With rising gas prices and the inevitable dwindling of global oil supplies, automotive enthusiasts have understandably begun to worry about what the future may hold. Many fear that the current under-hood "arms race" between high-powered performance cars is one last gas-guzzling hurrah before horsepower ratings plummet and acceleration times balloon. Happily, the 2008 Tesla Roadster demonstrates that there's life after oil for sporting cars. Simple yet complex at the same time, the Roadster delivers world-class acceleration in the drama-free fashion of a golf cart, as well as the sharp handling one would expect from its Lotus-engineered chassis.
Officially unveiled as a concept car in July 2006, the Tesla Roadster hit some bumps in the road en route to production. The car's launch date was repeatedly pushed back by this tiny San Carlos, California, company, raising concerns among buyers who had plunked down deposits to reserve their Roadsters. Fortunately, the final version of the Roadster has turned out to be the real deal. For an admittedly steep price (nearly $100,000 to start) owners are treated to the Tesla's singular combination of supercar speed and sailboat sound levels -- not to mention a distinct sense of superiority every time they drive past a filling station.
All-electric cars have been around since the dawn of the automobile, but compared to gas-powered cars, they have suffered greatly in terms of range and performance. The key to the Tesla Roadster is its advanced battery pack. Featuring lithium-ion composition (something no hybrid vehicle has yet), the massive battery pack incorporates liquid cooling, safety fuses and sophisticated programming to promote safe and reliable operation. It allows a range of more than 200 miles and acceleration performance that's equal to the world's best sports cars.
If the Tesla Roadster looks oddly familiar, that's because it's essentially a restyled Lotus Elise. However, numerous under-skin differences set the Tesla apart. Thanks to the positioning of its electric motor and battery pack, the Roadster's weight distribution is even more rear-biased than the Elise -- 35 percent front/65 percent rear, compared with 39/61 for the Lotus. Almost all of the Roadster's components are specialized; essentially, only the windshield, mirrors, dashboard, some front suspension pieces and the removable soft top are shared with the Elise.
All that high-tech hardware does add some heft -- the Roadster's 2,690-pound curb weight is almost 800 pounds more than the Elise's. The electric motor provides 248 horsepower, however, which is more than any Elise. Perhaps most impressive is the Roadster's torque delivery -- its peak output of more than 200 pound-feet is on tap as soon as you nail the "electricity pedal" from a stop. With its one-speed transmission and stratospheric 13,500-rpm redline, the Tesla Roadster offers forward-thinking enthusiasts a whole new way to make haste.
There's also an environmental benefit. The Roadster produces no emissions on its own, though electricity produced by coal- or natural-gas-fired power plants does have associated emissions. Because of the Roadster's highly efficient nature, however, Tesla claims the Roadster's associated carbon dioxide emissions would only be about a third of those for a popular hybrid car.
Naturally, this ground-breaking model is not without its weaknesses. Foremost among them is its lofty price, which limits access to only the most deep-pocketed consumers. Then there is the Roadster's limited range -- even when driven gently, the EPA estimates that the Tesla will only be good for about 220 miles between charges, although this is admirable for an electric vehicle. Finally, there are some inherent issues with the car's Lotus-derived design, including manual steering and awkward entry and exit. Nonetheless, the 2008 Tesla Roadster has earned its place in automotive history as the first genuinely high-performance electric car. Hopefully, a "trickle-down effect" will eventually make this winning combination available to a wider range of enthusiasts.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 Tesla Roadster is a two-seat roadster with a targa-style removable soft top. Only one trim level is available. Standard features include 16-inch front and 17-inch rear alloy wheels, full power accessories, air-conditioning, cruise control, heated sport seats with adjustable lumbar support, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, leather upholstery and a CD stereo with auxiliary audio jack. The Roadster's options list includes a choice of upgraded leather or synthetic microfiber upholstery, Bluetooth, a seven-speaker premium stereo, a navigation system and a mobile battery-charging system.
Powertrains and Performance
The Tesla Roadster is equipped with a three-phase, four-pole electric motor that generates 248 hp and 211 lb-ft of torque. Initially, the Roadster's motor will be mated to a two-speed electric-shift manual transmission; however, due to this transmission's inability to handle the motor's prodigious low-end torque, 1st gear will be locked out. Later in the year, Tesla will introduce what it calls "Powertrain 1.5," which includes a new one-speed transmission. Tesla will retrofit the Powertrain 1.5 upgrades free of charge for owners of the initial two-speed models.
Forced to take off in 2nd gear, two-speed Roadsters can still dash from zero to 60 in just 5.7 seconds; however, this is considerably slower than the company's target of around 4.0 seconds. Tesla claims that Powertrain 1.5 will enable the Roadster to reach 60 from rest in a supercar-like 3.9 seconds.
Manual steering is never fun at parking-lot speeds, but it's usually a treat around corners -- and the Roadster's unpowered rack is no exception. Despite the 2008 Tesla Roadster'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 engine room, 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.