2009 Tesla Roadster Page 4

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Buying Tips:


Roadster sales have only suffered a little from the recession, though a couple of “low-mileage” examples have already shown up on eBay. As Tesla ramps up production, the backlog of more than 1,000 orders is falling, with twenty cars delivered each week to buyers who put down tens of thousands of dollars as much as three years ago. The company’s order book will be cleared by November 2009, but wait to buy until you can get service locally. They’re planning dealerships this year in Chicago, DC, Miami, New York, and Seattle, plus London and Munich.

Our battery had an indicated 202 miles of range when we got the car. That had fallen to 110 miles remaining after our drive, which covered 58 road miles—underscoring that aggressive driving will drain the batteries in the 2009 Tesla Roadster much quicker than steady-speed cruising.

The 2009 Tesla Roadster delivers jaw-dropping green performance and handling in a classic open two-seater, but the aggressive driving it encourages may cut range to less than 200 miles.

One safety compromise: Tesla was granted a three-year waiver from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to build the Roadster without the latest occupant-sensing airbags. Instead, the Roadster carries older, less expensive standard front airbags for driver and passenger.

The Roadster comes standard with an anti-lock braking system, traction control, tire-pressure monitors, and the requisite airbags and seatbelt pre-tensioners. It also offers a Valet mode that cuts acceleration in half and limits both top speed and range.

The base Tesla Roadster costs $109,000, with the faster Sport model coming in at $128,500. Options include premium seats, leather interior, metallic paint, a hardtop, forged wheels, and more; a heavy hand on the list can up the price by $25,000 or more.

In the end, the 2009 Tesla Roadster does exactly what it promises: It offers the first green alternative to gasoline sports cars. It provides kick-ass all-electric performance in a classic, almost primitive two-seater drop-top: maximum driving pleasure with minimum eco impact. The fact that it’s in production at all is one giant step for motorkind.

Other Choices:

If you like the 2009 Tesla Roadster, also consider:

  • Audi R8
  • Ferrari F430 Spider
  • Porsche 911 Turbo

Reason Why:

Despite its unique powertrain, the 2009 Tesla Roadster competes in an impressive bracket of high-performance two-seat sports cars. Probably the closest comparable production car is the Porsche 911 Turbo, which is slightly quicker to 60 mph (3.7 seconds against the Tesla’s 3.9) but costs $25,000 more. Adding the Sport option to the Tesla Roadster brings its 0-to-60-mph time down to 3.7 seconds as well, but you’ll pay dearly for that fifth of a second: the price goes up another $19,500. The Porsche is better built, has a higher level of amenities, and offers far more dealers and service points plus more space for people, stuff, and luggage. Another competitor, the Ferrari F430 Spider, costs $75,000 more for roughly equal performance. On the lower end of the scale, the Audi R8 carries a sticker price equal to the Tesla Roadster, but with its standard V-8 engine, is more than a second slower to 60 mph. All three of these cars, of course, have ranges of 300 miles or more on gasoline, with tanks that can be refilled in ten minutes or less. The Roadster’s range, on the other hand, is quoted as 244 miles (from the EPA test cycle), but aggressive driving is likely to take that below 200 miles. But Tesla buyers know that perfectly well. One further consideration: Any of those three companies (Audi, Ferrari, or Porsche) may be a better bet to exist ten years hence than Tesla, whose executive turnover and abrupt changes in product strategy have kept the Silicon Valley gossip mill humming.

The Bottom Line:

The 2009 Tesla Roadster delivers jaw-dropping green performance and handling in a classic open two-seater, but the aggressive driving it encourages may cut range to less than 200 miles.

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