|Electric Tesla can hit 60mph in four seconds|
What is it?
The sports car of the future, that’s what. A lightweight two-seater that emits not a
whisp of carbon dioxide – not even a drop of water – but which is capable of
135mph and can hit 60mph in just four seconds.
Cars are having to become ever cleaner, more efficient and safer; no more harmful
to the climate in their operation than a bubbling kettle, no more detrimental thereafter
than a discarded banana skin.
The publicity grabbed in recent weeks by the BMW Hydrogen 7 and Honda FCX
bears testimony to the industry’s effort to clean up its act, and to the general public’s
positive response. However, for those of us whose car is more than a means of transport,
this is a worrying time: will all the fun be boiled out? Perhaps not. Allow Autocar to
introduce you to the Tesla Roadster: the amazing, all-electric, zero-emissions enthusiast’s
What’s it like?
It’s instantly familiar. But although it looks like an Elise, every panel is different. Indeed,
the only exterior components it shares with its Lotus assembly-plant cousin are the
windscreen surround and door mirrors.
It’s sleeker than the Lotus too, being five inches longer. Two of these stem from an
extended engine bay, the rest from the chunkier front bumper required by US homologation
This theme continues on the inside: the same at first glance, subtly different on closer
inspection. The Elise and VX220 parts bins have been raided, but Tesla has designed
its own centre console and a touch-screen system that provides all the info a sporty
driver might want, including battery temperature.
That powertrain consists of a 248bhp electric motor, 6831 lithium-ion batteries
(enough to hold 50 kilowatt-hours) and a 400-volt current-management system. This power
is fed to the rear wheels by a clutchless two-speed gearbox. And the result is Elise-humbling
We can’t yet tell you how the Tesla Roadster drives – the company wouldn’t let us have a go
of this durability mule – but we can confirm that only an unreasonably demanding owner
could be dissatisfied with its performance and the way it flows down the road.
Tesla is upfront about how it’s borrowed heavily from Lotus in terms of chassis mechanicals
and running gear. They make a virtue of it in fact, and so they should: double wishbones
front and rear and that familiar 60 per cent rearward weight bias – even though the Tesla
is a good 150kg heavier than an Elise.
You can feel that extra weight when exiting corners, hunkering down harder under power,
and in the lower-frequency lope of its secondary ride. Before sign-off, however, Tesla is
likely to fit a rear anti-roll bar to check the extra weight of those batteries.
That said, this ‘95-per cent-there’ prototype proves startlingly fast over one of Lotus’s
cross-country proving roads. At full throttle it accrues speed as though shot from a giant
catapult. Maximum torque (about 195lb ft) is developed at zero rpm. That means its
strongest work is done from a standstill, especially as first gear is good for 65mph.
But it’s still knocking out more than 150lb ft as you pass 9500rpm, and if you keep the
throttle pinned, it’ll go to 13,500, at which point it sounds like the Millenium Falcon
just before it jumps to hyperspace. The acceleration is unrelenting and eerily
consistent – like a turbo that’s permanently on boost. There really is no way of preparing
Should I buy one?
If you live in US, if you like the idea of an environmentally sound sportster, and if you can
afford the £53,000 asking price, we’d say so.
That sounds like a lot of money, but you’d be getting a car that’s faster to 60mph than an
£80k BMW M6, and which you’d never have to take to a petrol pump. Tesla reckons
the Roadster will easily go 200 miles between 3.5-hour charges when touring, or 250 miles
around town, when regenerative ‘engine braking’ is factored in. And if you sign its package
deal on solar panels for the roof of your house, you really will own a zero-emissions
Unfortunately, you will have wait until 2008 for an available build slot. And the best we in the
UK can hope for is the end of the decade. By then the platform of this car will be 14 years
old – but it will still be the most futuristic thing you’ve ever driven.