Words and Photos by Jennifer Jensen
It’s unnerving really. Stomp on the accelerator and watch everything through the windscreen turn into a colored blur, like a wet watercolor painting sitting next to the world’s biggest fan.
I’ve borne witness to that spectacle myriad times, but never in such quiet and solitude. The wind scurrying past the open top was my only audible indicator that I had surpassed the highway’s speed limit.
Maybe Simon and Garfunkel had driven a Tesla Roadster back in 1964.
It’s unnerving. And addicting.
I have watched my children and their friends lose interest in something that lasts longer than 1 minute — sometimes even less. This is the digital age where news can be Googled, and there is no waiting. For anything.
This is the generation of instant gratification, and the Tesla Roadster delivers just that.
Put your foot down and you go, like a rocket ship launched from the deck of a carrier with full boosters lit. This is something you will want to repeat, over and over and over again.
There is a mechanical whine that comes from the motors spinning faster, but to accelerate like this without the drama of engine noise and exhaust is exhilarating and really freaking cool.
So cool, in fact, that some local police had to partake in the Kool-Aid that is the Tesla Roadster experience. The officer was pleasantly surprised and wondered out loud what it would cost to stock the department with these little electric wonders instead of their cruisers.
For the record, it would cost a lot.
There are lots of cars that can accelerate with the thrust and force that the Tesla Roadster does, but none of them (save the Tesla Model S) slow or stop in the same way.
Take your foot off the “gas” pedal and the car slows dramatically due to regenerative braking, which feeds energy back into the battery pack below your tushy.
Step on the brake pedal and you STOP, while your face tries to push through the front windscreen. They should install head-belts in this car.
The Tesla Roadster was the general car-buying public’s first introduction to the company. Tesla debuted the Roadster to a small group of guests in July of 2006 before premiering the car to the world at the San Francisco Auto Show in November of the same year.
The Roadster went into production in February of 2008 and ended production in January of 2012.
A common thought among the uninitiated is that the Tesla Roadster was a slightly modified Lotus Elise.
Tesla’s former Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Darryl Siry stated: “In fact, we recently counted how many parts the two cars shared, and the total number was under 7% by parts count. If you were to analyze it by parts value, the number would be even smaller. So, you could say that the Tesla is similar to a Lotus Elise, except it has a totally different drivetrain, body panels, aluminum tub, rear sub-frame, brakes, ABS system, HVAC and rear suspension. The Tesla also neglects to carry over the gas tank, emissions equipment and exhaust.”
So, there you have it, a 7% crossover.
However, having spent a good amount of time behind the wheel of the Elise, it is hard not to make comparisons. Adding a lithium-ion battery pack consisting of 6,831 individual cells and weighing roughly 1,000 pounds will certainly change the driving and handling dynamics of a chassis.
Though the engineering geniuses at Tesla did a marvelous job of maintaining weight. The Elise weighs in at a svelte 2,010 pounds and, even with that monstrous battery pack, the Roadster rings in at 2,723 pounds. Good work.
As driving characteristics go, the Elise is light and tossable while being grippy and somewhat energetic. It’s a car you really need to work hard to get the most out of it. That is definitely part of the fun when at the helm of the little sports car.
In comparison, the Roadster doesn’t change direction as quickly but feels more planted to the road. The Tesla also doesn’t need to be pushed hard to enjoy. All of that power is available all of the time.
Think of the Elise like a well-toned college track star and the Tesla as Usain Bolt.
The cockpit of the Roadster also feels roomier and nicer than its British cousin. Here again, the Tesla design and engineer crew did a fairly good job of dressing things up. Though I much preferred the tan interior on our red car versus the starker looking black interior of the white car.
Unnerving, addicting and – clean? The Roadster Sport model we tested produces 299 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. Those are not big numbers by today’s standards (again, good job keeping the weight down). But as I mentioned earlier, that power is available ALL THE TIME.
The Roadster has a single-speed, fixed-gear transmission meaning there is no shifting. Ever. Reverse gear (limited to 15 mph) spins the motor in the opposite direction.
Max RPM’s? Try 14,000.
All this technology delivers a Tesla-claimed 245-mile range on a full charge.
Taking into consideration that you will drag race anyone who pulls up next to you at a stoplight, that range will dip to 200 or less. One only needs to take a look at BMW’s new i3, which delivers a topped-off range of 80 miles, to see that the Roadster is a real-world capable car.
Consider the type of driving you do everyday. A commute to the office, maybe pick up kids, a drop off to a dance class or other lesson and back home. In a typical week during the school year, I drive about 250 miles.
That’s each WEEK. (And yes, I travel a lot and rack up miles that way, but we’re talking normal people here, not automotive journalists.)
According to Tesla, if I kept my foot off the accelerator (yeah, right) and drove to preserve battery charge I could almost go an entire week before plugging in the Roadster. On a 240-volt outlet, that full charge will arrive in less than 4 hours.
The Tesla Roadster was the perfect way to introduce electric cars to the motoring world.
Start with the top of the food chain, the sports car, and then follow it up with something even better — like the Model S. And while the Model X makes perfect sense in Tesla’s growing product portfolio, I can’t wait to see what Tesla’s next sports car will be like.
Here’s to an electrifying future!
Originally published in 2014