Model Tested: Tesla Roadster Sport 2.5, electric vehicle. $206,188 manufacturer's list price, $241,938 as tested.
The sky is blue, black is black, white is white and DC is the reigning commercial form of electricity. These were all things that were accepted as fact in the late 1800s. It wasn’t until the 'War of Currents' erupted soon after that AC electricity became a viable and now mainstream method of transmitting electricity.
One of the main men behind the AC electricity discovery was Croatian-born Nikola Tesla.
Fast forward 200 years and you will find the same thing is now happening in the automotive history. Electric cars are becoming seriously viable forms of mass produced transport, with Silicon Valley-based Tesla leading the charge on the sports car front (pardon the pun).
Paying homage to the creator of AC electricity, Tesla Motors was formed in 2003. Prototypes of the Tesla Roadster began hitting the road in 2006, with the car featuring in Time Magazine’s 'Best Inventions – 2006', in the transportation category.
Since then, 1500 Tesla Roadsters have been delivered in more than 30 countries.
2009 saw the introduction of the even faster Tesla Roadster Sport, shaving the 0-100km/h time down from 3.9 seconds to a staggering 3.7 seconds.
The rich history behind this car and the sheer acceleration numbers quoted by Tesla Motors meant I had to get behind the wheel to have a shot.
Due to the limited number of vehicles in Australia, I could only secure a day behind the wheel of the Tesla Roadster Sport, but had the chance to sample stop/start city driving, some highway driving and a spirited run through one of our test routes, including a 0-100km/h dash to test whether the car is as fast as the manufacturer claims.
From the outside, it’s not hard to see the striking similarities between the Tesla Roadster Sport and its Lotus Elise donor car. It’s longer and slightly wider to accommodate the battery and its ‘electric brain’ – a fairly large Printed Circuit Board (PCB) with the manufacturer’s patented technology.
The retractable roof stores nicely in the boot, leaving driver and passenger alike with a great Targa-style wind-in-hair feeling. During testing, we were able to fit the charging cables, a sizeable camera bag, the car’s roof, a large bag with cleaning gear and other odds and ends. Cargo capacity is a respectable 170 litres (in comparison with a Porsche 911 Turbo Cabriolet’s 107 litres or a Ferrari California’s 340 litres).
Getting in and out of the Roadster Sport requires the same finesse as its Lotus Elise sibling. Bum first, legs second is the best approach, unless you’re wearing a skirt, in which case it’s a fairly undignified approach either way you try it.
The seating position is very low to the ground, with exceptional visibility out the front and sides. Rear visibility is aided by a reversing camera, making getting out of city parks a breeze.
With no power steering, the Roadster Sport can be a bit of a handful in tight parks. It’s not hard to become accustomed to though. The lack of power steering has the upside of giving unparalleled communication with the road. Every bump and slither is felt through the wheel, mimicking a go-carting experience, except on a ballistic level.
Starting the Roadster Sport is as easy as turning the key and waiting for the audible beep. From there, it drives just like any other car. The single speed transmission can turn the electric motor at up to 14,000rpm, giving the Roadster Sport unrivalled responsiveness, especially considering that maximum torque is available from 1rpm.
In the city, the heavy-ish brakes take a bit of getting used to. Once familiarised with the brakes though, the only thing worth keeping an eye on is trucks and people who spend more time looking at the car than they do on the road.
An onboard computer displays estimated kilometre range, in addition to power usage over a set period, along with graphs and other useful information. The system also allows the driver to download the information for later use.
One of the best things about the Roadster Sport and electric cars in general is that the range not only depends on how you drive, but how often you brake, or in the case of electric vehicles, decelerate.
Instead of using the brakes to slow down at a set of traffic lights, or for a corner, you can simply ease off the throttle and vary the level of ‘engine braking’ from light to very heavy. Each increment recharges the battery to an exponential degree. The only conceivable downside to this form of slowing is other drivers. It’s hard for other drivers to judge when the car is slowing down without using the brakes, as the brake lights don’t activate. It’s simply a case of being sensible and aware of your surroundings.
The test loop included a twisty hill climb. The acceleration out of corners and in a straight line is simply staggering. It’s instantaneous torque that feels absolutely unrelenting. The continuous surge of torque doesn’t let up until you reach the next corner, where you balance between braking and ‘engine braking’ to get the most out of the car.
Steering feel is quite simply unique, as is brake pedal feel. There is lots of feedback through the steering and the chassis, leaving the driver feeling like they are connected with the car and involved with the whole package.
It feels significantly heavier than its Lotus Elise donor car (weighing around 1300kg), but still feels planted and secure. Body roll is predominantly non-existent, likewise with brake fade.
Unlike the almost erotic exhaust and engine note you would receive from a Porsche 911 Turbo, the Roadster Sport makes do with an increasing pitch whine that is addictive and entertaining. It sounds like a Melbourne tram doing hot laps of Albert Park.
It’s hard to escape the constant attention this car attracts wherever it goes. It didn’t take long to become used to having our conversations interrupted by interested onlookers in traffic.
Priced from $206,188, the Tesla Roadster Sport may seem pricey in isolation. But, once you compare it to the likes of the Porsche 911 Turbo Cabriolet at $390,100, or the Ferrari California at $459,650, or even the Audi R8 V10 Spyder at $392,000, it starts making a heck of a lot more sense.
The electric motor produces 215kW between 4400-6000rpm and 400Nm from 0-5100rpm. On test, the Tesla Roadster Sport consumed around 220Wh/km. It takes around 20 hours to charge the Roadster Sport from a regular 16A circuit. Other chargers, including a 35A and 70A quick charge are available and significantly reduce charging time.
Servicing occurs once every 12 months and will cost no more than $1500 according to Tesla Motors. Additionally, new firmware for the ‘electric brain’ can be downloaded to the car remotely without the need to visit the dealership.
If sums and the logic behind cars like this bore you, flick through the next few paragraphs.
When looking at car electric cars, a common factor used in calculating the efficiency of charging the car is called well-to-wheel. The well-to-wheel calculations take into account the production source of the electricity and the method it is distributed to households from the power station.
If we take Victoria for example, the July 2010 National Greenhouse Factors study concluded that Victoria’s emission factor is 1.23kg of CO2 per kWh, assuming the source of electricity is 100 percent coal. If you assume the Tesla Roadster Sport consumes around 220Wh/km, or 0.22kWh/km, it’s possible to deduce the carbon emissions of charging and using the Tesla Roadster Sport.
After crunching the numbers, a figure of 0.2706kg/km is produced. In comparable terms, the figure can further be reduced to 270.6g/km. That figure is 0.6g/km more than a Porsche 911 Turbo Cabriolet.
If your home receives 50 percent natural energy (by virtue of wind or solar), the carbon emissions drop to 135.3g/km. The figure becomes 0g/km if you choose to receive 100 percent natural energy, or produce your own energy at home courtesy of solar or wind power.
If your home receives 100 percent coal sourced energy, it costs around $7.56 to charge the Tesla Roadster Sport from flat. Taking the same Porsche 911 Turbo Cabriolet’s average fuel consumption figure of 11.3L/100km (which would no doubt double if driven hard), it’s a cost saving of some $56 per 360km (assuming a petrol price of $1.60/L).
Tesla claims the Tesla Roadster Sport's range is around 390km. During testing, we were able to complete a road test loop with fairly hard driving and return back to the city (around 120km in total) and still have around 230km of range left. That is mainly thanks to the energy regeneration that occurs courtesy of traffic lights and descending stretches of road.
Those figures are very hard to argue with and give the Tesla Roadster Sport a very compelling argument to fight with. Now back to regular programming.
The only thing I can possibly liken the Tesla Roadster Sport to is a rollercoaster ride that has malfunctioned and become stuck at full speed. It’s scary, entertaining and staggeringly fast all at the same time. For a tech-freak like myself, it’s the ultimate sports... no, scratch that – supercar.
The technology behind this car is so unique and it has been used to create the ultimate green machine. I simply can’t wait to see what the future of Tesla Motors brings.