New & Used Tesla Roadster: In Depth
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The Tesla Roadster is a fast two-seat convertible sports car. But that description could fit any number of cars; the Roadster will go down in history for being the first high-performance electric car sold in the U.S. since the 1920s. The Tesla Roadster comes from a brand-new Silicon Valley startup automaker dedicated to producing pure electric cars powered by lithium-ion batteries, with no combustion engine of any kind. The Roadster single-handedly convinced irascible auto journalists and wealthy buyers that electric cars weren’t all “golf carts,” but in fact could provide silent, swift, sheer acceleration that humbled Ferrari models costing twice as much. Revealed in 2006 to a startled world, with the first Roadsters rolling off the line late in 2008, full production started for the 2009 model year.
With a price tag of more than $100,000, the Tesla Roadster competes—at least in theory—with imported high-end performance cars from Porsche, Aston Martin, Ferrari, and the like. But until German makes like Audi manage to launch their own all-electric sports cars, the Tesla Roadster (along with its even higher-performance Roadster Sport model) really occupies a singular niche in the car market: It is the only emissions-free high-performance sports car for sale in the U.S. More than 1,000 have been sold, and Tesla is now developing its next model, an electric sedan called the Model S that it hopes to launch in 2012.
The Tesla Roadster uses 6,831 small “commodity” lithium-ion cells—the same kind used in mobile phones and laptops—to provide 0-to-60-mph acceleration under 4 seconds and a real-world range of 150 to 240 miles, depending on how often the driver uses that acceleration. The Roadster's electric motor is redlined at 13,000 to 15,000 rpm, for a quoted top speed of 125 mph. The mid-mounted 53-kilowatt-hour battery pack sits behind the cockpit, with a 185-kilowatt (248-horsepower) electric motor driving the rear wheels. The Tesla Roadster is assembled by Lotus in England, and shares some chassis architecture with that maker’s light, swift Elise sports car.
Tesla updated the Roadster’s interior and controls for 2010, adding two-tone upholstery and relocating the Vehicle Display System to the center stack, making it easier for drivers to select among several operational modes. The tunnel-mounted “gear lever” was also replaced with push buttons for forward, reverse, and park. While the Tesla Roadster will never be considered luxurious, the changes add a touch of elegance to what had been a harsh and Spartan cabin.
Tesla completed the Roadster's model run in 2011. A successor will have to wait until at least 2015, the company says, while it launches its Model S sedan and Model X crossover.