Tesla's (NASDAQ:TSLA) Model 3 -- the electric-car maker's lowest-cost vehicle -- is in the spotlight this week. The vehicle was named one of Consumer Reports' top picks. This list features standout vehicles that the product-rating agency recommends, based on road tests, reliability, owner satisfaction, and safety. The Model 3 was notably the only American vehicle on the list. 

Tesla also stood out on CR's brand rankings this week. The electric-car company saw a higher jump in brand rankings than any other brand on CR's 2020 Brand Report Card. Further, Tesla was the highest-ranking American car brand. 

Here's a closer look at why the Model 3 and the Tesla brand are scoring so well with CR.

A red Tesla Model 3

Tesla's Model 3. Image source: Tesla.

High scores for the Model 3

Tesla's Model 3 was ranked the top electric car to buy in CR's best picks of 2020. The vehicle was listed alongside Toyota's (NYSE:TM) Supra sports car and its Lexus RX SUV as vehicles CR believes are top picks in the $45,000 to $50,000 price range.

"The Model 3 offers a thrilling driving experience with a high-tech vibe," CR wrote. "It boasts rapid acceleration delivered in near silence, instant passing power and enough thrust to push the driver into the seat."

A drawback to the Model 3, CR argues, is that the vehicle's highway driver-assist system "does not require the driver to stay engaged, creating safety concerns." The system, which Tesla calls Autopilot, includes traffic-aware cruise control and auto-steer while driving on the highway and is meant to enhance safety and convenience for the driver. While Tesla says the feature is intended only for a fully attentive driver, CR believes it's too easy for the driver to let down their guard when Autopilot is on. 

The Model 3's high overall ranking was notably the main reason for Tesla's higher brand rating, CR said: "Tesla was the highest climbing brand, jumping up eight spots from last year to 11th place this year. This was due to the improved reliability of its Model 3 and Model S sedans."

A spotlight on safety

CR made safety a higher priority in its top picks for 2020 than it has in previous years. Beginning this year, the magazine requires models to come standard with forward collision warning (FCW) and automatic emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian detection to even be considered as a top pick.

"We believe all of these features have the potential to save lives and shouldn't cost extra as part of an options package," CR wrote.

Whether Autopilot is active or not, Tesla's safety features enabled by its Autopilot hardware (FCW, AEB, and more) are active at all times for all Tesla vehicles made since September 2014. 

CR's recommendation for the Model 3 as a top pick comes as the car's sales have been soaring. Model 3 deliveries more than doubled in 2019 compared to 2018.

With the Model 3 accounting for more than 80% of Tesla's total deliveries in 2019, CR's praise for the vehicle is good news for investors.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.