2010 Tesla Roadster Sport

2010 Tesla Roadster Sport 2010 Tesla Roadster Sport
Short Take Road Test

If you’re still breathing after hearing the price of the new Tesla Roadster Sport—ours was an oh-my-!@#$*-God $155,850 with options—then stepping on the go pedal might possibly cure your ensuing attack of cynicism. Strange things happen in the brain over the four brief seconds it takes the Roadster Sport to whiz to 60 mph. You begin to think that maybe, just maybe, it’s worth its price. Then you think that maybe, just maybe, Lady Gaga has staying power, Tiger is done with golf, George W. got a bum rap, and so forth.

Sure, it’s expensive, but a Tesla is also unique, and truly unique automotive experiences are rarely cheap (the $1.8 million Bugatti Veyron is also unique, for example). With no pistons, connecting rods, or gearbox to provide inertial drag (its transmission is a single-speed gear reduction), accelerating a Tesla is the closest thing to being shot out of a potato gun. It sounds like a jet, and your own garage becomes your filling station. And unless you live in Malibu, you might own it for a decade before encountering another one on the road. And so forth.

$20,000 Worth of Sport

For 2010, Tesla has redesigned the cockpit of its electric sportster and juiced the lineup with a sharper version of its base $110,950 roadster called the Roadster Sport. This is what all real car companies do: bring forth changes and variants with improvements to keep buyers interested and to extract more money from them. Tesla is a real car company, even if it takes delivery of the mostly finished cars from Lotus in England and installs the powertrain, battery, and control modules at its facility in northern California.

All Tesla roadsters now have a fancier center console with pushbuttons to select the drive mode and a center-mounted information touch screen. It looks way sophisticated, especially coming from such a small company, and is a vast improvement over the jiggly shifter from before.

The chief differences between the base roadster and the Sport include the Sport’s new drivetrain software and a new stator in the car’s 375-volt AC induction motor with higher winding density and lower resistance, bumping the motor’s horsepower rating from 248 to 288 and the torque from 273 lb-ft to 295. In the suspension, remote-reservoir shocks offer 10 stiffness settings, and there are three positions for the anti-roll bars. Black forged wheels wear stickier rubber—Yokohama Advan A048s instead of Yokohama Advan Neova AD07s. There are also Sport badges on the rump and door sills. For all that, the Sport version adds $19,500 to the base price.

Our car had a $9000 carbon-fiber exterior package, which includes a rear wing, diffuser, nose splitter, and roll hoop made of the baked black fabric. For $6000, the dash and the door sills are wrapped in the French-stitched Executive Leather pack, and for $5000 the carbon-fiber hood (all the Tesla’s body panels are made from carbon fiber) is finished in a glossy clear-coat. Another $3000 buys an electronics group (upgraded stereo with navigation, Bluetooth, satellite radio, seven-speaker sound system, etc.), and our neon-orange paint cost $2000. Finally, the most useful accessory, a solar-control windshield that keeps the cockpit cooler, is the cheapest, at only $400. Well, you get the idea. The Tesla is not for people accustomed to asking how much but only when will it be delivered.

A Little Better

We drove the Sport around for a few days with the shock control set to “5,” the middle setting, and found it no starchier than the base roadster we tested in May 2009. Compared with a Lotus Elise, the Tesla has a surprisingly easygoing ride and more body sway, although in the Sport you have the option to dial out the sponginess with the suspension adjustments. The adjuster wheels are at the bottom of the shocks, and we watched two dealership techs do it in five minutes using a single floor jack.

With close to a half-ton of lithium-ion batteries aboard, the weight of which falls mainly on the rear axle, the Tesla’s handling recalls that of a Porsche 911. It’s lithe and darty through corners, but at the extreme limit of its grip, the steering turns slack under acceleration as the front axle goes light and loses its bite. It won’t lay a patch, owing to the control software that ramps up the torque progressively to make the car drivable. Tesla claims 3.7 seconds to 60 for the Sport, but we’ve had trouble verifying its acceleration claims before. The base roadster we tested, under supervision from a Tesla engineer, ran from 0 to 60 mph in 4.1 seconds. The Sport picks up the pace by 0.1 second while showing less tendency for the air-cooled motor to overheat.

Using Tesla’s special $3000 70-amp, high-capacity charger, the car will tank up in fewer than four hours. On our $19 Home Depot do-it-yourself kludged-up 240-volt, 40-amp garage charging circuit, the Tesla needed eight hours for a full zero-to-hero charge-up. Part of the Sport’s software change includes a force-charge option that extracts more power from the 53-kWh battery pack, but at the expense of pack longevity.

Build It, and They Will Come

Everybody talks about electric-vehicle range, but once again, we found it a nonissue with the Sport. Whether running errands around town or chasing sunbeams through the hills above the Pacific Ocean, the Sport still showed enough miles on its range display to get across Los Angeles after we had enjoyed 100 miles of mountainous playtime. The cockpit is still too noisy at highway speeds for cell-phone conversations, even with the canvas roof attached, although Tesla has improved the bucket seats with slightly more cushioning. Back fatigue was less of an issue than in our last roadster tester, which seemed to have been upholstered by the KGB.

With major car companies laying their electric vehicle plans—Audi has already announced that its E-Tron electric sports car will debut in 2013—Tesla’s future is not going to be easy. But so far, Tesla has delivered in high style exactly what it has promised: a car that is completely unique.