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The electric sports car – Tesla Roadster review

Posted by autotran on June 5, 2009

The electric sports car is one of the stars of this year’s London Motorexpo.

The electric sports car is one of the stars of this year's London Motorexpo.

The electric sports car is one of the stars of this year's London Motorexpo.

It is a shame the Lucy Clayton Finishing School for young ladies are no longer in Knightsbridge. I understand they used to have a wooden door and car seat combo for teaching "the right sort of gel" to origami in and out of low-slung automotive exotica with dignity intact. Opening on June 25, the UK showroom for Tesla’s remarkable all-electric Roadster is right around the corner, and having just crumpled behind the wheel with all the dignity of a pantomime horse toppling into an orchestra pit, I could really use a lesson.

It is entirely apposite that the previous victim of my panzer approach to sports car access should have been an Elise, because Lotus and Tesla have much in common. Wishing to establish a performance DNA for its all-electric power train, Tesla took exactly 8 seconds to recognize that the Elise’s all-aluminums and glass-fibre construction offers just the required lightness to ping the Roadster at the horizon with all the alacrity of a bullet fired from a gun that steadfastly refuses to go “BANG”.

In the engine bay lurks a 248bhp electric motor no larger than the size of a KFC family bucket, 6,831 painstakingly temperature-controlled lithium-ion batteries and an electronic power-management system with the IQ of a small planet. By conventional, internal-combustion standards, this is the world’s simplest power train. Two bearings constitute the sum of motor moving parts subject to wear and tear, there’s only one forward gear and maximum torque of 276lb ft is delivered from a standstill…..

Thus armed, the Tesla will shift silently from 0 to 60mph in 3.9 seconds and on to a governed top speed of about 130mph. Claimed maximum range is some 220 miles, with a full charge taking 16 hours, or 4 if you happen to have a 3-phase generator lying around. The harder you use it, though, the shorter the range.

Flick it into drive; remove foot from brake and the Tesla creeps just like any other automatic. There’s no power assistance to the helm but, to be honest, I never really noticed, not even in Knightsbridge. And the only real difference to driving a standard automatic in town is that you rarely seem to need the brakes. The retarding effect of a motor that serves as a generator to recharge the battery is so strong that for the first few miles I find myself inadvertently stopping well short in traffic, and then driving up to the car in front.
The other difference, of course, is the notable absence of noise – all you can hear is the sound of a very small executive jet taxiing beneath the bodywork. Ironically, however, settled at lorry exhaust height in traffic, there’s so much of a racket going on that the benefits of silence are completely lost?

Tesla Roadster review

Tesla Roadster review

Stamp your foot to the floor when pottering at 30mph and the result is little short of astonishing. The Tesla belts away with the seamless surge of a catapult launch, leaving you feeling almost short-changed at the absence of commensurate bellow. The ride is, however, rather more crash-bang than Lotus’s legendary blend of supple, subtle and taut. Maybe it’s the added weight. Despite entirely carbon-fibre couture, the Tesla is a good deal heavier than an Elise and, yes, you certainly do feel the effects of 300 bags of sugar stowed behind your head.

Once you get over having spent £90,000 on a car without an exhaust pipe, the range issue remains a problem. If this is ever to be anything other than a rich man’s toy, it will have to be addressed. Don’t get me wrong: 200 miles allied to this performance is little short of astonishing for an all-electric car, and the average commute won’t constitute a problem. That said, could you commute comfortably in a Lotus?

Fact is, if I wish to coax my popsy any real distance for a filthy weekend, we will be setting out on Wednesday and returning on Tuesday – the frequent overnight stops required for a 16-hour recharge are somewhat more taxing than the Tesla’s toothbrush and squishy grip luggage capacity.

Only 30 per cent of the energy generated by a combustion engine actually drives a car, compared with 85 per cent of that generated by an electric motor, and – assuming a fossil-fuel power station generates your electricity – the Roadster effectively returns CO2 emissions of just 63g/km and an overnight recharge costs less than £5 of cheap-rate electricity, so the Tesla still constitutes a huge step in an interesting direction. Daimler certainly thinks so and, eager to benefit from the unprecedented efficiency of Silicon Valley’s battery- and power-management technology, has recently acquired a 10 per cent stake in the company.

Moreover, with the impending Model S, a four-door saloon with a 300-mile range and a recharging time of as little as 45 minutes, Tesla is quick to point out that, in the context of a clear century of combustion engine development, it isn’t exactly dragging its heels.

Facts:

  • Price/availability: £90,000. On sale June 25
  • Tested: Tesla Roadster, 375v AC electric motor powered by lithium-ion battery pack, one forward gear
  • Power/Torque: 248bhp@8,000rpm/276lb ft@0rpm
  • Speed top Level: 130mph
  • Acceleration: 0-62mph in 3.9sec
  • Fuel Economy: N/A
  • CO2 Emissions: N/A (63g/km well to wheel)
  • VED Band: A (£0)
  • The Verdict: Extraordinary. Needs an interior to match the engine-bay technology
  • Alternatives: Not really. But there’s a wealth of quick cars out there for 90 grand

Source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/motoring/carreviews/5446199/Tesla-Roadster-review.html

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