Matt Davis, European Correspondent
Our day spent driving the 2010 Tesla Roadster Sport can pretty much be summed up in just two words: hole shot. The standard Tesla Roadster had already established its credentials with us while in flowing city and suburban traffic, but the new Sport version turns up the amp knob to 11, so you can get the hole shot at stoplights and out-accelerate all those BMWs and Camaros.
In fact, just go ahead and add the 2010 Tesla Roadster Sport to your list of silent killers, only with an asterisk clarifying that you mean it in every positive sense. The motor in the Sport model is essentially the same as that in the Roadster, only the stator coils that interact with the 14,000-rpm rotor are hand-wound more tightly. The result is greater torque produced through less electrical resistance, plus greater kilowatt hours per amp.
And all of this comes in addition to the necessary reprogrammed "firmware" of the power electronics module (PEM), which is the brains of the operation.
All this requires just a smidge more energy from the battery to give you the quicker reaction from the go pedal that you desire. In the end, the total distance promised from a complete charge in the optimally efficient Range mode drops from 244 miles in the base model Tesla Roadster to 235 miles in the 2010 Tesla Roadster Sport.
Orange and Juiced
We can debate all day whether the Toyota Prius and Volkswagen Golf TDI are really green enough or not, but there is no doubt that the Tesla is, by its very nature, kicking them both in the khakis. In a full electric-powered vehicle, we never even weigh the green issue, thereby liberating ourselves instead to just play with the 2010 Tesla Roadster Sport. It makes us feel exhilarated rather than merely planet-saving.
We could zip along in our very orange 2010 Tesla Roadster Sport through the zombies of Los Angeles all day, really. We get better and better as we learn to thrust and parry with alternate blasts of juice and off-throttle braking. There are now 295 pound-feet of torque up to 7,100 rpm from the single motor, where the base Roadster holds its 280 lb-ft of torque up to 5,500 rpm before it begins to decline.
The Tesla Roadster's single-speed Borg Warner transaxle (drive ratio: 8.27:1) now has a push-button interface that thinks almost as fast as our fingers can press the gumdrop-colored P, R, N and D buttons. While this one ratio might not deliver the explosive acceleration from a standstill of the now-abandoned two-speed transaxle of the prototype Roadster, this is a choice that's both more durable and more civilized. Once you get rolling to about 10 mph there's plenty of explosive acceleration thereafter. Tesla claims the Roadster Sport accelerates to 60 mph from a standstill in only 3.7 seconds, though it feels like 3.5 seconds to the seat of our collective pants. Top speed remains limited to 125 mph, since battery juice leaks away like a flood from a broken dam once you indulge in illegal speeds anyway.
Filling up the lithium-ion stack in your garage takes just 3.5 hours with a beefed-up 240-volt household connection. The indicator light at the left-rear pillar changes from white to blue as the charging system snaps into action, then goes to yellow for the duration of the charge cycle until you're topped off and it turns green.
There are a lot of key touches to the 2010 Tesla Roadster — called "Darkstar 2.0" in Tesla's white papers on its Web site — and they all massage the driver experience in good ways, yet the Sport trim adds goodness of its own besides the increased quickness. The raison for many Sport upgrades has been the inherent crude, toy-car simplicity of the Lotus chassis, a thing we love when we're toying around and growing hair on our chest, but which we start to whine about during a typical 60-mile drive on highway or byway.
A solution has arrived for the Sport in the guise of four Bilstein manually adjustable dampers. There are 10 settings that range from rock hard to only a little hard, and our tester was set all day on five (more or less medium hard). We appreciated the general improvement in ride quality, although at every expansion strip we were still reminded that we were driving what is really just a very heavy Lotus Elise with a long wheelbase.
Aside from the Bilsteins, there is now a bunch more noise insulation sprayed inside the French carbon-fiber body panels. (Don't they look French to you?) The tinny sounds that once made the Tesla experience so Lotus-like are now no more, rendering the 2010 Tesla Roadster a more mature car. It feels good and more substantial, and is more Tesla.
One other bit that Tesla has to address in the not-too-distant future is the thick, vintage-style action of the unassisted rack-and-pinion steering. The muscle-bound challenge of parallel parking is made all the more tough given the small diameter of this steering wheel. Of course, the trade-off is that at both normal and abnormal speeds, the marked on-centeredness is quite the evil pleasure. Even so, we think this expensive tree-hugging sports car deserves to feel like something other than a weekend racing car.
Steering is aided a bit on the Sport, however, as a consequence of the lightweight forged-aluminum wheels. Yokohama Advan AO48 UHP tires measuring 195/50R16 84W in front and 225/45R17 90W in the rear are on duty here, just as on the Lotus Exige S 260 Sport that once stole our hearts. Given the effectiveness of the regenerative braking, we typically touch the brake pedal only for the final 100 or so feet before full halt, so the fixed AP Racing front calipers and floating Brembo rear calipers are more than up to the task of clamping the metal discs.
Change We Can Believe in
For help in striking the performance pose in this car all the more quickly, it's no longer necessary to disable the stability control. Now the 2010 Tesla Roadster Sport lets you simply switch into Performance mode from Range mode just by turning the ignition key forward. It is easier than trying to remember the protocol for disabling the stability control on one o' them fossil-fuel-gargling gas-engine horseless carriages.
In the end, the 2010 Tesla Roadster Sport is just as grip-and-go as the standard Roadster, only doing it all faster, more quietly and with more comfort choices. Is it worth the $116,500-$121,500 it costs (which depends on subsidies for green vehicles in your state)? We can't holler a "Heck, yes!" but we can say we enjoyed the hell out of it.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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