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Tesla Roadster (2009)

by Barry Green,reviewed August 2009

Meet the electric Tesla Roadster, the mean but green Californian sports car built to drive past petrol stations.
The Road Ahead took it to Lakeside Park to test its credentials.

Preparing to drive the Tesla is much like any car: you slide behind the wheel, get comfy, buckle up and turn on the key.

But here's where it differs: instead of an internal combustion engine turning over and then firing into life, there's a whirring of large cooling fans (to cool the cars battery pack and assist the air conditioning) and then a chime to say the car is ready to go.

Drive off, and here's a second difference: the acceleration is seamless and unrelenting, the second your foot goes down, with no up shifts needed thanks to the Teslas single speed transmission.

How unrelenting? Tesla claims a 0-100 km/h time of 3.9 seconds, which is faster than many multi-cylinder, mega-buck supercars.

The reason for this avalanche of performance is simple: an electric motor makes all of its torque available instantaneously. In the Tesla's case, that's 380 Nm. Power is 185 kW with a staggering 14,000 rpm limit.

Quiet it might be, but not silent: at speed, there's the rumble of tyres on bitumen and a swish as the Tesla cuts through the air.

There's no engine compression to assist braking, so the car's four wheel disc anti-lock brakes have a tough job in arresting its rapid progress. But retard they do, and the Tesla turns into Lakeside's medium and high speed corners with accuracy albeit with some urging due to the absence of power steering.

With a chassis and suspension engineered by Lotus Cars, the Tesla handles and grips much in the manner of the well-credentialed Elise despite, at 1220 kg, being nearly twice as heavy.

Much of the weight is due to the rear-mounted lithium-ion battery pack that powers the axle mounted three-phase electric motor driving the rear wheels. The pack can be recharged in 3.5 hours, providing a range of nearly 400 km, depending on the type of driving. Replacement costs $A16,000 for the pack which has a life cycle of more than 160,000 km.

Expect fuel consumption to soar if you drive a conventional car hard and an electric car is no different. After a number of laps of the 2.4 km Lakeside circuit, the Tesla's information screen told us Motor getting hot. Power reduced, so consequently our timed acceleration runs which proved as quick as an Audi R8 supercar fell short of Tesla's claimed times.

This is the only Tesla in Australia, having been imported by green power advocate Simon Hackett whose national broadband innovator company Internode achieved CO2-free status for its entire operation after undertaking a major greenhouse gas emission audit and buying the required offset carbon credits. Thus, he sees this $A145,000+ roadster as the ideal fleet car.

In summary, the Tesla Roadster won't provide transport for the masses. As a limited production sports car, that's not its role. But its proof that electric vehicles are no longer in the future, rather they're here, and here to stay.




Tesla Roadster 2009

For

Technical innovation, performance

Against

Not yet sold in Australia, finite driving range

Car Details

Vehicle make Tesla
Vehicle model Roadster
Vehicle type Sports Over $80,000
Year 2009
Price when new $145,000 plus MLP
Current price range $ - $
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This review is based on road testing conducted by The Road Ahead. Further vehicle reviews, in-depth comparisons and coverage of consumer motoring issues can be found in the Club's magazine. Prices listed were current at the time of review and are manufacturers list prices and do not include statutory and delivery charges. Prices can vary from time to time and dealer to dealer.