An influential United States consumer advocacy group Consumer Reports is investigating online reports describing overheating issues experienced by some owners of the new iPad, which went on sale last Friday to sell three million units during the launch weekend. The consumer watchdog also runs a monthly magazine since 1936 that features exhaustive product reviews widely accepted as credible.

A preliminary report states that the tablet hits 116 degrees Fahrenheit, or a whopping 46 degrees Celzius, while running graphics-heavy games such as Infinity Blade II. According to Reuters, Consumer Reports will publish its full findings this coming Thursday “after finishing a battery of tests”, per their spokesperson.

It’s interesting to note that Consumer Reports last Saturday published a quick review of the new iPad on its blog, proclaiming Apple’s device “the best tablet yet”

The crux of Consumer Reports’ preliminary findings:

When unplugged, the back of the new iPad reached temperatures as high as 113 degrees Fahrenheit. It was only when plugged in that it hit 116 degrees. The hottest areas weren’t evenly distributed throughout the iPad’s back, but were concentrated near one corner of the display as shown in the images taken from the rear of the device above. So, when plugged in, the back of the new iPad became as much as 12 degrees hotter than the iPad 2 did in the same tests; while unplugged the difference was 13 degrees.

iDownloadBlog pointed this morning at a Tweakers.net article proving that the new iPad in fact runs ten degrees Fahrenheit hotter than its predecessor when its improved GPU found inside the A5X package is tasked with running standard GLBenchmark for a couple of minutes.

Indeed, a growing thread on Apple’s support forum is filled with customers claiming their device is getting hotter when playing graphics-intensive games or just used for everyday tasks.

Apple issued a statement today, saying that the new iPad’s temperature is “within our thermal specifications” provided on the company’s website. A company spokesperson told The Loop:

The new iPad delivers a stunning Retina display, A5X chip, support for 4G LTE plus 10 hours of battery life, all while operating well within our thermal specifications. If customers have any concerns they should contact AppleCare.

Apple launched the new iPad last Friday in ten countries and is gearing up to drop the tablet in 24 additional markets this coming Friday, March 23. Analysts think Apple will move as much as 12 million units of the new iPad alone during the first quarter of this year, ending March 31.

It remains to be seen whether or not Consumer Reports’ findings snowball into another controversial topic for the Cupertino, California-based Apple. The company suffered a major PR blow when the Consumer Reports magazine argued shortly following the 2010 iPhone 4 launch that it couldn’t recommend the device over reception problems stemming from its unique antenna design. Their report was then picked up by blogs and major media outlets and blown out of proportion.

Hence, the so-called Antennagate scandal was born, forcing Apple to uncharacteristically summon select members of the press to its Cupertino campus, where Steve Jobs elaborated that signal attenuation is a fact of life in the smartphone industry and offered an olive branch to dissatisfied customers with free bumpers.

Can you say Heatgate?