Sure, it's green, being electric and all, but at heart Tesla's a hot sports car

2010-12-26T00:00:00Z 2014-07-02T12:40:01Z Sure, it's green, being electric and all, but at heart Tesla's a hot sports carDavid Wichner Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
December 26, 2010 12:00 am  • 

You can crunch all the specifications for the all-electric Tesla Roadster, but two numbers stand out: 245 and 3.7.

The first represents the 245 miles per charge maximum driving range - tops among production electrics and an important number for environmentally conscious buyers, along with zero tailpipe emissions.

But the second figure says a lot more about the Tesla's driving experience: the 3.7 seconds it takes the Roadster Sport 2.5 model to get from 0 to 60 mph.

Indeed, the Tesla Roadster is a real sports car, with out-of-the-blocks speed that rivals some Porsches and is just a bit slower than the Chevy Corvette ZR1 (0 to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds). The Tesla is fast as well as quick, covering a quarter-mile in about 12.7 seconds.

But enough oohing and ahhing over the numbers; let's get to the driving experience (which will inevitably lead to speed).

For starters, the "fusion red" Tesla Roadster Sport 2.5 convertible we tested has supercar looks. And it has the underpinnings to match, with a bonded-aluminum chassis adapted from the Lotus Elise.

This Sport came with clear-coated carbon-fiber accents (an $8,000 option), premium Italian leather seats ($7,800 with leather interior). The black ragtop, which comes standard, nicely sets off its black rims.

Getting in the Tesla Roadster's racing bucket seats is a bit of a trick; you either sit momentarily on the door sill and slide in, or aim your knee just to the right of the steering wheel and sort of plop in. The seats are thinly padded, but wrap the body so well they had a glove-like feel for my fairly average-sized frame.

The instrument panel is clean - no gee-whiz electronic bar graphs - with an old-school analog (dial-type) combined speedometer/ tachometer to the left and a power-consumption meter to the right. An optional 7-inch touch screen controls the "infotainment" group, including a seven-speaker stereo, GPS navigation and back-up camera. A second screen above the console helps manage electrical options.

(The car's wall charger can fully charge the car from empty in about four hours through a recommended 220- to 240-volt home power supply, like those used for electric appliances. An optional mobile cord takes about six hours, while a standard 110- to 120-volt wall outlet takes more than 40 hours but could be handy for topping off.)

The Tesla features a small-diameter, racing-style steering wheel. The Tesla uses a key to turn on, and you put the car in "gear" by putting your foot on the brake and pushing the drive (or reverse) button.

Once in drive, it's time to fly.

Goose the firm accelerator pedal and the Tesla delivers a neck-snapping punch of power from the get-go, silent but for a faint electric-motor whine and the thrum of tires on blacktop.

Part of that power curve is common to all electrics, which have huge low-end torque (including a GM Impact prototype I test-drove some 15 years ago).

But there seemed to be no bottom to the Tesla's well of power, as the saguaros and prickly pears of Tucson Mountain Park quickly become a blur.

Forget 0-to-60. I topped 70 mph on one test rev and I didn't realize it - partly because the dashboard speedometer is hard to read (there's a secondary, digital speed readout on the lower dash screen), and partly because I was busy recovering my neck vertebra.

Despite my attempts to make the Tesla plow or skid in turns, it remained stuck to the road like the stickers on its door panels.

Even my brief stab at an old-fashioned doughnut in the blacktop parking lot of Old Tucson Studios failed (next time maybe I'll look for a gravel lot).

The Tesla Roadster is such a different driving experience that two curious urges took over at times.

Sometimes, I felt myself backing off the accelerator, as if to ease the upshifting of an automatic transmission. Other times, my hand would involuntarily reach down to grab a stick shift to downshift, as I'm conditioned to do when driving a manual transmission.

The Tesla Roadster gets additional range from its regenerative braking system, which like similar systems charges the system as you slow down. A power-saving "range mode" saves juice but lops a little off the power curve.

But unlike regenerative braking linked to the brake systems on other electrics, the Tesla's system is linked to its motor, braking as you let up on the pedal as if you are downshifting.

So efficient is this engine-braking effect that you really need use the four-wheel disc brakes only to come to a complete stop.

At the same time, the engine-braking effect can be a little disconcerting. Since you have to keep pressure on the accelerator pedal to maintain speed, there's no "coasting" as most people think of it.

To approximate "coasting," you need to use the cruise control, which electronically maintains speed by managing power imperceptively, as needed.

All this takes a little getting used to, but it's worth the Tesla's guilt-free feeling of unbridled power.

Test drive a Tesla

Test drives of the Tesla Roadster are available in Arizona by appointment (Tesla asks that only those interested in buying apply).

For more information or to schedule a test drive, contact Alex Frank at 1-480-648-3752 or go to www.teslamotors.com/phoenix

Tesla Roadster Sport 2.5

Type: All-electric, two-door convertible sports car

Maker: Tesla Motors Inc., Palo Alto, Calif.

Motor: 375-volt, 3 phase, 4-pole A/C induction motor

Power/torque: 288 hp/295 lb.-ft. at 0-5,100 rpm

Top speed: 125 mph (with electronic governor)

Dimensions: Wheelbase, 92.6 inches; length 155.4 in.; width 73.7 in.; height, 44.4 in.

Curb weight: 2,723 pounds

Price: $128,500 (base Sport 2.5 model); as tested: $154,145 including options and destination and delivery charges.

Contact Assistant Business Editor David Wichner at dwichner@azstarnet.com

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