1 May
Charlie Meadows plugs the Roadster in for a spin


Hit the Jump to read Charlie Meadow’s Tesla Roadster review, plus the latest Tesla news and photo gallery of the drive.

All photos of Tesla Roadster by Robert Kerian


The buzz on this wacky interweb has been that despite many, many, many stories covering the Great Electric Hope, the Tesla Roadster, the car is in serious woes. Things got bad in November of last year the company announced 50% layoffs, replaced its CEO, and delayed the production of its next populist vehicle, the Model S, which was supposed to be half the price of the Roadster. Then pouring salt in already gaping wounds, the New York Times casts some serious doubts to Tesla co-founder (and CEO) Elon Musk’s claims that they can reach profitibility by mid-year. and Valleywag called him out for claiming his company is getting government funds, then having to retract the statement cos no one’s qualified for those Obama-led loans. Ouch.

But things are looking up as Tesla unveiled its Model S on March 26 — less than 2 weeks later, more than 700 paid reservations have been made. Allegedly it will go into production in 2011 and is expected (if you believe them) to cost less than $50,000…once you account for the $7,500 federal tax break on electric cars. That’s less than half the current price of the Roadster, which goes for $109,000. Moreover, it looks surprisingly handsome. When CEO Elon Musk had all his beef with Henrik Fisker (who originally designed the Model S, and was then sued by Tesla for starting a competing hybrid vehicle), I thought the end result would be a horrendous, Musk-muddled visual folly (Fisker fired back, saying he designed a beautiful car, and Musk ruined it with re-designs). In the end, Fisker won. Well, all this design-centric scuffling promised to sink the Model S’s looks, but surprise surprise, the car is actually quite striking.

A couple Model S quick hits:

  • 300 mile range
  • 45 minute QuickCharge
  • 0-60 mph in 5.6 seconds
  • Seats 7 people
  • More Cargo space than sedans
  • 2X as efficient as hybrids
  • 17 inch infotainment touchscreen

If you live in NYC, The Model S will be on display tomorrow, Friday, May 1 (noon to 9 p.m.) at The Plaza Hotel (5th Avenue at Central Park South, New York, NY 10019).

One thing I can tell you, however, is that regardless of the company’s bumps, the Roadster is for real. (For the record, Tesla states it has delivered  over 100 Roadsters to customers in March, marking the first triple-digit delivery month in the company’s history, and over 170 cars in Q1 — more than the total delivered in 2008. In total about 330 Roadsters have been delivered so far.)

Recently LIAS was invited to Tesla’s West LA showroom to peek behind the curtain, and verify just how for real this car is. And after driving this electrified rocket around Los Angeles, I’m starting to believe the hype. In fact, it’s one of the funnest zippers out there, as well as one of the most singular driving experiences. The first unique aspect of driving the Roadster is simply starting it up. You actually just press a button, and then…nothing. Not a sound. There’s no way of knowing the car has actually started, other than some lights illuminating on the dash. I actually tried to start it again before the Tesla rep stopped me and told me it was already on. Then you press the gas…I mean, throttle…and the car ever-so-silently begins moving across the showroom. The only sound is that of the tires shooshing across the clean concrete. It’s actually a bit disconcerting, like driving a golf cart across clean grass: movement without sound.

Once we pulled out of the showroom and onto the onramp of the 405 then, well, things changed. This is when you notice the second unique aspect: the torque. As you drop the throttle, the Roadster zooms up and into the highway with force — immediate and true. There is no lag; you push, and the power’s there from the getup. Weird, especially when married to such silence. Normally, feeling that kind of G would associate with the roaring of some V12 tucked away 2 feet behind your head, rattling the tiny bones in your ears like a hippy playing the tambourine. But not this time. All the Gs, none of the noise…which, many autophiles will probly note, may actually not be such a good thing. Then, as you start zipping past cars and cutting across lanes, you notice the third unique aspect to the Roadster: no shifting. You just keep your foot pressed to the floormat and the speed increases smoothly, without break. No clutch, no gears, no shift. The Roadster is outfitted with one single gear which takes you up to about 120 mphs. The acceleration is relentless, and before you know it you’re blowing past cars at 70 mph, without a sound but the wind in your hair. The speed and agility of the car is truly exhilarating, and its Lotus chassis does not disappoint. You want nimble and quick? The Roadster is your car.

But this lack of shifting, like the noiselessness, is another one of those things that’s pretty cool to experience, but I’m also not 100% sold on. Don’t get me wrong — maybe its just a matter of getting used to. I think electric cars are the inevitable future, and I would deal with no clutch dumps if I had to, but it’s one of those priceless interactions with the vehicle that I missed…much like hearing it roar when I hit the gas…I mean, throttle. There’s a reaction, a dance between driver and vehicle that seems a bit removed with the Roadster. It’s a bit like doing the tango with a robot. And piping artificial noise into the equation — such as the Fisker Karma aims to do — is not the answer. I’m not sure what is, or if there is one. Again, in 10 years we will all (except perhaps the world’s richest) be driving electric cars, and it’s probably the best direction for human and Earth alike, but I still think something has to be done to create more dynamism between driver and vehicle. Or, maybe it’s simply the way of the future and car makers shouldn’t worry about incorporating “retro” aspects such as shifting and engine noise into the driving experience. Maybe we’re heading towards a quantum shift in driving, and we’ll just have to accept it.

Until that day though, and probably till the end, I will miss those (someday) retro visceralities. But when all is said and done, that half-hour drive with the Roadster had me convinced of the car’s viability. It’s quick, nimble, and a whole lot funner than I’d expected. The only drawback is the hefty pricetag — would I rather own that, or an Audi R8? Hardly worth considering. Still, if the Model S manages to become reality, then we’re talking about a real all-electric option. Let’s hope…

Galleries of our drive around LA, as well as a couple of the Model S, below:

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