Reliability is Where Tesla’s Model S is Just ‘Average’

Tesla Model S, photographed in Switzerland by James Lipman //
Source: Tesla

It seems like there might be one thing that the Tesla Model S doesn’t do spectacularly, at least yet: Reliability. This is according to the latest write-up from Consumer Reports, which supplemented its own experience with the luxury electric car with the experiences of about 1,300 owners who offered insights into their personal adventures with the groundbreaking vehicle. From what it appears, the Model S is still having some teething pains as the company pushes forward with fine-tuning its product.

The magazine’s findings yielded an “Average” rating for reliability, which although falls short of some of the car’s other accolades (it’s pristine safety record, or the 99 out of 100 score from Consumer Reports), is still a solid enough achievement that the publication can, in good faith, maintain the coveted “Recommended” tag on the car, though it comes up shy against its competitors, like Audi or Lexus.

“Most of the reported problems related to slow-responding retractable door handles and some body-component issues. Our car, for example, had a creak emanating from the base of the windshield, which Tesla fixed for us under warranty,” Consumer Reports said. “Early 2012 examples also suffered some driveline issues, which Tesla proactively rectified.” The Model S features doorhandles that withdraw to become flush with the bodywork when in motion or parked, helping to streamline the vehicle and reduce drag.

Consumer Reports noted that while it wasn’t the platinum- and gold-lined recommendations that the Tesla has made a habit of obtaining, an average score isn’t bad by any means. It shares the rating with the Acura RLX, which is made by Honda, and it still comes in well ahead of notable reliability disappointments like the Mercedes S-Class and the Cadillac XTS, the magazine said.

Source: Piroschka van de Wouw/AFP/Getty Images

Not all experiences are created equal, however. Automotive authority Edmunds had a long-term test vehicle in its fleet, and over the course of 17 months,  had to visit Tesla’s service center a grand total of seven times. The car even left the crew stranded roadside on one occasion. Edmunds’ mule was an 85-kWh Performance Model, with a sticker that came out to over $105,000 when all was said and done.

Mostly, it was for minor issues. The 17-inch touchscreen, which is the first of its kind in a production vehicle and largely replaces all the conventional buttons and switches, needed to be reset nine times. Notably, however, the Edmunds test vehicle was an early production model, and many of the issues have since been addressed. Virtually every single issue was fixed under warranty or for zero out-of-pocket costs.

But in a world where internal combustion has had over a century of dedicated improvement and R&D, the Model S is still working out the flaws of a largely marginalized powertrain. The Tesla isn’t an existing car that was retrospectively modified to be made electric; it was built from the ground up to be a high performance EV, and as such, there will be bugs that only mass-market trials can uncover. Fortunately for owners, Tesla’s maintenance program is up to the task of addressing these concerns.

The good news is that Tesla knows what it will need to pay additional attention to when it begins the production of the Model X SUV, which is the company’s next step in extending its mass-market ambitions. Given the affluent family allure that the X will offer, small bugs and hangups are not something that will help it’s chances on the showroom floor. The virtual one, that is.