When it was unveiled in 2006, the idea that any electric car could perform at the level Tesla claimed seemed absurd. Five years later, Tesla has made good on its promises—and every reviewer has experienced just how exciting all-electric performance can be.
Back then, anyone who pictured an “electric car” might think of either a golf cart or, more likely, a hybrid-electric vehicle like a Toyota Prius. But without an engine or a gasoline tank, the 2011 Roadster 2.5 is powered by a lithium-ion battery pack that powers the 288-horsepower electric motor that turns its rear wheels through a single-speed, fixed-gear Borg-Warner transmission.
Full torque kicks in instantly—one advantage of electric motors is that their maximum torque starts at 0 rpm—which provides truly explosive acceleration. Tesla claims the 2011 Roadster will get to 60 mph in less than 4.0 seconds from standstill. Tweaks to the internals of the electric motor produce more torque at lower speeds, so the Roadster Sport is even quicker. Along with slightly lowered suspension, its quoted 0-to-60-mph time is just 3.7 seconds, a figure sufficiently low to embarrass a number of far pricier cars from better-known brands.
At 8,000 rpm, the road speed is about 70 mph; at 100 mph, the electric motor is turning over at just above 11,000 rpm. A quoted top speed of 125 mph, enforced by a speed limiter, corresponds to the redline zone of 13,000 to 15,000 rpm. Remember, with no gearbox, the rev counter and speedometer move in lockstep.
So what about range? Tesla quotes a range of 244 miles on a full charge, but even more so than gasoline-powered cars, your mileage (or range) may vary. So-called “hypermilers” have been able to coax several hundred miles out of a single charge, but steady highway cruising will drain the battery quickly without much opportunity for regenerative charging when braking. And if you use the acceleration frequently—which most drivers will find irresistible—total range may fall below 150 miles.
On the other hand, depending on your local electricity rates, a full recharge may cost just $4 to $7. It will take up to eight hours, though, using the custom 240-volt charging station Tesla provides—at extra cost, mind you.
For the 2011 Roadster 2.5 model, Tesla has made some changes to the control software that permit “spirited driving” even in very hot climates. Otherwise, the performance is largely the same as prior models.
Handling of this small but heavy sportscar is almost like a slot car. The steering isn’t power assisted, but its light and precise action renders it entirely unnecessary. The regenerative brakes may be the best of any all-electric car on the market, with no more than five minutes required to learn single-pedal driving. It slows the car enough that you can hurtle down mountain roads without braking, the car recharging just enough so it won’t accelerate unless you want it to. The transitions from regenerative to friction brakes are seamless in emergency situations or for that last few miles per hour before you come to a full stop.