The Tesla Model 3 Is Once Again a Consumer Reports Top Pick

by Gabrielle DeSantis

The Tesla Model 3 is once again a Consumer Reports Top Pick. This news comes after a number of changes to the Tesla which resulted in Consumer Reports and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety taking away top safety awards. So what caused the Model 3 to lose its Top Pick status – and then get it back?

2021 Tesla Model 3 | Tesla

Tesla got rid of radar in its cars

The steering wheel and screen inside a Tesla Model 3.
2021 Tesla Model 3 interior | Tesla

Most cars use radar and lidar sensors for a whole bunch of their technology. For example, lane keeping assist and forward collision warning use sensors to determine where people or other obstacles are. They relay this information back to the vehicle so that the vehicle can make decisions . Radar sensors send radio waves, while lidar sensors send light waves. 

Camera-based sensors, on the other hand, only use cameras. They rely on a neural network. A neural network means Teslas communicate with one another to “learn” how to behave on the road. Elon Musk, founder and CEO of Tesla, thinks that using radar sensors in cars is a “crutch.” He believes that camera-based sensors are the way to go. In fact, he’s staked his Tesla Model 3 and Model Ys on it. 

When Tesla first announced that they were getting rid of radar – sorry, that’s incorrect – when Tesla first announced that they’d already gotten rid of radar and lidar sensors, they were already shipping cars with only the camera-based systems. The general public was concerned. Were Tesla drivers essentially testing out the effectiveness of camera-based sensors as the neural network learned how to operate successfully?

Consumer Reports and the IIHS were worried about the change

Consumer Reports and the IIHS were also concerned. They award the safest vehicles with a Top Pick and Top Safety Pick (or Top Safety Pick+) award. These are dependent on the cars being in the condition they were in when they were tested. Since Consumer Reports and the IIHS hadn’t tested cars with only camera-based sensors, they had no choice but to remove the awards they’d previously given to the Tesla Model 3. 

More specifically, Consumer Reports needed to test just how effective the camera-only automatic emergency braking system (AEB) and forward collision warning (FCW) systems were. Consumer Reports doesn’t give the Top Pick award to vehicles without good AEB and FCW.

Consumer Reports and the IIHS are satisfied with Tesla’s camera-based system

A dark gray 2021 Tesla Model 3 against a white background.
2021 Tesla Model 3 | Tesla

The IIHS reevaluated the Tesla Model 3 with the camera-based system. After its test, it gave the 2021 Tesla Model 3 not only a Top Safety Pick award, but a Top Safety Pick+, its highest honor.

Once the IIHS had completed its evaluation and released its findings, Consumer Reports was able to restore its Top Pick status. Jake Fischer, senior director of Consumer Reports’ Auto Test Center, said, “Given the IIHS’ recent evaluations of Tesla’s new camera-based system on its Model 3 and consistent with CR’s integration of IIHS ratings into our recommendations, CR is restoring the car’s Top Pick status.”

This is good news for anyone who bought a 2021 Tesla Model 3 and wasn’t sure if it was still safe to drive. It’s also great for those who were considering buying a Model 3. Of course it’s also good for Tesla, who was likely to eager to restore its safety awards. 

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