• Feb 23, 2010
2010 Tesla Roadster Sport - Click above for high-res image gallery

After finally getting myself situated in the back of the Boeing, I notice the lady to my left wearing a Tesla fleece. As fate, the alignment of the stars and unbridled dumb luck would have it, I was seated next to Rachel Konrad, Tesla's Senior Manager of Communications... for the next 10 hours.

After exchanging pleasantries, discussing each other's plans for the Frankfurt Motor Show and getting acquainted, the topic of conversation naturally turned to cars, and the Tesla Roadster, in particular.

"It's not just about performance," an overly animated Konrad told me. "What journalists don't understand is how functional it is. Owners forget to clean their windshield because they never have to go to the gas station!"

Okay, sure. But if you're selling a vehicle that starts at $109,000, you're interested in more than avoiding dirty hands at the pump. You want the full sports car monty. Power, poise, engagement, the lot. And a bit of green cred to boot surely doesn't hurt.

So after several hours of discussion, I finally say, "Hand it over to us for a week. We'll give it a proper review on its day-to-day livability. No track tests. No slalom speeds. No smoky burnouts. Just a comprehensive assessment of functionality."

A handful of phone calls and dozens of emails later, I arrive at Tesla's flagship dealership in Menlo Park, CA to pick up a full-kitted 2010 Tesla Roadster Sport. After a tutorial on the charging procedure, the internal computer and signing my life away, I was off. The Roadster was mine for the next five days, so I promptly pulled off into a bus stop, set a destination for the coast, disabled the traction control and laid a set of elevens down the street from the dealership.

Ladies and gentlemen, it pays to fly coach.

Follow the jump to keep reading...



Photos by Brad Wood / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.

Trip One – Fully Charged – Range: 187 miles

The plan for the first day was to mimic a typical weekend jaunt – a two-seat sports car's raison d'être – involving lunch on the coast, a stop in San Francisco and then a run to my flat in Fremont before heading to a house in Tracy where I'd be parking and charging the Tesla for the week (no garage means no 220-volt outlet).

Total trip: 135 miles.

After fiddling with the JVC-supplied navigation system, the first stop was Sam's Chowder House north of Half Moon Bay. The initial leg was a simple 25-mile combination of surface streets, freeways and backroads terminating at Highway 1 and providing the perfect opportunity to get acquainted with the Roadster's recently revised interior.



When Franz von Holzhausen left Mazda to join the Tesla team, one of his first orders of business was to give the inside of the Roadster a makeover. He's succeeded with an interior that finally looks like a finished product (including a glovebox!), striking a balance between sparse and upscale with carbon fiber trim and leather "Executive" appointments.

Unlike the prototype we drove two years ago, the two-stage transmission lever has been replaced by an aluminum center console with backlit buttons for Park, Reverse, Neutral and Drive. Just below is a slot for an iPod, with Apple's proprietary connector protruding from the bottom and a rubber backing to prevent the MP3 player from sliding around – a nice, functional touch.

Below that, the traction control switch is simply either on or off (huzzah!) and the two-stage seat heaters proved invaluable when we finally made it to a chilly, fog-ensconced coast.



Although the JVC stereo looks as out of place as any other aftermarket head-unit, it just works (however inelegantly) and doesn't detract from the incredibly cool display that's migrated from its previous position to the left of the driver's knee to above the center console. The screen displays every facet of information about the Roadster, from ideal to operating range, charge status, maintenance information and performance stats. It's both simple to operate and pure geeketry, but the majority of the time it was kept on the battery display.

After enjoying some of Sam's finest (New England-style, natch) and performing an effortless five-car pass on PCH, I headed north in search of a peculiar San Francisco treat. No, not Rice-A-Roni, but the illustrious infamous maple bacon latte served by up the Pirate Cat Radio cafe. Seriously, don't judge.

Scoring a spot down the street from the low-power radio station/coffee house, I enjoyed the oddly satisfying (and predictably stomach burbling) concoction before setting out on the second-to-last leg. I got back to the topless Tesla to find a pair of ten-year-olds peering over the windows and leaning on the front bumper as their mother took a few hundred cameraphone snaps of the kiddies. Yes, the "Very Orange" exterior is just that and perhaps a tad too extroverted for a vehicle that makes nearly no noise. I slotted the key into column, twisted, heard the reassuring chime and pulled away in near silence to both kids' amusement and apparent confusion.



With just over 100 miles left on the charge, I quietly trundled my way around The City to find a few streets I knew would test the Tesla's suspension. It didn't take long to land on a particularly neglected one-way road that sent jolts through the steering wheel and ten-way adjustable suspension. Having driven a handful of Lotus Elise and Exiges in similar conditions, unsurprisingly, the Tesla felt nearly the same – easily livable, yet slightly jarring, complete with a few squeaks and rattles from the interior when cold.

When I finally made it to the Bay Bridge, the battery indicator provided a bit of a shock (no pun, promise). I had 92 miles left on the charge and 86 miles to cover, including a bout through the Bay Area's notorious late afternoon traffic. The first pangs of range anxiety had finally set in.

By the time I made it to Fremont after enduring some start-and-stop traffic on 880, the charge was down to 52 miles. The trip to Tracy: a Google-estimated 43.6 miles. Close, but doable.



Packed up – including a 70-pound dog in the passenger seat – we headed out and I stupidly didn't fit the canvas roof buried in the trunk. As the sun went down, the temperature dropped in conjunction with the range, the battery readout changed from green to red, and a light on the dash indicating power was reduced.

In an effort to conserve the remaining juice (15 miles by the time I reached Altamont Pass), I shut off the seat warmers and heater, threw a beanie on and apologized to the dog. With visions of the puppy and I shivering on the side of the freeway awaiting a tow, I shifted into maximum conservation mode and 20 minutes later – with three miles left on the charge – we rolled into the garage, hooked up the three-prong, 220-volt cable to the dryer outlet, inserted the other end into the Roadster and with a twist and a snap the surrounding bezel glowed green, then blue, to indicate juice was flowing. The dog scowled in my general direction and then promptly passed out in front of the space heater.


Trips Two and Two-Point-Five – Fully Charged – Range: 185 miles


Despite Tesla's initial claim of a 250-mile charge on the battery, the upstart automaker has changed its tune to "over 200 miles." So why haven't we broken the that mark after a full six-hour charge? A combination of factors. First, we mistakenly only charged in either "Standard" or "Performance" mode during our five-day stint. If we had set it to Range, we've been assured by Tesla that we would have seen the range extend passed 200 miles. Secondly, one of Tesla's engineers disclosed that our Sport model – like all press fleet vehicles – has lived a rough life over the last year and it's taken its toll on the battery. Your mileage – literally – will vary. Oh, and if you're without a 220-volt outlet, Tesla supplies a normal 110-volt cable that works on any standard three-prong outlet. However, despite what simple math might indicate (half of 220 means a 12-hour charge?), the 110-volt cable can only transfer five miles for each hour of charging time. Translation: Over 40 hours to top off on a normal wall outlet. Disconcerting, but hardly a dealbreaker for Teslaphiles.


So after one sphincter-puckering test of the Tesla's range, the next two days were taken relatively easy. Most of the trips were composed of short jaunts around town – anywhere between five and 30 miles – along with a 104-mile round-trip to Oakland and a photo session on the outskirts of the city. As you'd expect, this is where the Tesla shines. Simply head out, do what needs doing and plug in when you get back. It's an easy set-it-and-forget-it affair, and while it's not on the feature list, a trip to Home Depot for 50-feet of plastic fencing and two dozen wooden stakes fits in the trunk... and the front seat... with your Mom holding them.


Trip Three – 90% Charged – Range: 176 miles

With daily livability off the checklist, the final night with the Roadster meant that a proper flogging was in order. After the aforementioned trip to Oakland, I set the Sport to charge for a few hours and then headed out on a late-night backroad bombing through the hills that separate the Valley from the (far) East Bay. After all, this is a sports car, and according to Tesla's Konrad, the ideal Roadster owner is someone who's just fitted solar panels to their roof and is about to trade in their Porsche 911 Turbo. So then...

The sub-40-mile roundabout run through the Altamont is the macadam playground of my youth, a combination of expansive straights and tight turns that still serves as my de facto test loop to this day. And one stretch, in particular, is strikingly apropos: Tesla Road.




By fiddling with the car's firmware, fitting a more efficient motor and hand-wound stator, the revised Roadster puts out 288 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque, the latter – and this can't be repeated enough – available at zero rpm. The tweaks drops two-tenths of a second from the standard Roadster's 0-60 time (3.7 versus 3.9 seconds), but the initial acceleration isn't what impresses the most. Passing isn't point-and-squirt, it's teleportation. Need to squeeze into the slot between the Cadillac Escalade and the (in comparison, low-tech) Toyota Prius? Before you can think it, you're there. Mid-range torque is so plentiful that when it finally begins to drop off a few ticks past 5,000 rpm, it doesn't matter. You're already where you need to be, hunting for another slot in traffic as the whir from the electric motor at your waist is quickly overcome by a combination of wind and road noise.

With the computer set to Performance (not the Max Range mode I'd used thus far), I was completely convinced of the Roadster's pavement pummeling chops. Although you're always acutely aware of the amount of weight behind your back (the battery comes in around 900 pounds and is mounted directly against the firewall), it strikes a balance between the rearward grip of a 911 and the edgy tactility of a mid-engine sports car.

While trundling around town, the regenerative brakes takes some getting used to, but once acclimated, they became one of my favorite features, providing a startling amount of "engine braking" without having to employ the AP Racing stoppers. Out of town and into the twisties, the system's abilities are magnified to good effect and the brakes, like the sublime unassisted steering, remain wonderfully pure to their Lotus roots.



Halfway up the mountain, the radius of the bends decreases in opposite proportion to the drop-offs, but despite a predilection for bacon-saving, I disable the traction control and things get even more interesting. For your average hack (yours truly), understeer at the limit is the order of the day, but with a little coaxing and a drop of the throttle (throttle?) the rear skips sideways as the front end aims for the apex.

A sweeping left-right-left-right combination at the top of the hill makes the Roadster's rear weight bias even more pronounced, but easily manageable. And then I notice an amber light on the dash. "Fault." Followed by the "Power Reduced" indicator.

The power gauge on the right won't swing passed 100 kW as I pull off at the next turnout to give it rest. After scribbling a few thoughts in my notebook and restarting the Roadster, all is back to normal – for another five miles. The same combination of "Fault" and "Power Reduced" appears on the dash and repeats two more times before I finally pull into the lot that marks the end of my run. Needless to say, I'm disappointed, yet after speaking with the crew at Tesla, they assure me that it was a momentary issue with the motor and a rare occurrence. Chalk it up to a well-worn tester. Regardless, it was a disheartening end to an otherwise spectacular experience, and when I finally return to the garage, the late-night assault proves that just like a traditional sports car with an internal combustion engine, fuel efficiency is scarified at the altar of speed. When I left, the display read 176 miles. When I plugged in: 63 miles. Actual miles traveled: 28.


Trip Four – Fully Charged – Range 184 miles

The trek back to Tesla was an easy 63-mile jaunt; the final test of its livability and prime reflection time. Just like the vehicle on which it's based, the Roadster Sport is an exercise in compromise. The interior is sparse, the cargo capacity minimal, at best. But as a means of daily transportation, with the – let's face it – rare stoplight drag and odd day-long journey, the Roadster is easily on par with similarly priced performance offerings. And even with my singular bout of range anxiety, the appeal continued to grow.

As a longtime Elise-lover, I could count down the days when the depreciation demons take their toll and the Tesla Roadster finds its way into the Lavrinc stable, but how long could that take? The short answer: A while.



Tack on the Sport package and you're looking at an additional $19,500 on top of the $109,000 base price. Add the carbon fiber exterior bits (totaling $14,000?!), premium paint, electronics package and Executive interior and the as-tested price swells to $155,850. Clearly, Tesla is taking cues from the Germans. But to simply crunch the numbers and calculate the payments is to completely miss the point.

The Roadster is a rolling proclamation that defines you as a futurist. It's not a toy, but it's a geek's plaything. It's not a track tool, but it's capable of unparalleled performance. The same could be said for a countless number of past, current and future exotics. And above all else, it works, something that can't be said for many erstwhile supercar upstarts. Factor in the (near) zero-emissions thing and the total tally for juice (around $40.00 for the week, maybe less if I was on a different power plan) and the Roadster rises above the hype to solidify its place as a proper sports car. Could it be lighter? Certainly. Could it be cheaper? Most definitely. But today, in this world, in this climate, it stands in a segment of one. That makes it something to aspire to. And aspire I will.



Photos by Brad Wood / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 54 Comments
      • 4 Years Ago
      No matter what I do, I just can't get excited by this car; I am glad that others are. But when I think about the long list of cars you can get for the same money, it just seems like a very expensive "statement."
      • 4 Years Ago
      I'm firmly in the camp that thinks Musk and Eberhard were right to bring the sports car first.

      No sedan intender would've been satisfied with the initial faults the earliest Tesla's had. The lack of range would've been put to a sterner test when loaded up with 4 adults and possibly luggage. Above all though, sex sells despite what millions of Camry drivers might say otherwise. Choosing a low slung form catapulted the Tesla into the limelight in a way no four-door ever could.

      Fisker's Karma is case in point. As sexy as it is, that car hasn't made quite the splash as the Tesla, and its development has been more protracted due to the increased complexity of creating a refined enclosed space for occupants.

      With the Roadster Tesla benefitted from not having to sort through the time consuming and expensive issues of quiet interior fittings, sound deadening and the like. It was the inspired choice.

      Bad-A$$ way to nail a review btw, truly inspired.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Agreed.

        A 2-seat sports car is EXACTLY the type of vehicle that makes the most amount of sense for a 1st-gen EV.

        You get the sexy appeal of a sportscar which will of course get more headlines than even the hottest sedan (and that 4-door Fisker is stunning).

        Also look at the demographics of a person that can afford a $100k sports car. First and foremost they will have another, more practical car. That goes without saying, so you don't "need" to rely on the range limitations of this kind of car. Also the reality is that even sports cars are not driven like sports cars for a majority of the time - so that helps keep the range to a reasonable level.
      • 4 Years Ago
      What method was used to shoot the last photo in the story?
      • 4 Years Ago
      love the black on orange
      • 4 Years Ago
      I still think that they should have released the 4 door car first and charged $100,000 for it. It would probably be more popular.
        • 4 Years Ago
        The photo showing 17 miles of range left has the car in standard mode. If you switch to range mode, it would add another ~25 miles to it.

        I don't think you were charging in range mode. You do realize that it reverts to standard every time the car is turned off? ~185 miles is exactly normal for charging in standard mode (you have the top 10% and the bottom 10% locked out). In order to get the 244 miles, you have to actually charge the car in range mode AND drive in range mode. Seems like nobody understands this. Standard is the default and it reverts to it automatically, so if you want to get a full charge to use the max mileage you have to actually, manually choose range mode before you charge.

        240 miles worth of electricity in most of the country runs like $5-$6. Way less than a gas car, plus there's nearly no maintenance.
        • 4 Years Ago
        You're not supposed to charge in Standard mode and then publicly lament the car for not getting its advertised 240 miles that is available only in Range mode.

        It slightly stresses the batteries, but doesn't degrade them unless you do it often. 185 miles of range covers 90% of the population's driving needs 99% of the time. I feel like I go on long trips more often than most, and when I look at how often it was in the past few years that I drove more than 200 miles in a single shot, it's like 3 times a year. The massive cost savings on gas and maintenance from driving an electric every day will way, way more than make up for renting a car for those longer trips if you don't own a second car and you don't feel like taking a breather to recharge en route...
        • 4 Years Ago
        Stress and degrade are the same thing. What, do you somehow thing that using range mode 5 days in a row damages the pack but using it just one day doesn't damage it 1/5th as much?

        You're right, it's statistics, you can afford to use range mode once in a while and your pack life will not be significantly shortened. But even knowing this, I don't think it's really right to use range mode in a test without indicating that everyone couldn't afford to treat the car like this day to day due to pack damage.
        • 4 Years Ago
        You're not supposed to use range mode, it degrades the battery.
      • 4 Years Ago
      "...Owners forget to clean their windshield because they never have to go to the gas station!"

      Hyperbole aside, the only reason I'd not clean my windshield was if I weren't drving my car regularly. Considering how having a clear path of vision is somewhat important when hooning a sportscar, I would clean that sucker before every outing.

      • 4 Years Ago
      Great review, great car, I'd love one as a weekend car, my favorite road's just 35 miles round trip, three or four gos is all i need before the damn fixie kids and death hungery scubie drivers clog it.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Doesn't the Tesla already have fully carbon fiber panels? What is the $14,000 for, then?
      • 4 Years Ago
      Sorry to hear about the untimely deaths of three key engineers at Tesla...they were great and they will be missed...
      http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE61G4QP20100217
      • 4 Years Ago
      Nicely written review.
      • 4 Years Ago
      $40 a week in electricity? Eh ... no thanks? I could pay the same in gas for an S2000 and pocket the $120k (?!).
        • 4 Years Ago
        Does a person cross-shop a torque monster with the one of most torqueless, buzzy little cars on the road? Seems like the torque is the Roadster's biggest selling point ~ why even mention the S2000??? Very strange.

        I would assume after getting behind the wheel of the Tesla, the Honda would seem like a joke. I know I felt that way and I ended up buying a lowly WRX.

        But yes, for the price, this car is a complete failure (for the average joe) ~ then again, the electric part isn't economical, and I would never pay extra just to be seen "green". For x3 the cost of a Lotus, it doesn't have 1/10 the appeal for me...
        • 4 Years Ago
        This goes a lot further on $40 in electricity than an S2000 does on $40 in gas. 3x as far under normal use.

        But no, you will never make your money back if you buy this. Don't buy this for total cost of ownership.
        • 4 Years Ago
        But OH NO the pollutants!!!!! Think of the baby aminals!!!!
      • 4 Years Ago
      The outlets/cables are NOT "220-Watt" or "110-Watt". I think you mean Volts - not Watts.

      Nice review by the way.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Watts v. Volts replaced. Thanks.
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