From £87,945
Proves that you can have fun at the wheel without producing so much as a puff of CO2

Our Verdict

Tesla Roadster 2008-2012
The Tesla Roadster was built to prove electric cars can be fun

Is the Tesla Roadster a short-lived novelty or the future of performance motoring?

  • First Drive

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  • First Drive

    Tesla Roadster

    Electric sportscar which delivers a clean conscience, but at a price
18 February 2008

What is it?

The world’s first pure-electric production sports car is a clever amalgam of Japanese-made lithium-ion batteries (6831 of them in all), Lotus lightweight engineering, and Silicon Valley audacity.

While the $98,950 Tesla Roadster lacks the sheer speed needed to pass the true supercar litmus, it’s an entertaining plaything for daily commuting and environmental profiling.

Ambitious performance goals —acceleration to 60mph in less than 4.0 seconds, a 125mph top speed, more than 200 miles of range, and a full recharge in less than four hours — are still in flux and series production is just beginning, but this car is striving to make the green age interesting for keen drivers.

What's it like?

Thanks to a torque curve that starts high and remains so for half of its rev range, the Tesla Roadster tickles your innards with a carnival ride’s giddiness.

In the two-speed prototype I tested, there was enough urge to chirp the tires and step the tail sideways from rest. That will surely change when the beta edition arrives, which gets a single-speed gearbox and 30-or-so percent more torque to take up the slack, but Tesla is committed to providing a sprinter, not a plodder.

Agility and grip pale in comparison to the donor Lotus Elise because of 30 percent more weight and handling tuned for understeer, but the Roadster is a willing partner on curve-blessed roads. While it’s no supercar, this greenie does show the cut and thrust of a bonafide sports tourer.

That said, traditionalists will miss clutch and shifter work and the angry hum of an electric motor is no replacement for whirring camshafts and snorting pipes.

A concerted effort to reshape the bucket seats, lower the door sills, and upgrade the interior lining with carpet and carbon fiber have yielded an attractive, pleasing-to-use, and reasonably comfortable cockpit.

Aside from the toupee top, the exterior is pretty dashing too.

Should I buy one?

Unless you possess Hollywood glam and a California residence, purchasing a Tesla Roadster will be difficult. The 600 units planned for the 2008 model year are already committed.

In spite of the fact that 2009 prices haven’t been determined and the service organisation hasn’t spread beyond the San Carlos, California, home base, the deposits keep coming.

Tesla currently has no plans to market Roadsters outside the US more concrete than a definite will to enter Europe once it's found its feet in the States.

However, this little car is an imaginative, significant, and well-executed enough prospect for its market to come to it. If the Roadster’s electrical systems prove reliable and durable, the world will probably beat a path to Tesla’s door. And why shouldn't they for the world's first genuine, carbon-neutral sports car?

Don Sherman

Join the debate


19 February 2008

[quote Autocar]However, this little car is an imaginative, significant, and well-executed enough prospect for its market to come to it. If the Roadster’s electrical systems prove reliable and durable, the world will probably beat a path to Tesla’s door. And why shouldn't they for the world's first genuine, carbon-neutral sports car?[/quote]

OK Don, in what way is this a "genuine, carbon-neutral sports car"? Where do you think the electricity comes from? More likely gas/oil/coal than nuclear/solar/wind/hydro/...

19 February 2008

It is much easier to 'clean' the production of electricity (solar, wind, nuclear, geothermal, etc - depending on where in the world you are, there are realistic possiblities) than to make clean transport fuels. An all-electric car like the Tesla is not the definitive answer but it moves us closer to sustainable solutions. People who build and buy these cars do all of us a favour. Without experiments like the Tesla we will have to give up our cars sooner or later! Jan-Peter Onstwedder

19 February 2008

I must admit that I am no fan of electric cars. Until - if - we get electricity from sustainable sources, then cars like the Tesla are just window dressing, however technically impressive they may be.

Electric cars also create the rather interesting end of life problem of what to do with a battery the size of a sideboard, which doesn't strike me as too green, really. Chap at the gate of my local tip glared when I last took down a standard 12 volter.

The real answer, as ever, is to drive your existing car less.

19 February 2008

A friend of mine is an engineer and he recently conducted a study suggesting that of all the different ways to run cars it is petrol that is the most energy efficient if everything is traced back to source. This is not to say that there are not better solutions in the pipe line, but it is important not to be blinkered into the belief thet more mpg is the be all and end all. Equally diesel particulates are very damaging compared to petrol.

It is very hypocritical whan i say this but also we could all only have one car and keep it for longer as building the damn things is quite polluting as well.

20 February 2008

This is the future. Forget Hydrogen - no infrastructure and hugely inefficient. Forget public transport - who the *ell wants to use this?

We have the electrical distribution infrastructure in place already. Produce the stuff as greenly (new PC term?) as possible (wave, wind, solar, hamsters, cow manure, whatever) and we have ourselves a solution to inner city pollution, air pollution* in general, and dependence on foreign oil. (notice I refer to air pollution and not that horrible over-used cliché 'global warming', as I don't subscribe to the propagandist view that 'climate change' is a result of human-made CO2 emissions).

20 February 2008

[quote tommallett]

A friend of mine is an engineer and he recently conducted a study suggesting that of all the different ways to run cars it is petrol that is the most energy efficient if everything is traced back to source.[/quote]

The petrol engine is thermodynamically very inefficient and is worst at light load, where most petrol engines spend most of their time. The efficiency of an electric car from 'socket to wheel' is far in excess of that of a petrol car. If (big, big if at the moment) the electricity comes from a renewable source, the amount of wasted energy is small.

However, a typical fossil-fuel power station is not greatly more efficient than a petrol engine. I believe 30-40% is a typical figure, compared to maybe 25-30% for a petrol engine. Clearly adding in the transmission, power conversion, battery charging and motor losses and with centralised generation from fossil fuels the EV is going to struggle to better the petrol engine.

A better approach would be to have the EV's internal batteries charged by an appropriately-sized ICE, which is run at it's most efficient operating point when in use. Battery technology is improving, in particular reduced internal resistance allowing the battery to be charged rapidly, which would be neccessary for such a scheme. This 'series hybrid' would not be significantly more *efficient* than a traditional petrol-engined car, but combined with regenerative braking could deliver very significant improvements in fuel consumption per unit distance (which is what really matters).

The good news for drivers is that any EV with fully regenerative braking needs very powerful motors to give adequate braking performance (work out the braking power of the average family hatchback, it's huge compared to the engine power), and so has the potential for delivering rapid acceleration too, which can only be a good thing!

21 February 2008

I'd love to drive a Tesla, sounds like one of the most interesting cars in years. The first drive story makes it sound like a lot of fun - and it is based on the number 1 fun car, the Elise.

Imagine being king of the traffic light drag race and doing your bit to reduce urban pollution at the same time. Great stuff.

Buy one and move to the Scottish Highlands and you'll be in environmentally guilt free motoring heaven what with all the great roads and the hydro-electric power up there. ;-)

25 January 2009

Looks great and I was hoping this latest entrant into the electric car conversion industry was going to make good. After all, the more suppliers the better for the consumer.

What a shame it didn't get there. The top gear road test found it had a range of 55 miles, took 16 hours to charge from a standard power socket which is on par with its EV conversion competitors. But during the test the engine overheated and the brakes stopped working. It also costs heaps more than the standard lotus elise to buy.

OK, sometimes it takes a while to get your act together. But unfortunately there are heaps of competitors out there also producing electric conversions to standard cars such as Porches who do have their product sorted. Now we find Tesla is now laying off staff and running out of money (they have had to ask the government for a bailout).

What a shame. What a shame.

25 January 2009

Guess you didn't see this then:

Also, how far do you think a petrol car with a nominal 300 mile 'real world' range would get being thrashed on the TG track? I seem to remember from an older episode where they were reviewing a 5-series diesel that single figure MPG is not uncommon!

55 miles from 35kWh is equivalent (in CO2 terms) to a petrol car doing ~35mpg whilst being thrashed. Shabby? I think not.

Why are you surprised that it takes that long to charge? A standard UK mains socket can supply just over 3kW of electrical power. The Tesla has a 40kWh battery capacity. Dividing 40 by 3 is hardly rocket science...

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