I’ve written before that cars are so much more than transportation. They’re art, pop culture icons, and like it or not, status symbols. Add musical instrument to the list. The sound of a car is critical to its mission. There’s a reason why a Dodge Viper does not sound like a Honda Civic.
If you get a chance to see a Tesla Roadster in person, listen carefully because performance has a new sound - perhaps a lack of it. The Tesla Roadster is lightning quick, an electric car that is most definitely not a golf cart. There is no throaty growl, just a Star Trekesque whine during launch. It’s shocking (forgive the pun).
Hannah Montana mode
Yes, you get the best of both worlds in a Tesla. Drag race a Porsche 911 with the Roadster and you’ll win and yet it’s twice as energy efficient as a Prius. Remember, the Tesla does not have a gas engine like the much hyped Chevrolet Volt, so it is a zero emission vehicle. It’s li-ion batteries are recyclable - a bonus here in the Northwest. We produce plenty of hydro electric power that’s both cheap and eco friendly.
For 2010 the Roadster gets a major upgrade with a better interior. Prices start at $101,500 after the $7,500 tax credit. I’m driving the Sport model that ups the price to $121,000. It adds a different motor, performance wheels and tires and a shop adjustable suspension. Add on options like full leather interior and exposed carbon fiber trim treatment inside and out and it’s possible to send the sticker north of $150,000. Hey, at least batteries are included and in Washington you’ll pay no state sales tax.
What’s that under the hood?
The body is carbon fiber. Pop the front and the only thing familiar under the hood is a radiator (to cool the battery pack.) There’s an electric climate control unit and brake booster here too. To find the power source you have to lift the rear lift lid. Here you’re greeted with two black boxes and a hole that will carry a small bag of golf clubs. Box No. 1 holds 6831 lithium ion cells, the same kind in your laptop computer. Box 2 is the power and electronics module or the brains of the car.
Buried underneath all that is a motor the size of an average watermelon. While it’s not as tasty as the fruit, it produces 299 HP and 278ft-lbs of torque. It’s incredibly flat torque curve is delicious in a different way. Finally, no tranny. Tesla calls it a transmission because that’s what people are used to hearing but it’s a single speed gearbox.
Head warping acceleration
With the Sport, 0-60 silently spools up in a jaw dropping 3.7 seconds (3.9 for the standard model). Instant torque is available at any speed. This car doesn’t really coast. Aggressive power regeneration slows the car dramatically when your foot lifts off the throttle so the pedal becomes somewhat of a speed rheostat. The Roadster can be driven with seldom touching the brakes. The Brembo calipers last longer because of the aggressive power regeneration dynamic. In fact, the brake lights will come on when you lift off the throttle hard. Smart. A small display shows how much of the 244 mile range is left and the barrels of oil you’ve saved. Considering the velocity, breaking traffic laws never felt so responsible.
With a small Momo wheel, steering is very direct. Ride quality is stiff though the Sport’s is adjustable at the shop. Road and wind noise are more noticeable because there’s no engine growl. As the electric motor winds up, the instinct is to shift, but remember, there are no gears on this car. It’s like driving your kids radio controlled car only much larger and better appointed.
Range anxiety shouldn’t be a problem
Using 220 current and Tesla’s most popular charger, a fill up costs around 5 bucks and takes 6-7 hours. Using 110? Then it’ll take 20. Again, the range is EPA rated range is 244. Turn the key on the Sport model one more notch while driving and there’s extra power to be had. Just like pushing a gas power car hard, it reduces efficiency and you won’t travel as far.
Range anxiety shouldn’t be a problem in my opinion because for long distance travel I can see wealthy owners opting for a more quiet, comfortable and practical vehicle. Yes, a road trip can be done but really, a Miata’s trunk is cavernous compared to the Tesla and most people think that car is too small.
A car for the limber
Getting into the Roadster is a lot easier with the simple canvas top removed. The sill is high, the car is low, so it takes a while to fold yourself into the one piece seat. The simple cockpit wraps right around you. Drive, reverse and park are selected via glowing buttons. The exposed carbon fiber instrument panel is perfect.
Those who enjoy instant gratification will like the climate control, heat and AC are immediate since it’s all electric. Heated seats that can toast bread help too. A small sat nav system is available as is iPod integration. The USB port is not for your tunes, it’s for firmware updates. Part car, part computer.
The glove box is aptly named since that’s about all that will fit. Make sure you can get comfortable in the cockpit before writing the big check, there’s no steering wheel adjustment and the seats do not recline in any way.
The soundtrack of performance is a hum
Walking up to the Tesla you’ll hear a faint buzz. That’s the battery coolant. It’s important to keep the pack cooled to around 70 degrees for the maximum life. Since there’s no engine to service, maintenance cost should be lower. Tesla wants to see the car once a year for inspection and firmware updates. If only my computer were so easy to live with.
Want to see a Roadster in person? Showrooms are now open in LA, NY Chicago, Washington, DC and Seattle (just 3 blocks away from my office). Walk through a Tesla service bay and it’s as clean as an electronics shop. Other than brake fluid there’s not much to gunk up the floor. Many people think the roadster is built on Lotus Elise chassis. Not really. Yes the aluminum chassis is manufactured by Lotus, but Tesla claims it’s unique to them. Much of the 6 to 7 percent part carryover from the Elise is visible and the similar styling adds to the confusion.
The battery powered Roadster will toy with BMWs, Porsches and Corvettes then make friends with Sierra Club members. Few cars can currently say that. The Tesla Roadster is electric in every sense of the word.