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Electric Car Guide
Model/Engine size: Roadster 375 volt air cooled electric motor
Fuel economy combined: N/A
Any motorist out there who is not convinced by the potential of electric cars should be made to drive the Tesla.
The incredible acceleration, which resembles that of a spaceship switching into hyperdrive, should be enough to convince even the most entrenched doubters that electric cars may actually have advantages over petrol and diesel.
Because it’s electric, it comes complete with the ability of electric motors to produce maximum torque from 0 rpm. In this case that means 276 lbs/ft between 0 and 4,500 rpm. The motor will then keep spinning strongly to 14,000 rpm with peak power of 248 bhp between 4,500 and 8,500 rpm. This instant access to torque makes the Roadster very quick – but it’s the feeling generated by the maximum torque, 100% of the time, that sets it apart.
The Tesla Roadster accelerates from 0 to 62 mph in 3.9 seconds. The Roadster Sport, which we drove, is even quicker, at 3.7 seconds. 0.2 seconds may not sound much, but in this territory, it is. The acceleration doesn’t tail off at high speed either. At 100mph around Millbrook’s high speed bowl, the responsiveness was still amazing, and it felt like it would be all the way up to the 125mph top speed.
So apart from incredible acceleration, how does it drive? Because it’s based on a Lotus Elise you’d expect it to drive like a Lotus, and mostly it does. You’re low down, close to the road, and with its rear-wheel drive and mid-engined configuration, it handles corners very well. However the Tesla weighs 1222kg whereas as the Elise weighs 860kg, so ultimately it’s not as nimble as the Lotus.
The Tesla makes up for its slightly dulled responses by having zero ‘tailpipe’ emissions, and it looks fantastic. It’s as easy to drive as Americans – the main market or the Tesla - would hope. There’s a button for go, and a button for stop, and of course no clutch. The only challenge Americans might have is the exercise of having to clamber in over the huge sills and insert themselves into the tight driver’s compartment, and then having to reverse the process to escape.
The Tesla also has a roof that can be removed, providing open-air, zero emission electric motoring. Tesla claims that its Roadster is twice as efficient as a Prius, and six times as efficient as the best sports cars while producing one-tenth of the pollution.
Although based on the Elise, Tesla says that the Roadster shares less than 7% of its parts with the Lotus, and the company carries out its own final assembly and powertrain installation in California. Some key differences are the bespoke carbon fibre bodywork, reworked rear suspension and slight increase in size.
In order to achieve the ground-breaking performance, Telsa has used advanced batteries. Lithium ion may be commonplace in phones and laptops, but in cars they remain cutting-edge technology. Thanks to these batteries the Roadster has a 244 mile range on the American EPA test cycle – which is comparable with some petrol-powered performance cars - and Tesla claims the batteries will last around 100,000 miles.
At the moment the Tesla is the only electric sports car available, although others are planned or in development. Originally launched in America, it’s now available in the UK, and of course an electric supercar comes with an electric supercar price premium - £94,000 plus VAT, or £110,000 plus VAT for the Roadster Sport. Go visit the showroom in London.
Tesla is a great example of disruptive technology. The big names in the motor industry have been ploughing along with the internal combustion engine for decades, then suddenly a new start-up company appears from nowhere with no experience in making cars and it produces a mind-blowing electric sports car on its first attempt. Of course this may be helped by the fact that the team behind Tesla has been successful in other business areas, making their first big successes in the dot com boom.
The Roadster however is not the end of the story, as Tesla is launching an electric sports saloon next, the Model S, which also looks fantastic, has a 300 mile range, and is likely to drive equally well. Although it looks like a four seater sports saloon, Tesla claims it will carry seven people (five adults and two children); it will cost $49,900 and deliveries start in 2011 in America.
So it’s back to where we started. The Tesla is currently the flagship for how electric cars can drive. OK, so the budget end of electric cars won’t have this performance, but it’s only likely to be a matter of time before costs come down, performance and range increases, and we’ll all be driving around in electric cars that are as enjoyable to drive as the Tesla.
Fuel economy extra urban: N/A
Fuel economy urban: N/A
CO2 emissions: very low/potentially zero*
Green rating: VED band A - £0
Weight: 1222 Kg
Company car tax liability (2009/10): 9%
Price: £94,000 +VAT (From £94,000 +VAT to £110,100 +VAT)
Insurance group: TBC
Max speed: 125 mph
0-62mph: 3.9 seconds
- Paul Clarke