Used 2010 Tesla Roadster
Edmunds' Expert Review
History has yet to determine whether the 2010 Tesla Roadster is the beginning of an automotive revolution or a minor footnote. If you've got the cash, it might be interesting to contribute to the ultimate answer.
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.
Trim levels & features
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.
Performance & mpg
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.
Standard safety features on the 2010 Tesla Roadster include antilock brakes and traction control. Notably, side airbags are unavailable.
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.
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.
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Features & Specs
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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.
Used 2010 Tesla Roadster Overview
The Used 2010 Tesla Roadster is offered in the following submodels: Roadster Sport, Roadster Convertible. Available styles include Sport 2dr Convertible (electric DD), and 2dr Convertible (electric DD).
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Should I lease or buy a 2010 Tesla Roadster?
Is it better to lease or buy a car? Ask most people and they'll probably tell you that car buying is the way to go. And from a financial perspective, it's true, provided you're willing to make higher monthly payments, pay off the loan in full and keep the car for a few years. Leasing, on the other hand, can be a less expensive option on a month-to-month basis. It's also good if you're someone who likes to drive a new car every three years or so.