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TheCarConnection.com's editors prepared this review from hands-on experience with the new 2010 Tesla Roadster. There are few competitors to the Tesla Roadster, but editors have pointed out some other sportscars that might be considered by green-minded enthusiasts along with the electric convertible. TheCarConnection.com's editors also researched reviews from other sources to give you a comprehensive range of opinions from around the Web-and to help you decide which ones to trust.
The 2010 Tesla Roadster delivers on its promise: It's the first green alternative to a century of gasoline sportscars. Its classic, primitive two-seat soft-top shape offers kick-ass electric performance: minimal eco impact for maximum driving pleasure. Just getting the car into production guarantees the Tesla Roadster its place in history.
The 2010 Tesla Roadster is the second model year for the two-seat sportscar powered only by electricity. Based on some components of the Lotus Elise, the all-electric Tesla Roadster was unveiled in 2006 and began volume deliveries early last year at a price of $109,000. For 2010, Tesla has modified the interior to address some criticisms of its first-year model.
Compared to the Lotus Elise, the 2010 Tesla Roadster is longer, has a sleeker snout, and sports smoother, more contoured sides-minus the prominent side air intakes found on the Elise-for a low-slung, racy, and revealing style. The look is part futurism, part work in progress-it's handsome, but there's not much brand character yet, and few details are as memorable as its battery-powered drivetrain. Inside, the instrument cluster of the 2010 Tesla lights up when the car is powered up, with a "bong" tone indicating the car is ready to roll. The driver now faces a combined 150-mph speedometer and rev counter for the electric motor (since the two move in sync) plus a slew of warning lights. A road speed of 70 mph corresponds to 8,000 rpm, and the motor turns slightly over 11,000 at 100 mph. The Roadster's electric motor is redlined at 13,000 to 15,000 rpm, for a quoted top speed of 125 mph. The center of the dash holds a small navigation screen and JVC stereo.
With the maker quoting 0-to-60-mph acceleration of just 3.9 seconds, the Tesla's awesome acceleration comes from a 185-kilowatt (248-horsepower) electric motor. It's powered by a 990-pound battery pack, housed behind the driver, that holds 53 kilowatt-hours of energy. It contains 6,831 lithium-ion "commodity" cells-the ones used in laptop computers-and sits just in front of the electric motor that drives the rear wheels. Electric motors deliver maximum torque at 0 rpm and give a very flat torque curve thereafter. In performance mode, the quoted 3.9-second time for 0 to 60 mph was entirely believable, though we couldn't conduct formal timing tests. But the 2010 Tesla Roadster has so much raw, relentless power that you have to make sure it's pointed where you want to go before you floor it. At full acceleration, it straightens abruptly and poses the risk of accelerating right through the outside of a curve. Tesla has also added an even higher-performance model, the Roadster Sport, starting at $125,500. Its 215-kilowatt (288-horsepower) motor rockets it from 0 to 60 mph in just 3.7 seconds. Drivers can specify one of 10 different suspension settings, and it includes forged wheels with higher-speed tires.
Drivers used to gasoline cars must reprogram their habits for the Tesla Roadster. The aggressive regenerative braking feathers in so well that you can drive it almost wholly by modulating the accelerator. Push for speed; lift off to slow the car. It's just like engine braking, only quieter. Drivers learn to plan ahead enough so they only use the Brembo brakes below about 5 mph, to counter the simulated "idle-creep". But the Tesla Roadster isn't silent. Behind the driver, the battery cooling system whirs, and on acceleration, the motor hums like a flying scooter from "Star Wars". Wind noise drowns out all other sound above 30 mph. As for range, TheCarConnection.com drove a 2010 Tesla Roadster deliver with an indicated range of 202 miles. After a drive covering 58 road miles, the Roadster's meters indicated the range had fallen to 110 miles. Aggressive driving drains the batteries far quicker than steady-speed cruising.
For 2010, the battery charge monitor, formerly above the driver's left knee, is now mounted atop the central spine just below the dash. Its touch screen lets the driver select among five modes of operation: Standard, Maximum Performance, Maximum Range, Valet, and Storage. Also for 2010, illuminated buttons on the tunnel replace the previous "gear lever" and offer five choices: neutral, drive, reverse, park, and traction control. It's easier to get in and out of the Roadster's larger passenger compartment than the Elise's, but don't expect spaciousness. The seating area is narrow, and the driver's right knee rests uncomfortably against the hard central spine. Most irritating, the Tesla Roadster has no storage space, save for one very slippery curved metal lip running along the underside of the dash above knee level. We don't expect cup holders, but a bin or door pockets for maps and sunglasses would help.
The rear decklid covers a wide, shallow storage space in the tail that holds two pieces of soft luggage. Inside sits the $600 charging cord for standard 110-Volt power, which can take up to 8 hours for a recharge. Owners who install the $3,000 high-voltage system in their garages can cut that to 3.5 hours, less for a partial "fill". But we think Tesla exploits its customers by making them pay for any type of recharging cord.
Tesla is now in the second year of a three-year waiver from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) that lets it offer Roadsters without new occupant-sensing airbags. Instead, Tesla fits older, less expensive standard front airbags for driver and passenger; side airbags are not available. Standard equipment includes traction control, anti-lock brakes, tire-pressure monitors, and both airbags and seat belt pre-tensioners. And for owners willing to let others park their car, the Valet mode cuts acceleration in half and restricts range and speed.
For 2010, the base Tesla Roadster costs $109,000. The faster Sport model starts at $128,500. Either can be accessorized with forged wheels, leather interior, premium seats, a hardtop, metallic paint, and more. A heavy hand on the option list can add $25,000.
- Acceleration as good as any supercar
- Clean, green image and awareness
- Smooth rush of power at any speed
- Improved interior amenities
- Range below 200 miles when driven hard
- Little storage space in cockpit
- Fees up to $3,000 for recharging cord