If you ever want the sensation of flying a jet fighter without leaving the earth, the Tesla Roadster may be the car for you… if you have well over 100K. Like any sports car, the Tesla has its limitations, notably a tight cockpit, harsh ride and an amazingly thick pillar that require a driver over 6-feet to remove their lower torso and re-attach after egress/ingress.
Okay, so it’s expensive and has a somewhat limited range too.
Roman Mica and I made THIS video of a round-trip from Boulder to Estes Park and back. We did what few have the guts or stupidity to do: we took a $158,000 sports car (wearing performance tires) through the mountains, snow, ice and elk during a proper performance shake-down.
We had a blast!
It looks like a cross between the Lotus Elise and Lotus Evora. I think it’s attractive and better looking in person. I especially like the 16-inch front and 17-inch rear wheels. The whole package is go-cart low and takes up less parking space than a Porsche Boxter (strangely, a car I can compare to the Tesla).
Performance like this is usually associated with Porsches. Am I exaggerating? Nope; with 0 to 60 times at about 4 seconds (altitude has NOTHIING to do with performance on this one) and cornering abilities nearly as adept as its platform cousin the Lotus Elise, the 2010 Tesla Roadster is a serious driving machine. The 248 horsepower electric motor whines like a supercharger – without any exhaust noise. It’s freaky, surreal and alien to a monosyllabic ape like me.
That’s the part that I had to get my head around – the fact that this machine is a real car. Like many, I need to have the aura of pistons, valves, exhaust and gears engaged by my hand. Every sense is catered to in an internal-combustion car and when the right combination is reached, the brain shuts off and the heart is engaged.
So, with less than a dozen moving parts and a push-button transmission, can a car-guy get into a Tesla? You bet your ASCOT they can. A rich-man’s toy that can be driven by just about anyone this is. An instantly gratifying videogame on wheels, excitement at the press of a button or a full-sized remote controlled car; that’s what the Tesla is – it’s that good. The Tesla Roadster is all this with no environmentally obscene figures to irritate “green” folk.
Still, there are a few compromises. Roman and I had about 70 miles left in the nearly 7,000 lithium-ion battery bank. So, aggressive driving and hills reward with 150(ish) miles of range. The driver needs to put their trust in the technology and know that if the Tesla says you have 50 miles left, you’re not going to sputter to a stop in 30.
Another issue is the massive side sills which are a big part of the Tesla’s structural integrity. Remember: this car is entirely made of carbon fiber and needs to adhere to a race-car’s internal design. That is to say: the cockpit is cramped and tight. Combined, Roman and I equal nearly 500 lbs of weight and both of us are over 6-feet. This means that it is especially painful to extract ourselves from behind the steering wheel.
Although I have to say, the seating position is fairly comfortable once in and underway. My big feet (size 13) too up a bit too much space in the foot-well, which became easier to deal with as time passes.
I was surprisingly comfortable under way and would have no issue with doing a road trip in a Tesla. There’s a useable trunk behind the batteries that’s big enough for a golf bag or a few duffle bags. Our tester had various plug adaptors and had plenty of space for camera bags. The glove box is barely large enough for an iPod. There is a cup holder which is completely inaccessible if a passenger has legs.
Our vehicle was fully loaded with leather, A/C, power windows, an integrated GPS/stereo, and an onboard computer that had a majority of its readings duplicated in the speedometer and tachometer’s binnacle. The stereo is okay with just enough capacity to drown out the wind noise if the soft-top is in place.
I enjoyed the old-school manual steering. It’s rough for some, but was fine for me. Best of all, this type of steering provides natural feedback from the front wheels. Mix this with the one speed transmission and rolling resistance that reminds me of a constant 3rd gear (the regenerative brakes are always grabbing, creating lots of rolling resistance – which slows you the minute the driver lifts off the accelerator).
So, blast through a corner and simply lift off the accelerator and bleed off speed as if you’re down-shifting. After a few hours of driving, it becomes second nature. This little guy can handle nearly 1g of lateral forces – which is amazing. Electric motors provide ALL of their torque at 0 rpm. No engine to spool up for maximum thrust. Right off the line, 276 foot-lbs of torque is tearing at tarmac. This in turn makes the 2,750 lbs Tesla Roadster launch like a fighter off a carrier deck.
VERY few cars can match this type of off-the-line performance.
With over 60% of the Tesla’s weight over the rear wheels, hook-up is immediate with little slippage. Even in snow, the traction was not too bad for a torque-biased sports car. With proper snow tires (and a great deal of nerve) the Tesla should perform more than adequately in the slippery stuff. There is traction control but no stability control; this makes the Tesla a vehicle that relies on the driver to make some good choices.
The only fly in the Tesla’s ointment must be its recharging time. The quickest times to fill the battery bank from dry is about 3 ½ hours if plugged into a (give-or-take). If you hook up to a 240-volt plug (which can come from a specially installed wall-unit, or a dryer’s outlet), topping off your juice is fairly quick. Or, if you opt to use your regular 120-volt, every-day outlet, expect a full recharge time of over 30 hours.
In the end, I realized that the Tesla Roadster was genesis in the modern electric car resurgence. It’s a bit rough around the edges and mighty expensive, but technology like this does not come cheap. Sure, there’s a $7,500 tax rebate and it costs about 4-bucks to fill the Tesla with energy; it would still take decades to pay the car’s steep pricing. More importantly to a guy like me, the Tesla Roadster has personality; something rare in modern cars.
I say: good show Tesla! This is a great driver’s car. I truly look forward to driving the next Tesla – the Tesla Model ‘S.’ Please Tesla, don’t keep us waiting!
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