2010 Tesla Roadster Sport
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E-mail from Tesla P.R. person: “Where is my baby?”
I look around. Gads, I’m still in Costa Mesa, a good 50 miles from Tesla’s dealership in Santa Monica.
I knew the car needed to be returned today after our five-day stint, which included two days of testing and lapping, but only now was it dawning on me that the luscious orange Roadster Sport I’m screwed into needed to be returned this morning so that it could be cleaned up and recharged in time for its next journalist-driver (our pal Aaron Robinson; sorry, Aaron). But after leaving our office last night with enough battery charge for maybe 220 miles, well, what would you do? Return it with a three-quarter-full battery? Ohhh, no. Those miles were going to be put to good and proper use — all while gradually nearing Santa Monica, of course.
And so, daughter Catherine, age 10, got a ride to school. Her pal, Lukie, who lives down the street, appeared to need a quick jolt of big-g acceleration, and wound up with a smile that could have been painted on. Of course, Lukie’s big sister, Edyn, couldn’t be left out. And what about Patrick, their dad? We’re all kids at heart, you know.
Then, heading up the 405 freeway I realized I’d better do some coast-down tests on a nearby road that’s perfect for such things.
Okay, that part sounds strange — let me explain. You see, for people like me, cars are simultaneously what you normal people perceive — cool hardware, driving fantasies, and all that stuff. But in addition, hovering above them like floating small clouds, I also see bunches of swirling equations and graphs and vectors, with unknown coefficients just aching to be figured out. Don’t see them? Next time stare harder. Among those coefficients is drag, what I’m after with my detour (and unusual for a sports car, the Tesla’s front camber is zero to minimize rolling resistance). Oh, and my apologies to the befuddled traffic following me that must have been wondering why this idiot Tesla driver kept accelerating like crazy and then coasting nearly to a stop.
And then — oh, heck, what’s this e-mail on my blackberry? “ETA on car?” Hmm. Gosh, I happened to be really near pal Paul Van Valkenburg’s house and if I didn’t drop in, Paul would never forgive me.
As I silently rolled to a stop, Paul magnetically appeared as if perceiving an approaching EV. His skill at sensing interesting automotive technologies like this traces back to his days at Chevrolet where he had a hand in the great Chaparral Can Am cars, and it’s still evident in his own top-secret EV project…about which I’d better not say anything more.
“So, a Tesla! What a surprise!” Paul greeted me, and we quickly went for a ride. First off, I explained that this is the new Sport version.
In Sport form — which adds $19,500 to the standard Roadster’s $110,950 base price (including destination charge) — its motor produces the base unit’s same 288 horsepower but at 600 fewer revs (4400 rpm), as well as 295 lb-ft of torque (up from 273) at zero rpm. Credit a hand-wound stator with increased winding density. Its black, Tesla-original forged alloy wheels wear Yokohama Advan tires, sized 195/50R16 up front and 225/45R17 at the rear. And in support of this meaty rubber are 10-position adjustable shocks and three-setting shock absorbers. Moreover, our particular example was kitted-out with generous exposed carbon fiber and a stitched leather interior (pushing the all-up price toward $160,000, though it’s eligible for a $7500 federal tax credit). In fact, the interior has evolved quite a bit since my original drive in a roadster (back when it still had a two-speed transmission).
Now, there’s a glovebox, transmission selections are accomplished by an easy button push on the center console (the scene of the crime when I mistakenly pressed reverse for a simulated drag race for our video guys — yikes!), and the multiscreen info display (which does such things as provide recharge scheduling and calculation of your energy costs) is now properly located below the radio.
I showed Paul how all you have to do to access full power is briefly twist the ignition switch to its full throw (though it doesn’t ignite anything, of course). And under power, the Sport emitted a strong whine which neither of us could determine to be entirely gear noise or electronics goings on (even after experimenting with coasting in neutral). Regardless, its acceleration is breathtaking. Make that breath-extracting. At the track, we confirmed the car’s 3.7-second scream to 60 mph — but, that’s just a number. Three-point-seven — what’s that mean? Felt, it’s such an unnatural thrust that it actually brings to mind that hokey Star Trek star-smear of warp-speed. The quick, linear accumulation of velocity makes you smile and hold on, shake your head, and eventually learn to carve unimaginable moves through traffic that’s populated by completely flat-footed internal-combustion cars.
While the Tesla’s other performance measures are impressive too, they’re simply extraordinary instead of unnatural. Yes, the car’s lateral acceleration averaged an impressive 0.98 g, but the steering’s feedback at the limit doesn’t do the number justice; you find yourself regarding tire slide with a hesitant reserve. This wasn’t an issue during our figure-eight test, set in a broad asphalt expanse. But on a narrow road, you just don’t have enough information at hand (literally) to explore beyond 90 percent or so.
Another curiosity is that while there’s a giant amount of regen deceleration when you lift throttle — so much so that the brake pedal often doesn’t need touching in typical traffic — lift-throttle on the skidpad doesn’t illicit the kind of rotation you need to adjust the attitude mid-corner. And that’s despite the car’s considerable rear weight bias — 65 percent — though power-oversteer is almost too easy. A sports car needs to have both tools available, and in balance. Perhaps the front wheels’ zero camber accounts for some of this. Or that Tesla thinks its clientele is interested only in acceleration, and maybe they are. But it would be awfully interesting to spend a day tinkering with the car’s setup to see what its real handling potential is.
After dropping Paul off, I briefly stopped by our office, then headed to Tesla’s Santa Monica dealership to sheepishly hand over the keys. In a drizzle, I noted the remaining range — still half left, darn it — then wormed my way out of the seat, shut the carbon-fiber door (the entire body is carbon), and considered its big questions.
What about range? Omitting our testing, the car generally traveled beyond 200 miles per charge, a distance that permits a comfortable degree of freeform driving (even in L.A.) before the eventual range calculations in the brain begin. Our charging was mostly done in our new garage, which is handily fitted with several 240-volt, 50-amp connectors. And there, everything worked without a hitch — indeed, it got to be commonplace. But typical 120-volt (wall plug) charging is so slow — about 5 miles of added range per plug-in hour (compared with 32 mph on our 240-volt plug, and as quick as 3.5 hours with an installed wall unit). Well, it’s like filling your tank with a straw. All this makes me really question the 100-mile range we’re commonly hearing about with the new crop of pure battery electrics (Nissan Leaf, Mitsubishi MiEV). Personally, I’m finding my range anxiety setting in at about 50 percent of battery depletion. The Tesla’s 200-plus miles seems to me to be the minimum any EV should provide.
And the cost. At about $130,000 (base price), our Roadster Sport is within pocket change of Porsche’s 911 Turbo, which, as a value, is simply a hell of a lot more car for the dollar. Yet, how do you honestly compare the Tesla with a conventional sports car? The Tesla’s technology is so different, so early-stage, that it’s a bit like comparing the memory capacity of cheap new computer hard drives to the latest solid-state, big flash memories. Flash is expensive, but is it ‘worth it?’ Not for most, but it depends on your finances and enthusiasm for cutting edge tech.
Last, it’s time to start regarding Tesla as an actual car company. With 900 Roadsters delivered, Mercedes-Benz now owning a 10-percent stake, a federal loan of $465 million, and a new factory being created for the Model S sedan, Tesla is the first maker to crack the EV legitimacy barrier in a century. And as such we’re going to start doing the same things with them we do with any other new cars.
So Tesla — with all apologies about your car’s late return — ah, when can we get it back?
|2010 Tesla Roadster Sport|
|Base price||$130,450 (eligible for $7500 tax credit)|
|Price as tested||$153,900|
|Vehicle layout||Mid-engine, RWD, 2-door, 2-pass, convertible|
|Motor||375-volt/288-hp/295-lb-ft AC electric motor|
|Transmission||Single reduction ratio|
|Curb weight||2778 lbs|
|Length x width x height||155.4 x 72.9 x 44.4 in|
|0-60 mph||3.7 sec|
|Quarter mile||12.6 sec @ 102.6 mph|
|Braking, 60-0 mph||113 feet|
|Lateral acceleration||0.98 g (avg)|
|MT figure eight||24.6 sec @ 0.81 g (avg)|
|EPA est city/hwy energy consumption||29/32 kW-hr/100 mi|
By Kim Reynolds