How Electric Cars Fared in Consumer Reports Reliability Tests

Go Ultra Low Nissan LEAF charging on a London street.
The latest electric car reliability ratings brought good and bad news | Miles Willis/Getty Images

The brand new cars that auto journalists test tend to be glorified versions of the ones consumers buy. Naturally, manufacturers want to be judged by the best trim with most available options, and reviewers have the fortune of driving these top-of-the-line vehicles with a thousand miles or so on the odometer.

If that is a fantasy scenario in some ways, reliability ratings by Consumer Reports acknowledge the daily grind of owning a car. Combining extensive track testing with owner surveys and safety reports, the CR gang offers up its picks for most and least reliable models of the year.

In the case of electric vehicles, the situation is complicated. All-new models like the Tesla Model X and 2016 Chevy Volt hit the market in late 2015, but plug-in shoppers want to know how they fared compared to other cars in their price range. Usually, it takes a few years to work through glitches — something Consumer Reports reminds readers all the time.

Nonetheless, there was both good and bad news about electric car reliability scores this year. Here’s a closer look at popular models from Tesla and GM.

1. Tesla Model S

2016 Tesla Model S | Tesla
The 2016 Tesla Model S entered the hall of recommended this time around | Tesla

Consumer Reports famously gut-punched Tesla on Model S ratings while acknowledging the brand’s excellent customer service record. Since everyone remembered the same electric sedan broke the company’s rating system, many took it with a grain of salt. After all, wouldn’t it take a new car maker years to perfect a complex, all-new platform?

Apparently, the hour has arrived. Model S reliability jumped to average, which moved the performance EV into the testing agency’s “recommended” column. Anyone with a passing familiarity with Tesla probably believed the company’s attention to detail would win the day in this department. Consider that belief justified.

2. Tesla Model X

Elon Musk emerging from Tesla Model X
Tesla CEO Elon Musk demonstrates the falcon wing doors on the new Tesla Model X Crossover SUV during a launch event on September 29, 2015 | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

While Model S passed its latest reliability test, Tesla’s electric SUV continues dealing with growing pains. Consumer Reports named Model X one of the 10 least reliable models it tested, calling it “more showy than practical.” Meanwhile, it called out 17 different areas where the vehicle could improve, including its brakes, electrical system, and power equipment. Overall, it rated below 20 on a scale of zero to 100.

Of course, this vehicle’s falcon-wing doors receive more flack than any other feature. CR testers once again pointed out how long they take to open and close. When Model X had its biggest problems rolling out, malfunctioning doors were common. The recall for back seat issues and fit-and-finish issues likely doomed this vehicle in its first year of tests. We’ll see how it fares the next time around for Tesla.

3. Chevrolet Volt

2016 Chevy Volt
The Chevrolet Volt was among CR’s downgraded vehicles | General Motors

Speaking of all-new vehicles, the redesigned Chevrolet Volt had its first run through the ringer, and it failed the test. Consumer Reports rated its reliability “well below average,” bumping it from the recommended list. In addition to this slight, CR testers said Volt didn’t get its quoted EPA range in tests (it only traveled 50 miles as an EV) and was several ticks below below its 42 MPG rating as well (it got 38 MPG).

While these deficiencies won’t change, plug-in hybrid shoppers considering a Volt can hope for reliability improving in the coming model years. One area where Consumer Reports cheered Volt was for infotainment (“among the best”), an area where new cars often struggle. So there is hope for a Tesla-style rebound.

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