The Tesla Roadster is a swoopy, two-seat roadster that will change your mind about the future of sports cars. It is electric, but it is also electrifying.
If this four-wheeled machine reflects how much fun green driving can be, count me in.
The extruded aluminum chassis is derived from that of the Lotus Elise, a British sports car, and while the Tesla looks similar to the Elise, its carbon-fiber body panels are unique.
An electric motor delivers peak torque immediately, so there is no waiting for the motor to build speed. Floor the throttle and the Roadster launches from a stop like a fighter plane being catapulted from an aircraft carrier - no spinning tires, no howling exhaust, just pure acceleration accompanied by the whine of an electric motor. Accelerating is so addictive that you want to do it over and over again.
The Roadster has one forward gear so there are no shifts to interrupt the flow of acceleration. Tesla says the car goes from zero to 60 mph in 3.9 seconds, and that seems entirely accurate based on a brief drive in a car owned by Milton Grin of Leawood.
Grin is an eye surgeon and, along with his son Andrew, an enthusiast of electric cars. In addition to the Tesla, Grin and his son have a Hyundai that has been converted to run on electricity. Grin founded the Apollo Motor Group with the objective of introducing electric vehicles to the mainstream market.
Tesla Motors is located in California. Each car is built to order. The company has delivered about 600 cars. Reserving one online requires a refundable $9,900 deposit. Delivery takes four to five months. There are eight Tesla stores, and the nearest one is in Chicago.
The Roadster's price is a whopping $109,000, but a $7,500 tax credit reduces that figure to $101,500. Tesla says that many states are rolling out incentives such as sales tax exemptions or tax credits.
The Tesla Motors Web site compares the Roadster to a Porsche 911 Turbo that has a sticker price of $130,200. The cost of recharging with electricity, according to Tesla, is roughly equivalent to spending 45 cents per gallon of gasoline. The Tesla is six times as efficient as a high-performance sports car and produces one-tenth the pollution.
Tesla plans a four-door, the Model S, for 2011. It will have a 300-mile range, accelerate to 60 mph in less than six seconds and cost about half of what the Roadster costs.
Effective range is a key limitation to some electric cars, but the Tesla can cover about 220 miles before needing to recharge. Battery life is projected to be five years or 100,000 miles.
A key to fast charge times is having Tesla's $3,000 quick-charge unit installed in your garage. Using that system, a full charge can be obtained in 3½ hours. A standard 110-volt plug will recharge the car overnight.
The Tesla's Lithium ion battery pack consists of 6,831 finger-sized laptop cells imported from Japan. Each cell is fused for safety. Radiator coolant keeps the batteries cool. It takes 12 computers to make everything work.
One of the beauties of an electric motor is its simplicity. Whereas a four-cylinder internal combustion engine might have more than 100 parts, the Tesla's electric motor has one, the rotor. The motor is about the size of a watermelon.
Because the Tesla is derived from the Lotus Elise, its handling is outstanding. Winding through a curvy section of road was delightful. The steering is firm and direct, and the body stays flat. Throttle response was instantaneous, and the regenerative braking was so powerful that slowing for a turn was easy just by letting up on the throttle.
Regenerative braking is important because it recharges the batteries while coasting or braking.
While track driving might reveal some handling deficiencies, I could find none on the street.
Tesla's Web site says the Roadster allows the driver to "enjoy the scenery without destroying it." That's provided you go slow, which is hard to do when eye-widening acceleration is so readily available. That makes the scenery blurry.
The base price of the test car was $109,000, but that does not include a $7,500 tax credit. That would bring the price of the car to $101,500.
Three years or 36,000 miles.
2009 Tesla Roadster
Engine: 375-volt, 248-hp electric motor
Transmission: single speed
Wheelbase: 92.6 inches
Curb weight: 2,723 lbs.
Base price: $109,000
As tested: $101,500
Range: 220 miles
To contact Tom Strongman, send e-mail to email@example.com.