Once upon a time, Consumer Reports gushed over the technology that Tesla’s electric cars featured.
The Tesla rivets your attention from the start. Simply touching the flush aluminum door handles causes them to slide outward, welcoming you inside.
So went the 2013 review that famously gave the original Model S a score of 99, the highest in the history of the company’s well-regarded tests.
Times have changed. When testers could not get those same door handles to extend from a brand-new, six-figure Model S P85D, Consumer Reports had a new way of describing a Tesla: “undriveable.” As with all things Tesla, the perception this review left may be more important than the underlying story.
How this blog post came about illustrates the scope of Consumer Reports’ influence. Rather than borrowing or renting a car for extensive testing, the company put down $127,000 of its money so it could give impressions only an owner would know about the new P85D. The failure of the door handles to allow entry clearly irked the holders of one of the priciest American cars on the road — so much so it warranted a special pre-test blog post and accompanying video on the site.
In the video, Jake Fisher explains how the car doors “broke,” effectively keeping him out of the car. He notes that the problem is not unique to his company’s Model S purchase. Reliability surveys have shown that door handles are one of the biggest problems for Tesla. (The EV rates “average” in this aspect of Consumer Reports’ analysis.) For its part, Tesla was critical of the “undriveable” dig.
According to USA Today, Tesla responded by saying the car’s smartphone app could have allowed the tester to enter and operate the car, had he tried it. Fisher, perhaps standing up for a Consumer Reports demographic that is older than average, said he didn’t do such a thing because it was a big ask for someone who merely hoped to get into his six-figure luxury sedan.
Nonetheless, Fisher applauds the service Tesla provided after learning of the malfunction. According to the blog post, technicians arrived within two hours and had the car doors up and functioning properly. (This service is available to every customer, not just influential testers with a platform to criticize the automaker.)
The excellent customer service marks aside, it’s hard to believe Tesla will not take a few lumps from this experience. Even a car costing $127,000 is bound to have a few problems. But being able to get in to drive it the car? That one should never make the list.