Getting maximum performance out of this car involves more than just mashing the throttle. First, while the ignition’s on but the transmission’s disengaged, twist the key around to the right and hold it there for a few seconds, as if you were cranking the starter motor. A small yellow ‘P’ will appear in the top right of the car’s tunnel-mounted energy flow monitor. You’ve just entered Performance Mode. You can now pull alongside anything on the humbler side of a Porsche 911 Turbo at traffic lights and hand out a lesson in explosive short-distance sprinting.
That’s because up to about 40mph this Tesla could run with a true blue supercar. It serves up posture-correcting urge the very instant you call for it. Urge that’s every bit as mind-blowing for its immediacy and smoothness as it is for its overall magnitude, and that’s addictive enough to amuse you time after hilarious time.
It’s a peculiarity of the Tesla’s electric powertrain that, as your speed increases, so the car’s accelerative potential tails off. Between 50 and 80mph it goes like an M3. From 80 to 110mph, it feels just about as fast as a Golf GTi. And trying to get from 110 to the car’s 125mph limited top speed, watching the car’s remaining range deplete at a mile every five seconds or so, actually isn’t much fun at all.
Thanks to that better-specified suspension, however, this car is more suited to British B-roads than the standard one; it feels taut and sharp across country. Dial the Roadster Sport’s adjustable Ohlins up to ‘10’ and you’ll be much less aware of the car’s 1.3-tonne weight, as it jinks over crests and through compressions, than you would be in a regular Roadster.
And though you can still feel the car’s heft at times via the load running through its unassisted steering, that wheel remains a joy to interact with, as alive as it is with communication and feel.
While body control has been improved, so has the Roadster’s roadholding for the Sport version. The car’s rather wild on-limit handling has also been tamed slightly by those stiffer anti-roll bars and better dampers.
Tesla’s improvements to the Roadster’s cabin are also welcome. Our Sport came with lashings of attractive carbonfibre trim, more leather than the original car, and a new more expensive-looking button-style gear selector. The cabin’s still not quite fitted and finished with the care and attention that a £100,000 car’s interior deserves – loose trims and rough edges could be found without too much poking around – but at least progress is being made.
Should I buy one?
That depends whether you were in the market for a £86,950 regular Tesla Roadster. If you were, and you can find the £15k extra you need to trade up to the Sport without too much unseemly rummaging, we’d say go for it. Because if you’re the kind of early adopter who thinks the standard Roadster’s worth £87k, this one’s easily worth £102k. It’s a much better sports car. And as of January 2010, you’ll even be able to buy one in right-hand drive.
As for the rest of us more conventional-thinkers who require our weekend wheels to be capable of travelling further than 150 miles between 14hr pitstops… well, we’ll just have to settle for Audi’s R8 V10.
Which is no great hardship, you might say – and we’d agree. But believe it or not, there really are times when you’d be having more fun in the Tesla.