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Tesla Model 3 gets average marks in new assisted-driving assessment

The Euro NCAP worked with a research firm to design the assessment to give a genuine rating for a vehicle driver assist features.

Tesla Model 3
Very good systems, but Tesla perhaps promises too much, according to the NCAP.

Research has made it clear that ordinary drivers don't fully understand how driver-assist and active safety features work. While we wait for standard procedures to truly test these system on a level scorecard, the European New Car Assessment Program revealed its latest attempt to grade notable vehicles and their technology.

With help from Thatcham Research, NCAP revealed its Assisted Driving assessment on Thursday. It breaks driver-assist features down into three scored categories: Vehicle Assistance, Driver Engagement and Safety Backup. The first category scores the systems onboard to see how effective they operate, and how multiple systems work together to assist the driver. The second category looks at transparency: NCAP scores an automaker's marketing materials for accuracy, how the car monitors the driver to ensure they stay alert and how the car communicates its status with the driver. The last category is all about redundancy: It measures how a car reacts in the event of a system failure or if a driver suddenly becomes unresponsive with assist systems engaged, for example.

On a points scale, cars can earn a Very Good (160 points or more), Good (140-point minimum), Moderate (120-point minimum) or Entry (100-point minimum) score. Anything below 100 points does not register on this assessment. The group then tallies a final score by taking the lowest score between Vehicle Assistance and Driver Engagement, plus the Safety Backup score.

So, for example, the highest-rated vehicle from the first test batch, the Mercedes-Benz GLE, earns 174 points. It scored 86 in Vehicle Assistance, 85 in Driver Engagement and 89 in Safety Backup. NCAP took the 85-point score, the lower tally, and added it to the Safety Backup category for the final tally.

"The best systems strike a good balance between the amount of assistance they give to the driver and how much they do to ensure drivers are engaged and aware of their responsibilities behind the wheel," Matthew Avery, Thatcham's Director of Research, said on the vehicles and scoring system.

So, where's the Tesla Model 3 with its incredibly well-known Autopilot system? Of the first 10 cars NCAP tested, it placed sixth with 131 points and a Moderate rating. While the Model 3 received a Vehicle Assistance score of 87 and its Safety Backup features earned a whopping 95 points, the Driver Engagement score dropped its final rank significantly with just 36 points -- the lowest of any car tested.

"Many aspects of the Model 3 are exemplary; its vehicle assistance is the best we saw in testing and it also aced the safety back up element," Thatcham Research said of the Tesla. "However, it achieves a 'moderate' rating for poor driver engagement, with a design philosophy that is very much about the vehicle doing the driving. That would be appropriate for an automated vehicle -- but this is vehicle assistance. The big 'self-driving' sell in its marketing material, combined with the high performing assistance, encourages the driver to relinquish too much control."

You can see the full results in the table below.

NCAP Assisted Driver Grading

Position Car Vehicle Assistance Driver Engagement Safety Backup Rating
1 Mercedes-Benz GLE 86 85 89 174, Very Good
2 BMW 3 Series 82 83 90 172, Very Good
3 Audi Q8 83 78 84 162, Very Good
4 Ford Kuga (Escape) 66 73 86 152, Good
5 Volkswagen Passat 76 79 61 137, Moderate
6 Tesla Model 3 87 36 95 131, Moderate
7 Nissan Juke 52 70 72 124, Moderate
8 Volvo V60 71 78 49 120, Moderate
9 Renault Clio 62 69 43 105, Entry
10 Peugeot 2008 61 74 40 101, Entry