All the Ways Tesla Model 3 Aced Its Safety Tests — and 1 Area It Didn’t

Profile view of Tesla Model 3 in motion on California road
With the NHTSA ratings in, Tesla Model 3 got another feather in its cap. | Tesla

As Tesla rolls out its first electric car aimed at the mass market, high safety ratings for the Model 3 have been a top priority. That became crystal-clear in May, when the automaker promptly responded to tests conducted by Consumer Reports.

After the nonprofit declined to recommend Model 3 due to long braking distances, Tesla delivered a fix within the week. As a result, the Model 3 landed its Consumer Reports recommendation.

In late September, the EV maker got more good news — this time, from federal safety regulators. After running the Model 3 through its battery of tests, the NHTSA awarded the 2018 model a five-star safety rating.

Between the NHTSA results and early feedback from the IIHS, Model 3 should rank among the industry’s safest small cars. Here’s a breakdown of how the new Tesla excelled, including one IIHS evaluation that showed Model 3 trailing the top models.

1. Top marks in frontal crash tests

In frontal crash tests, the NHTSA simulates a head-on collision at 35 miles per hour. The Model 3 landed the highest rating (five stars) for both the passenger and driver sides.

It’s possible to land the top overall NHTSA rating without scoring the top marks for each test. In the case of the 2018 Audi A4 (a Model 3 competitor), the luxury sedan managed to post a five-star rating despite receiving four stars in both these frontal tests.

2. Perfect in side collisions

Model 3 side crash test | NHTSA

To get side crash-test ratings, the NHTSA makes two evaluations. In the first, testers simulate a collision between a standing car and another vehicle traveling 38 mph. The Model 3 scored the highest possible marks in this test.

A Side Pole Barrier test simulates what would happen when a car’s side strikes a fixed object (e.g., a tree or pole). Again, both the driver and rear passenger areas showed the highest level of protection.

3. Elite rollover resistance

While vehicles have much lower chances of tipping over than they did in the past, the safest cars show a much higher resistance to a rollover crash than the worst in this area. In the case of the 2018 Model 3, you’ll find one of the best scores for rollover resistance (6.6%) of any vehicle on sale in the U.S.

Even the 2018 Toyota Camry, a sedan that matched the Model 3’s perfect scores in every test, had a 9.9% rollover resistance. Model 3 is truly among the elite in this aspect.

4. Early IIHS returns with “acceptable” headlight rating

View of Tesla Model 3 in Chelsea, NYC show room
Tesla Model 3 | Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Consumers will have to wait a bit longer for results of the IIHS crash tests. The institute, which is funded by the insurance industry, gives the vehicles that score highest on its evaluations the Top Safety Pick+ award. (Those that come close but don’t post top scores in every area can receive a Top Safety Pick award.)

For 2018, the IIHS began handing out its top award to vehicles that aced every crash test and scored at least “acceptable” in passenger-side overlap front tests. It also required “advanced” or “superior” front-collision prevention technology and the top (“good”) headlight rating.

Model 3’s advanced safety tech landed it the top rating for front-crash prevention tech. However, its low-beam headlights (LED reflectors) showed some glare in IIHS tests and were not curve-adaptive. That meant an “acceptable” rating, which will only allow Model 3 to get the second-tier IIHS award at best.

Competitors like the A4 and BMW 3 Series also got “acceptable” headlight ratings for the 2018 model year. At a slightly higher price point (but similar weight-class), the Mercedes-Benz E-Class and BMW 5 Series aced every evaluation (including headlights) to qualify for the Top Safety Pick+ award.

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