The 2010Tesla Roadster is now for sale, and customers on the waiting list for this instant collector's item are starting to get the keys to their sporty little roadster. By now, you've probably heard of Tesla -- the startup electric car company brought to you by Silicon Valley rather than Detroit. And you might have heard rumblings that its Lotus Elise-based Roadster has been far from problem-free, with the most notable being a failed two-speed transmission that had to be replaced (including in those vehicles already sold) by this year's one-speed automatic. The company itself has had issues, from fired executives to shuttered dealerships. The future remains questionable for the Tesla Roadster, but for now, it remains an intriguing choice for wealthy, green-minded car buyers in search of a little fun.
Here are the important things to know. The Tesla Roadster is an all-electric car with a range of 227 miles under judicious driving (although as a sports car, that could be difficult to accomplish). Using Tesla's High Power Connector recharging device, it takes 3.5 hours to refill the lithium-ion batteries from near-empty. With only 2,750 pounds to lug about, the 240-horsepower electric motor provides a rush of seamless power, bringing the Roadster up to 60 mph in about 4 seconds. Plus, it does it with the eerie quietness of a Prius in all-electric mode.
Aside from going fast, the Tesla's Lotus-based chassis allows it to be one of the finest-handling automobiles you can buy. Thanks to the aft positioning of the electric motor and battery pack, the Roadster's weight distribution is even more rear-biased than the Elise's -- 35 percent front/65 percent rear, compared to 39/61 for the Lotus. The manual steering that is a pain at low parking speeds nevertheless contributes to excellent steering feel and control.
And then there are the environmental benefits. The Tesla Roadster produces no emissions on its own, though electricity produced by coal- or natural-gas-fired power plants obviously has associated emissions. Because of the Roadster's highly efficient nature, however, Tesla claims the associated carbon dioxide emissions would only be about a third of those for a popular hybrid car. Although if you have enough cash to buy a Tesla, why not make like Ed Begley and pony up for one of those home solar panel systems, too?
The 2010 Tesla Roadster has undeniable appeal, but there are some major drawbacks. Chiefly, its lofty asking price makes it attainable for only the most deep-pocketed buyers. And for them, the tiny spartan interior may not seem to befit a $100,000 car, not to mention the manual steering and the awkward entry and exit. The electric battery range should also be an issue since it makes road trips a near impossibility. However, every new technological road has to start somewhere, and with GM's EV1 long since forgotten/killed, the Tesla Roadster could very well become known as the electric car that really started it all. Or it'll be an interesting footnote in the history of the automobile, 2000-2050. Either way, it could be fun to have one in your multicar garage.
The 2010 Tesla Roadster is a two-seat roadster with a targa-style removable soft top. Only one trim level is available. Standard features includes 16-inch front and 17-inch rear alloy wheels, the High Power Connector for a 3.5-hour charge, cruise control, leather upholstery, heated seats, a leather Momo sport steering wheel, power windows and locks, air-conditioning, a universal garage opener and a CD player stereo with an iPod interface. Options include a body-colored carbon fiber hardtop, upgraded leather upholstery, microfiber cloth upholstery, Bluetooth and a seven-speaker upgraded sound system with navigation and satellite radio.
Like the Lotus Elise on which it is based, the tiny 2010 Tesla Roadster features a rather spartan interior. The heated seats and Momo steering wheel are trimmed in leather, but otherwise don't expect the sort of luxury normally associated with a car costing $100,000. However, the Roadster does differ from the Elise in its modified transmission tunnel that hosts the exclusive automatic shifter, along with the LCD information readout for battery charge, range and optional navigation.
The seats are supportive but confining and the footwells are extraordinarily narrow, though at least there's no clutch to worry about. As with the Elise, taller drivers could find the circus act required to get into the tiny, cramped Roadster -- particularly with the removable roof in place -- to be more trouble than gas-free travel is worth.
The 2010 Tesla Roadster is equipped with a 375-volt AC-induction air-cooled electric motor that produces 240 hp and 276 pound-feet of torque. As is the case with all electric vehicles, that torque is immediately available. A single-speed automatic is the lone transmission. Tesla estimates the Roadster will go from zero to 60 mph in just under 4 seconds. It reaches an electronically limited 125 mph. Based on the EPA's combined city/highway cycle, the Tesla Roadster should travel about 244 miles before needing a recharge, which takes 3.5 hours using Tesla's High Power Connector. Just as with a gasoline-powered car, this range will obviously drop the more vigorously you drive.
You'd think an electric car would have electric power steering, but you'd be wrong. Instead, the Tesla Roadster goes with an unpowered rack. It's not fun at parking lot speeds, but it's a treat around corners. Despite the Tesla's slightly softened suspension settings, this is one of the best-handling (and stiffest-riding) cars on the market. The real story, though, is the eerily muted thrust from the electric motor. Tire noise is more audible than the subdued whine from the electronics tucked behind your left shoulder, yet the Roadster's acceleration is breathtaking, especially from a standing start with all that torque on tap. It's fast, but the very opposite of furious.
Standard safety features on the 2010 Tesla Roadster include antilock brakes and traction control. Notably, side airbags are unavailable.
For 2010, the Tesla Roadster gets the more robust one-speed transmission that was retrofitted to last year's model. The navigation and premium audio systems are now integrated into one package that also includes satellite radio. The Tesla's battery range has also been to 244 miles.