt as though there's too much sun intrusion.

  • Report this Comment On January 04, 2014, at 5:55 AM, rapag wrote:

    Be aware that Audi,subidiary of Volkswagen, may now decide to produce its e-tron electric car with a range ofmore than 500 km. Telsa may thus loose its current stand-alone feature soon.

  • Report this Comment On January 04, 2014, at 1:39 PM, weaponz wrote:

    @mrbofus - "So if you want to use the heater in 30 degree weather, you can't drive more than 66 miles? (Assuming you're getting the full 265 mile range). And that's assuming you never hit traffic..."

    You have 0 clue what your talking about. They said sometimes you would lose 3 miles range in 1 mile. More than likely they were accelerating and not cruising. Or going up a steep hill, which then they would make back later on.

    In Norway a guy made over 250 miles in -6 degrees with heater on and everything.

    And please stop adding gasoline car issues to EVs. Unlike a gasoline car which loses range in traffic due to horrible efficiency of slow/idle, EVs actually gain range in traffic. Even in winter. This has been proven by GCR when he made a winter trip at 0 degrees and ended up in traffic which resulted him in gaining range.

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