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Tesla Just Broke Consumer Reports’ Rating System. But That Wasn’t Its Goal.

The Tesla Model S P85D won the highest rating Consumer Reports has ever awarded.

Photo by Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images

Two years ago, Consumer Reports was blown away by Tesla’s Model S electric sedan. Extolling the vehicle’s futuristic features and “off the charts” performance, the magazine gave it 99 points out of 100—the highest score it had ever awarded.

As rave reviews go, that one would seem hard to top. But Tesla’s latest car just did.

On Thursday, Consumer Reports released its review of the California automaker’s top-of-the-line, all-wheel-drive Model S P85D, which accelerates to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds, yet is actually more energy-efficient than its predecessor. On the magazine’s 100-point scale, it scored … 103.

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Admitting that a score of 103 out of 100 doesn’t make a lot of sense, Consumer Reports recalibrated its rating system so that the P85D would grade out at a more reasonable 100. “The car set a new benchmark, so we had to make changes to our scoring to account for it,” the magazine wrote. From its write-up:

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The P85D is brutally quick, with instant acceleration. The car’s thrust is forceful and immediate. Its near-instant g-forces can otherwise be achieved only by leaping off a building—literally.

That this electric car accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds without an engine’s roar makes it frighteningly eerie in its silent velocity. It’s so explosively quick that Tesla has created an “insane” driving mode.

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That doesn’t mean the car is perfect. As tested, it costs a formidable $128,000, yet “the interior materials aren’t as opulent as other high-ticket automobiles,” Consumer Reports noted, and the suspension is unforgiving. And, of course, you have to recharge it every 200-plus miles. Still, the magazine’s director of automotive testing told the New York Times that the car’s performance is “the closest to perfect we’ve ever seen.”

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I haven’t had a chance to test-drive the P85D, as I did the original Model S, but I rode in one recently and can vouch that the acceleration is neck-jolting. I’ve never been so thankful for a padded headrest.

A car as monumental as the P85D might stand as the crowning achievement for a different kind of car company. For Tesla, however, it’s just another milestone on a far more ambitious road. The same could be said of the forthcoming Model X SUV, which the company plans to release later this year.

Tesla will ultimately be judged, not on the performance of its flagship luxury models, but on its ability to deliver on its original promise: sparking an automotive revolution by bringing electric cars to the mass market.

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For CEO Elon Musk, the P85D is just another proof of concept on the way to the Model 3, a $35,000 electric car with a range upward of 200 miles. The company is still promising to ship the Model 3 by 2017. To pull that off, it is feverishly constructing a sprawling “gigafactory” in Nevada with the goal of making electric batteries cheaper than previously thought possible.

It’s a daunting task, and there are still those who believe Musk and Tesla will fail. But with every seemingly impossible feat that the company achieves, the chorus of doubters gets a little fainter.

You can read Consumer Reports’ full review of the Model S P85D here.

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