2010 Tesla Roadster

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Martin Padgett Martin Padgett Editorial Director
January 30, 2010

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The 2010 Tesla Roadster provides spectacular performance and handling in a classic open two-seater with a green tinge, but the speedy driving it elicits can cut range to well under 200 miles.

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.

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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.


2010 Tesla Roadster


The stylish 2010 Tesla Roadster has the appearance to match its stunning sportscar performance, now inside as well as outside.

Based on a Lotus Elise platform, the 2010 Tesla Roadster has wholly unique styling, not to mention unquestionable cool.

Many reviewers note that the Tesla Roadster isn't an all-new vehicle; Car and Driver reports that this "two-seat targa [is] assembled by Lotus in England and finished by Tesla Motors in San Carlos, California." But the exterior bodywork is completely changed, even if the Roadster's underpinnings are derived from the Elise, and the Tesla has garnered glowing reviews from consumers and critics alike. The Detroit News calls it "stunning," highlighting the "crisp lines across the carbon fiber body [that] give a futuristic look," and Road & Track loves the "sleek carbon-fiber bodywork." Cars.com notes that this Tesla 2010 model "comes with a removable soft-top (a carbon fiber hardtop is optional)."

Its stage presence overshadows the fact that the Tesla Roadster is actually a small car. The Detroit News feels "there's a minimalist approach to the car's body that combines form and function into fine art," and marvels that the 2010 Tesla Roadster "is only 155 inches long (that's 6 inches shorter than the 2010 Honda Fit) and only 44 inches tall-and that's including the roof."

The sparse interior of early cars, which Cars.com had termed "minimalist design," has been spiffed up for 2010. It features black leather upholstery and trim with cream inserts and visible stitching. Car and Driver feels that the Tesla Roadster's cabin "is efficiently trimmed ... with buttons for the cabin-temperature controls, seat heaters, and air conditioning." The main screen you'll find in this high-tech marvel is the "Vehicle Display System," relocated for 2010 to the center stack, which Road & Track says "among many other features, has touch-screen settings of five operational modes."

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2010 Tesla Roadster


Despite limited range, the 2010 Tesla Roadster's acceleration and handling brings thrills that other sportscars struggle to match.

Back in 2006, when Tesla revealed its first Roadster concept, its performance claims seemed simply outrageous. But today, reviews cited by TheCarConnection.com support each and every one of those claims, making the 2010 Tesla Roadster one of the most exciting vehicles offered for sale today.

When most people think of electric vehicles, they picture hybrid-electric vehicles like the quintessential Toyota Prius. But the Tesla Roadster carries no gasoline or engine, being powered by a battery pack driving an electric motor that produces almost limitless torque. The Detroit News confirms that the engine produces "more than 276-pound-feet of torque" and that "full torque kicks [in] instantly." That instant delivery of torque is unique to electric vehicles because they don't need to spool up into a peak power range to deliver their maximum power. Autoblog states that "mid-mounted in the chassis is a 248-hp electric motor" driving the rear wheels and offering explosive acceleration. So much so, in fact, that Bloomberg says, "The size and lightness means it drives like a go-cart on meth." Motor Trend calls the Tesla Roadster's performance "an extension of your brain: the amount you've squeezed your foot is directly related to the proportion of its surge the motor delivers."

The company claims the Tesla Roadster will get to 60 mph in less than four seconds and travel 200 miles or more on a charge. Road & Track reviewers say their "testing confirms the first and strongly suggests the second."

Problems in the first several dozen Roadsters with an unreliable two-speed transmission have been addressed in the 2010 Tesla Roadster by fitting what Autoblog calls a "new single-speed fixed-gear Borg-Warner transmission." Motor Trend confirms that its "absolutely progressive, smooth, transparent acceleration" means the Tesla Roadster's "single-speed finally realizes the dream of the electric car".

How long can you drive the 2010 Tesla Roadster, regardless of the fun you're having? Autoblog says "the company is quoting a range of about 244 miles per full charge." But the real number varies with driving style, according to TheCarConnection.com's research, and it will do better around town than at higher speeds. "Range on my test car is disappointing," says Bloomberg's tester. Car and Driver reports that highway driving "drains the pack fast, as it sucks amps and there are fewer opportunities for brake regeneration." Regardless of speed and range, though, the Tesla Roadster is clearly cheaper to run per mile than a conventional automobile. Car and Driver estimates that charging the Roadster costs "about $4 to $7 worth [of electricity] for a single fill-up, depending on your local electricity rates."

Small and sleek, the Tesla Roadster looks like it should hug the road, and early reviews of its handling demonstrate just that. Car and Driver reports it "drives like a slot car." Autoblog says the "non-assisted steering is perfectly-weighted once rolling," while Motor Trend calls that steering "direct, light under way and utterly precise. Most of all, it communicates road feedback in a league ahead of the usual big-gun sports cars." Braking performance is strong as well. Car and Driver informs us that the "regenerative braking...slows the car so sharply that you can sail down mountain roads without touching the left pedal." Autoblog reviewers concur, declaring that the Tesla Roadster's "strong brakes boost confidence during short stops."

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2010 Tesla Roadster

Comfort & Quality

The Tesla Roadster is tight for passengers and far worse for cargo space, but the interior materials got good reviews and Tesla has further refined the car for 2010.

The 2010 Tesla Roadster is commendably well built, according to reviews read by TheCarConnection.com, but driver comfort seems to be sorely lacking.

The Tesla Roadster has two seats in its cramped cabin, and tricky maneuvering is needed to enter and exit the car gracefully. Those who own other small sportscars will be used to this, but Car and Driver says that "yoga moves [are] needed to get in and out of a Tesla" for the uninitiated. Cars.com reports that the 2010 Tesla Roadster's buckets are "standard heated leather seats, but cloth seats are also available." Once inside, The Detroit News observes that "the bucket seats hold you tightly in place."

Tesla has responding to criticism of early models for their rough ride, including comments by Car and Driver reviewers that they could travel "only about 160 miles before total failure. Not of the battery pack but of our lower backs," suggesting that the Tesla Roadster's "seats seem to consist of little more than black paint on the fire wall." For 2010, the seats have been redesigned with thicker upholstery, and the suspension has been recalibrated to be more forgiving over rough surfaces while maintaining the same level of roadholding.

Overall, Road & Track feels that the Tesla Roadster's cabin "is rather more habitable than an Elise's," but that may be little comfort, for it's still far from spacious. And cargo space is almost non-existent. You'll find no door pockets, cup holders, cubbies, or bins for all the things you carry into a car. A tiny compartment in front of the passenger is the sole small-item storage. Otherwise, Car and Driver says you'll find a "five-cubic-foot, carbon-fiber bucket that serves as a trunk," located behind the engine. That's it.

The first Tesla Roadsters got low marks for a somewhat unfinished interior look. But once production got rolling, Tesla's single-speed 2010 Roadsters get much better reviews. Bloomberg lauds the "five glowing buttons -- park, drive, reverse, neutral and traction control" on the console. Road & Track reviewers proclaim that the "fit and finish of our Tesla [Roadster] were exemplary, seemingly rather more tightly assembled than the last Elise" they drove in. Motor Trend points out the "naked structural aluminum" used in parts of the Tesla Roadster's interior "feels good to the touch," and the "full, high-quality carpet" that covers the floor is a nice touch. Certain interior elements highlight the car's price, according to Road & Track, which contends "the leather trim [contributes] an upmarket feel appropriate for a car of this price range."

Electric drive is quieter than an internal combustion engine, but it's hardly silent. For the 2010 Tesla Roadster, Car and Driver says that the motor itself makes a low whir, "especially while hurtling BMW M3-like to 60 mph in 4.1 seconds." It also questioned the quality of the Tesla 2010 Roadster's targa top, calling it "a roll-up canvas hankie that holds back wind noise about as well as a beach towel." For 2010, Tesla has improved the sound insulation, claiming that the interior is significantly quieter than the previous year's model.

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2010 Tesla Roadster


In the absence of third-party crash test results, rely on the 2010 Tesla Roadster's handling to help steer you out of trouble.

Until we get official crash-test results, it's hard to know how the Tesla 2010 Roadster's metal frame and carbon-fiber body panels will hold up. Regrettably, to keep weight down, the Roadster foregoes quite a lot of the latest safety gear as well.

Thus far, the 2010 Tesla Roadster has not been crash-tested by either NHTSA or IIHS. And it may be a long while before this high-priced, low-production specialty sportscar finds a pair of crash-test dummies in its two front seats. As soon as results for the Tesla Roadster are available, however, TheCarConnection.com will bring you the updated information.

Like several other low-volume vehicles, Tesla's safety features are more active than passive. Cars.com points out that "standard [safety] features include...traction control and a tire pressure monitoring system." Reviewers at The Detroit News note that the Tesla 2010 Roadster features "4-wheel ventilated disc [brakes] with ABS," as you would expect from any car with the Tesla's performance aspirations.

The 2010 Roadster does feature front driver and passenger airbags, though due to a special exemption from the NHTSA, they are not the latest kind with sensors that detect the weight of seat occupants and vary their deployment strength accordingly. As Edmunds points out, "Notably, side airbags are unavailable."

TheCarConnection.com's staff of experts considers the Valet Mode on the Tesla Roadster to be a safety feature; it will keep both teenagers of any age and parking lot attendants from enjoying the Tesla's very obvious driving thrills.

Rearward visibility gets slammed on the 2010 Tesla Roadster, dragging down its overall safety rating. The thick pillars behind the Tesla's doors are clearly apparent, and Autoblog reviewers lament the "absence of visibility past the B-pillar," where the bodywork creates significant sightline barriers.


2010 Tesla Roadster


The interior of a 2010 Tesla Roadster doesn't stack up particularly well against scores of other cars. But Tesla buyers probably aren't comparing it to those cars anyway.

A price of $109,000 will buy you quite a number of vehicles with way, way more features and standard equipment than you'll find on the 2010 Tesla Roadster. But none of them will offer quite the same "wow factor" that you'll learn accompanies the Tesla Roadster.

Your money goes toward a unique drivetrain and the acceleration it provides, so the Spartan interior is strictly secondary. For 2010, Tesla has focused on improving some of the basics, fitting a more powerful heating, ventilating and air-conditioning system, for instance.

Still, the reviews compiled by TheCarConnection.com show that the base Tesla Roadster boasts a few features you might not expect. Motor Trend reports that the Tesla 2010 Roadster has "cruise control, heated seats, air-con, remote locking and electric windows," noting that while those features "might be standard on any Korean econobox, [they're] not always on hardcore quasi-track cars, so they're worth noting." Cars.com expanded the list of standard features on the Tesla Roadster by citing the "leather-wrapped steering wheel, [and] a CD stereo with iPod connectivity."

Every buyer of a 2010 Tesla Roadster has to splurge on at least one option, as TheCarConnection.com's editors note that even the most basic recharging cord is not included in the base price. Beyond that, Cars.com reviewers cite the "optional Electronics Group [that] includes Bluetooth cell phone connectivity, a navigation radio, Sirius Satellite Radio, and a subwoofer." Other options include forged wheels, a carbon-fiber hardtop, metallic paint colors, and more.

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