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2010 Tesla Roadster Sport 2.5

2010 Tesla Roadster Sport 2.5 front 1_1280x724

Speak softly, carry a huge amount of torque.

It’s low and aggressive. A gaping, purposeful grille draws your eyes to the shark’s gill hood louvers, then along the flanks to the deep intakes on the rear fenders and to the integrated rear spoiler. The covered multi-unit headlights glare at you menacingly through iridescent lenses. Step inside and punch it. The space-age banshee wail emitted by the huge hand-wound electric motor will prick up the hair on the back of your neck. Put your hand on your neck later and you shouldn’t be surprised to find the seatback stitch pattern etched into your skin.

You see, the Tesla Roadster Sport 2.5 is good for a 3.7 second moonshot to 60, and just like igniting a solid-fuel rocket, every single one of the 295 ft-lbs is available from the moment your sole hits the accelerator. Go rent “The Right Stuff” or “Apollo 13” and watch one of those rockets lifting off on a pillar of fire. Interested in experiencing a similar sensation without having to wear a space diaper? Tickle the go-pedal of a Roadster and watch the Earth’s rotation slow and then reverse. If you were speaking your voice slurs, slows, and then stops altogether as the neurons in your verbal cortex shut down one by one from overstimulation, and divert their processing power to figuring out how to keep the Tesla from entering low earth orbit.

Once your velocity flags and the surroundings stop red-shifting, you may hear a strange noise. That’s you, laughing maniacally.

So we’ve established that the electric motor—providing 288 HP and gobs of thrust—hooked up to a massive 56kWh battery should launch the diminutive Roadster like it’s been fired from a railgun. So what prevents you from becoming bug spatter on the Hubble’s lens? Actually, it’s the electric motor, too. Simply lift off the throttle and it cycles into regenerative mode, strongly but smoothly decelerating the car before you even get to the brake pedal, and turning on the brake lights in the process. It has to be felt to be understood. A bonus? According to Tesla, the regenerative mode extends the brake life considerably, and so unless your Roadster sees extensive track duty the brake pedal is used mostly for keeping the car motionless at a light.

The Roadster, then, is basically a one-pedal device. Was this boring? Does one miss the clutch, shift lever, or even flappy paddles? (The George Jetson approved buttons on the center console activate the single-speed transmission’s various modes.) Not a bit. It’s such a different experience from a traditional car that—and I cringe to say this—that it really does make the manual transmission seem anachronistic. Any interruption of the power delivery would kill that delicious hyperspace feeling. If it troubles you that I am not pining for a manual, my only recommendation is to drive one.

2010 Tesla Roadster Sport 2.5 rear 1_1280x724

At this point it’d be easy to write off the Tesla as a one-trick pony. So it can hit warp factor 8, but if you were looking for a simple straight-line thrill you could pick up a Viper SRT-10 for about $10,000 less (despite it being 0.3 seconds slower to 60). However, the Viper is a brutal, merciless plunderer, just as likely to kill you as to flay the competition. The Tesla? It’s not as one-dimensional as the mind-bending thrust would have you believe, because under the skin it shares a lot of DNA with its kissing cousin, the Lotus Elise.

That shared ancestry means that Lotus has applied their dark arts to the Tesla with a characteristic mastery. This is a car that legitimately understands the difference between dampening, rebound, and spring rate. This isn’t praise lightly given; it’s a rare car that masters even two of the three variables. Cornering was flat and supple—only the largest potholes seemed to disturb the Roadster’s composure. For the most part it rode much like a contemporary BMW. And despite the weight out back and wet tarmac, the rear end never wiggled in our brief back-road foray, and only the barest hint of understeer showed during a particularly fast and wet corner.

If there’s any complaint to be had, it’s that the interior fit and finish was—for lack of a better word—disappointing. The Alpine-sourced touch screen audio/satnav unit was functional but looked like a tuner crowd afterthought. Plastics had significant flashing and were hard to the touch and hard on the eyes. The Tesla also suffers from some of the same issues that the Elise does – there are wide sills that impede entry and exit to and from the pilot’s chair, and also encroach on your footwell space.

Cheapness and compromises be damned. These are sins easily forgiven each time you grab the perfectly sized and shaped steering wheel. Just like fingertips can read Braille, the leather-wrapped helm allows your hands to read every nuance on the road. While heavy at low speeds, it becomes perfectly weighted once you pull away from your parking spot. Other little touches, like the multifunction display down below the radio and the surprisingly supportive seats, helped to enhance the driving experience.

It’s a complete package, devoid of balky driver interfaces, bad habits, or confidence-killing quirks. If it wasn’t so intuitive or engaging to drive, I’d say so. But it was both. The damn thing just made sense.

Back behind the wheel of my old, creaky, gasoline-burning Miata, I remembered the subtle charms and idiosyncrasies of a traditional vehicle. But strangely, the things I used to think fundamentally engaged me in the operation of the car, the sounds and smells and mechanical feel of the shifter, were not so indispensable. You don’t have these things in a Camry, my reasoning went, and driving a Camry is a numb and disengaged experience. So wouldn’t the shiftless, noiseless Tesla be a soulless exercise in boredom? Not at all. The absence of “traditional” feedback, like my Mazda’s exhaust burbling on the overrun, wasn’t a downside because I enjoyed being able to hear birds and running water while the near-silent Roadster cruised with the top open to the elements. And if listening to the birds chirp isn’t your cup of tea, then the Tesla’s other charms are still lurking under your right foot.

It sounds like I’ve bought the “car of the future” bait dangled by Tesla’s PR department, but the truth of the matter is that they didn’t dangle anything—the car speaks for itself. If you like something, if it works, and if the ethos behind its creation is palpably present in its physical manifestation, then you’re going to say what you mean. The Tesla is not a super-golfcart squeezed into a Lotus frame, coated with carbon fiber, and passed off as a half-baked novelty. It’s also not the messiah come to cleanse our Petroleum Gomorrah with electric fire. If the 2010 Tesla Roadster Sport 2.5 is anything, it’s considerably different that you’d imagine. Sometimes things have to be experienced to be understood. Drive one and not only will you understand what I’m preaching, you may find yourself on a street corner spreading the gospel of Tesla yourself.

Edit: In response to some comments, I wanted to clarify that the claimed range is 245 miles on a full charge. While I didn’t take note of the state of the battery when I took delivery, after wringing it out for more than 40 miles in “sport” mode, we still had 130 miles of indicated range to “limp home” on. We weren’t concerned about range after this two-hour drive … so should you be? If you like to drive 1,000 miles a day, probably. I think most users will be perfectly satisfied with its range.

All images copyright Alex Kierstein 2010 unless otherwise specified.

Currently there are "36 comments" on this Article:

  1. SirNotAppearing says:

    Haha, I love the almost apologetic tone. If I had the funds, I'd totally hit it. The Tesla, not Alex. He'd have to buy me dinner first.

    The main problem is the existence of the Elise. Some quick internet searching reveals you can get a <20k mile Elise for about $25,000. This revelation literally made my heart start beating fast. Gotta call my wife and get shot down real quick, BRB.

  2. JeepyJayhawk says:

    What is the range on it? I missed it.

    • Tanshanomi says:

      No, you didn't. My point exactly.

    • pdb says:

      Yeah, that's pretty much it. Blink and it's depleted. Then you're stranded 10 hours while it recharges.

      Fail.

      No coal powered cars for me, thanks.

      • JeepyJayhawk says:

        8 hours by 120v AC, I think like two to four on 220v AC

      • RedmondChad says:

        I've discussed your misunderstanding of the car's range below.

        What do you mean, "coal powered"? If you don't want to use coal, don't. That's the beauty of electricity. A lot of owners have solar panels. I buy wind power. Even if I didn't pay for that, my utility is over half hydro.

        Less than 1% of the U.S. population gets all of their power from coal. For those few unfortunate people, it's true that an electric car is not cleaner than a gas car (it's very nearly the same; google Sherry Boschert's meta-review of ~40 studies on the subject). But it's still helping our economy by using less fuel, keeping the money local; and it helps us strategically by not being dependent on the Middle East.

    • Han_Solex says:

      Tesla claims 245 miles on a charge. I didn't notice how full the battery was when I got it (I doubt it was full), but after hammering it for about 40 miles in "sport" mode we showed an indicated range left of about 130 miles. I'm pretty sure freeway travel in "eco" mode would be over 200 miles for sure, and judging by my experience and assuming a worst case scenario, being able to wring the crap out of it for a couple hours and then drive 130 miles back to wherever you were coming from seems entirely reasonable.

    • RedmondChad says:

      The EPA number is 245 miles. That's a mix of city and highway. I have taken mine on a 214-mile trip and still had about 25 miles left. So yeah, I really do get that.

      Everybody worries about a long trip (see below) but almost every day I'm just driving around town. It's automatically full every morning, thanks to the electricity fairy. I don't even *look* at the battery gauge, because I know it's always more than I need. This is way more convenient than gas.

      Maybe once a year I'll take a long trip. I have gone 3,000 miles. The part in California, where there were charging stations, was great. I'd drive for an hour or two, then stop for a coffee. Drive some more, stop to take a walk. Drive some more, eat lunch. Drive some more, pick up something at the store. The charging sessions were all short and while I was doing something else, but I still got a full charge during the day so I was able to go 450 miles. Where there were no charging stations, it was less convenient, but by no means difficult: I'd just use campgrounds.

  3. tonyola says:

    And how many times can you enjoy these torque blasts before it sits inert and useless?

  4. muthalovin says:

    Its cool, its fast, its futuristic, and its not at all for me.

    I think my first foray into the electric vehicle market would probably be a Brammo Empulse. Electric sports-cars just aren't 'it' for me.

  5. Number_Six says:

    Alex's review sort of confirms what I'd expect from the Tesla. I have zero problem losing the noise, etc from a dino-powered car, as long as it's a competent, fun vehicle. It's easy to heap scorn on electric vehicles, and Elon Musk does not help his case, but let's remember that the Tesla comes at a stage of development not too far off what a 1920 Bugatti race car was at. Range anxiety? Yes. Wallet terror? Omg, yes. But if I had money to gleefully throw down on a $100,000 toy you're damn right I'd have one. My staff would just come pick me up when I ran out of juice.

    <img src="http://imcdb.org/images/260/459.jpg&quot; width="500" />

  6. engineerd says:

    To me, electric vehicles are not quite there yet enough for a daily driver. However, if I was an early adopter and wanted a weekend driver for around town or around the track, I'd take a serious look at it. I view the lack of engine sound and shifting as traits of an electric car. Traits I may miss, but which they could make up for with the torque on demand and — in the Tesla's case — a well sorted chassis. The problem is, I'm not ready to pay the premium for the electrified Elise when a brand new Elise can be had for $50k and a solid used Elise can be had for $30k or less. $70k will buy a lot of gas. Sure, that premium would go towards saving some oil (potentially), but that's not why I would buy an electric vehicle.

    • Brian H says:

      So said a lot of current owners: "Weekend fun driving only." Then they find themselves commuting and doing every damn thing they can with it. Some have to remember to take their gasser(s) for a spin once in a while to keep them charged.

      Multiply total cost of ownership by about .6 or .7., the difference in fuel, maintenance, and even more in many regions, where you get free parking, access to express lanes, etc. Move to OK, and the gubmint will give an income tax cred for 50% of purchase price of any pure EV.

      Anyhow, the Model S will be about half the price, and carry 5+2.

  7. damnelantra™[!] says:

    now if it were less then 100k…

  8. Alff says:

    It sounds like a lot of fun. I'd love to try one out.

    One question, though … 2.5 what?

  9. Mad_Science says:

    It's been debated ad-nauseum, but I appreciate the Tesla.

    After all, when you're talking about 110k supercars, you're not talking about a rational purchasing decision anyway. Around there, it's as much about image, taste and character as anything else.

    As regards the wisdom of starting your electric car company with a low volume, high-cost sports car, it makes perfect sense. For the reasons above, people are more fault tolerant and willing to spend money on something silly. Were they making a Corolla competitor, the competition is cruelly numerical. "Well, it's $1500 more…so no thanks".

    I would buy a Tesla. It wouldn't be the first $110k car I'd buy (that'd be a Maserati), but maybe the third.

    • Brian H says:

      And the Mas would cost you $.20/mi. to drive, and the Sport about $.02.
      Which would you drive more?

      • Mad_Science says:

        If I had the money for multiple >$100k sports cars, I wouldn\’t care what it cost/mile to run.

        That said, I\’d probably run the Tesla for day-to-day and canyon duty, with the Maserati for longer trips or inclement weather. Maserati definitely gets the win on engine noise.

  10. discontinuuity says:

    I'm still holding out for a new production car that's also alternative-fueled and puts out huge torque at zero rpm, but also belches out clouds of smoke and embers:
    <img src="http://www.autospecialties.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/06/steam-car.jpg"&gt;

  11. John says:

    Ahhh, hear the birds, hear the babbling brook, hear the sound of a child splatting against your car, because he ran out from behind some bushes after a ball, and couldn't hear you approaching! I guess for electric cars and motorcycles we'll have to go back to the old method of a playing card flapping in the spokes, clothes pinned to some part of the vehicle.

    • FuzzyPlushroom says:

      Ice-cream-truck speakers playing Jetsons-car noises at comparable volume to a stock V8.

    • Han_Solex says:

      You know, I'm glad you say this, actually, because on the ride I was mentioning to my passenger/co-conspirator that I was rather surprised that during this refresh, they didn't add a "running sound' to the car like what they are adding to the Nissan Leaf. The sound can be heard here in this demonstration video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DwPwx-YxIZM) – and whatever you think aesthetically about it, apparently it is highly effective. And I'll go on the record saying that I hope that Tesla does eventually add an appropriate sound (or choice between several equally effective sounds).

      But, it's a good point. The Roadster is quiet … too quiet. Luckily it's not a mass-market vehicle.

      • Jean-Philippe says:

        Err, my freakin', borin', save-the-planet', ease-your-conscience prius is terrifyingly silent in EV mode. My best moment was when I passed some van at about 55mph and the ICE engine happened to be off: Gosh the guy was scared! He should've minded his mirrors…
        Later, on Hybrid forums, I noticed some blokes calling this 'Stealth Mode" as if a prius has anything to do with… Fighter jets. Wahaha. Supersonic? Haha again. Black, carbon-clad? stop it, I'm going to suffer organ failure.
        That said, this Toy' is mass-produced, and the 'silent' topic is raised every now and then. 'Guess, the first actual accident ending up in court will get us all 'stealthers' (wouhahaha) a stupid warning chime loop-playing every time the ICE engine is off.
        ''No, honey, I didn't put elevator music on the stereo, it's just the on-board computer set in SafeParkingLot mode.''
        Aargh. Long life to the Tesla. (but I love my Flyin' Saucer. We call her Tantive IV: its definitely space-age, but also agonisingly slow).

    • Han_Solex says:

      Oh, here's a better video of just the sound: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3yO5msMEGZI&fe

  12. Nicolas Beast says:

    I own a Tesla Roadster Sport, so I am biased, but my opinions are based in reality. Several folks have brought up the range issue. Imagine being able to plug the car in at every stop; while you're at work; when you're at a restaurant; or when you go to bed. Each time I park my Tesla and ask for use of a plug, valets, restaurant owners, and garage attendants are happy to accommodate. When I go home, it takes less than a minute to plug the car in. I drive my car often and rarely take it below half charged. Would I take my Tesla on a 500mi road trip? No, but not only because of the range issue. I wouldn't take a Ferrari or a Lamborghini on a trip like that either. That's what rental cars are for. (BTW, when you tune your Lambo every 10k miles you have to ship it to Italy and pay through the nose and you don't have your car for a couple months.)

    Several folks compare the cost of a Tesla to an Elise or the like. First, the Elise doesn't compare in velocity or latency, but it's certainly cheaper. A closer comp would be the Audi R8 or the Ferrari 430. (If you are going to get one of these, please take some driving classes. These cars can take you into a ditch in a heartbeat.) The Tesla motor is an industrial electric motor designed to operate 24hrs a day for decades. It has one moving part. I can't even begin to count the moving parts and fluid transfer and regulation in a v12 Italian car or a super charged German one. So many things that could break and screw up other things. Repair on a Tesla motor won't exceed $35k, the cost of total replacement. Transmissions are the same; one progressive gear in the Tesla vs. paddles, sticks, auto regulators, and six or more gears in a car of comparable performance.

    Battery in a Tesla is about $30k and lasts at least 60k miles (warrantied). It's expected life is >100k.

    I had a 1964 Cobra Replica with a 500hp/500fp Roush racing motor before I got the Tesla. I LOVE that car, but the Tesla smokes it and is more fun.

    Handling a gas-powered super car is not like handling a Camry. The Tesla's limits are set by the driver's ability to steer and react. A Ferrari is a high maintenance super model who needs to be touched in the right way or will betray you. The Tesla is hot, but hot for the driver.

  13. You completed a few nice points there. I did a search on the topic and found most persons will agree with your blog.

  14. Neil Rodrigues says:

    For anyone who was whining about the range on these cars, you can thank the oil industry. They have been sitting on the patent for a superior battery for many years now, ever since the first battery powered Prius hit the market. That should be over soon though, the battery that was supposed to be in electric cars comes up for the end of the patent in 2014. The technology was there, the oil companies (Chevron mostly) just submerged it to squeeze a few more bucks out of you and to get adequate time to barrage you with anti electric propaganda and to pay off the auto industry to make unappealing or faulty electrics to make sure the concept looked faulty. A good example of that was the Volt. When they originally released word of its approach the word was that the car would be a sport version and would work on every fuel in existence including electric. What we got was a lackluster electric that was uninspired. You really have to wonder when backyard mechanics can make better electrics than the multi-billion dollar mega-corps. Then again these are the same companies that have been retarding your fuel mileage via ECU for many years to make it look like the same technology was producing better results each year. They have just now hit the end of the expansion capability of the technology that they have been promoting as new which is still 1980s tech. Its amazing how little truth there is in advertising if you stop and look at the inconsistencies and coincidences.

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