► Tesla Roadster review by CAR
► We test the original Tesla EV
► Part-built by Lotus, all electric
This story about the Tesla Roadster is different, because after years of hype, anticipation and the almost-inevitable delays in production, CAR Online has finally driven one at length, on British roads and in near-production trim. This is a car burdened by expectation; some created by its billing as the world’s first truly green supercar and the first electric car you can use every day, some created by its astronomical price. Question is, does the Tesla Roadster live up to the hype?
CAR magazine lives with a Tesla Model S long-term test electric car
Forget the green stuff for a moment: how does the Tesla Roadster drive?
It’s extraordinary: the Tesla is hugely, comically fast, and somehow manages to feel even faster than its claimed, supercar-standard sub-four second 0-60mph time. The electric motor makes its torque constantly, instantly available, the single gear means you don’t have to change down or wait for kickdown, and the huge thrust is generated with nothing more than a Star-Trek whirr.
The Tesla eventually runs out of steam – or whatever it is electric cars run out of – at around 125mph, but it will still generate a solid shove in the back at 90mph. It's pretty spell-binding stuff...
And the Tesla's handling?
Not as good as the Lotus Elise it’s based on, if we're being honest. The Tesla is set up with no toe-in or wheel camber for maximum efficiency and therefore maximum range, The standard cars we drove had less steering feel than an Elise and more understeer, which also helps to counteract the desire of 450kg of battery mounted in the middle to turn into a spinning top if you close the throttle mid-bend.
Read our guide to the best electric cars and EVs on sale in the UK
Customers are likely to be able to specify suspension optimised for handling, but the Roadster’s responses will still be revelatory to anyone used to the overweight, anaesthetised rubbish most of us have to put up with.
So the Roadster's not quite as good as an Elise. That's no surprise!
The brakes require a solid shove to really engage, but the generators on the wheels that recapture energy slow the car so noticeably when you come off the throttle that the brakes often aren’t necessary.
But don’t you miss the sound of an engine?
Frankly, no. The quiet constantly reminds you how special the car you’re driving is, and how green it is. Pedestrians gape and point as it whirrs past, swelling your ego yet further. The lack of noise just makes the acceleration even more absurd, and when you’re just cruising you have a car with a powertrain infinitely more refined than a Rolls-Royce.
The Tesla’s primary ride is as composed and fluent as an Elise's, but the lack of induction and exhaust noise draws your attention to its tendency to crash through bigger potholes. A shame.
So what about the Tesla Roadster's inevitable downsides?
There are plenty. The Tesla Roadster will cost £92,000 when it goes on sale in the UK in May 2009. Normal value judgments need to be put to one side here; the Tesla will be a purely discretionary purchase by people who like the idea of it, and for whom the price is spare change.
Don’t be jealous; they’re subsidising the development of technology that will soon appear in cars we can afford, like Tesla’s Model S hatchback due in 2010.
The Roadster's claimed range of 227 miles is impressive and likely to improve before the first cars arrive in Europe, but you still need an eight-hour charge to get it, even if you install a 32-amp power supply at home or the office. And the batteries will need to be replaced after four or five years at a cost of around £12,000, although that is likely to come down and the old ones can be recycled.
Not to mention the age-old conundrum of electric cars: generating electricity still produces pollution, albeit less, just elsewhere.
Forget the price, the limitations and the seeming irrelevance of a car that will sell in tiny numbers to the very wealthy. The Tesla Roadster is probably the most significant car we’ll drive all year, because for the first time here’s an electric car with a usable range and genuinely thrilling dynamics being offered as a commercial proposition, rather than a loss-making PR exercise.
Electric cars have a long way to go before they’re relevant to the rest of us, but the Tesla Roadster shows they’re travelling fast in that direction.