Tesla Roadster review
We find people fall in to two categories: those who love electric cars, and think they're the future, and those who don't want to give up on petrol. It is, perhaps, unsurprising that we, as gadget and technology lovers, find the idea of electric cars brilliant.
If you look at it logically, once battery technology improves – and it's going to over the next few years, in leaps and bounds – electric cars will have a range similar to a petrol burner and be chargable far faster than they are now. Of course, we know that the technology isn't perfect yet, but it's getting there, and that's something that both Tesla Motors, and the Roadster prove easily.
The roadster is available in two models. The standard car, tested here, and the S, which is a little faster.
Tesla won’t thank you for drawing a comparison between its car and a Lotus. But there are significant style parallels between the two cars. The Tesla is very pretty – as Lotus cars are - and certainly attracts a lot of attention, even before you’ve set up on your virtually noiseless journey.
The Tesla is convertible, but this isn’t a high-tech affair. You unclip the roof, and chuck it in what passes for a boot. Once you’ve done this, you won’t be taking much in the way of luggage. You can fit in a couple of small rucksacks, and that’s about it. But hell, who needs luggage when you’ve got an electric supercar, you can just buy more pants when you get where you’re going.
The Tesla is also very low, which makes getting in to it a little more of a challenge. Once you're in though, you're sitting on the ground, with your legs out in front of you. It's a great driving position. The car feels planted, stable and there is oodles of grip, no matter what speed you're doing.
The whole thing is made of carbon fibre. This is good, in that it's very light and keeps the car as efficient as possible. It also means the body panels are bit more bendy than in most cars.
Electric cars have a bad rap as being joyless, slow and lacking any real range. That may be true in the £30,000 cars, but up here in the heady Tesla region of £90,000 things are a lot more interesting. Of course, this car is far less accessible than the excellent Nissan Leaf, and some people might question the value for money. But like anything, the first generation is always expensive, and generally it is people wealthy enough to invest in this hardware that will make it affordable for the rest of us.
Where the Tesla scores over every other car we’ve driven is the incredible power it is able to put down, thanks to its electric motor. Unlike petrol or diesel engines, the Tesla puts its power down in one huge lump. Planting your foot on the accelerator makes it feel like the world is going to end. The g-force is incredible, and a combination of almost no noise, and being close to the ground, make it a slightly unsettling experience - thought not a bad one.
The biggest problem we noticed with the Tesla is that the brakes aren’t anywhere near as responsive as the accelerator. That’s something worth bearing in mind, because assuming that this car can stop as quickly as it goes is a mistake that could end up costing you a lot of money.
We could also complain about the heavy steering. But we won't, because in practice, it isn't a problem when you're moving. If you're going very slowly, you can certainly feel the weight, and parking is a little harder than it is in most modern cars. But for us, it gives the felling of being in control of the car. Aggressive power steering is great for a city runaround – see the small Fiat city cars, like the Punto, for examples of this – but in a sports car, it feels more authentic. Besides, it didn't bother us zipping up big hills in the south of France, so it's not likely to cause much of a problem on the A3 at Guildford either.
There are no gears here. You get buttons to put the car in neutral, drive, park and, of course, reverse. This is simple, and the single gear is far better than an automatic gearbox. No changing means no lag, and no flappy paddle gearbox to mess about with. As much as we love the idea of gear changing, and would always pick a manual over an auto gearbox, having no gears at all just makes sense. The Tesla does, however, have a modest top speed in comparison to most sports cars, but that never matters – after all, the speed limit is always going to be 70mph.
The Tesla has a decent range. With some judicious driving, you’ll be able to get further than in any other electric car currently on the market. Tesla claims up to 245 miles per charge, but, as with petrol, the heavier your right foot, the less travelling you can do. Even assuming 200 miles though, that's still twice what the Nissan Leaf can manage, and it does it with more fun and style than the Nissan too.
Charging varies on two things. How flat it is when you start recharging, and what sort of power output you have available. With a fast charger, you can fill it in about four hours. On a slow charger, a 100 per cent depleted power pack can take two days to recharge. Mostly though, people will probably get by just charging the car overnight. Which is what we did, during our test.
The Telsa now has a CD/DVD-based sat nav and entertainment system. Don’t expect great things from this system, it’s functional, but you’ll have a much more pleasant experience with a TomTom, or even a phone with Google Maps. There’s a reversing camera though, so you won’t bump in to anything when you’re backing up.
In addition to the navigation and stereo screen, there’s also an information panel. Here you’ll get updates on how full your battery is, your maximum range – if you drive like a saint – and various information about how much g-force you’re pulling, the torque output and horsepower the motor is producing. This is lovely, but you’ll never be able to look at it, because it’s in a ludicrous place – by the “gearbox” and any time this screen is showing something interesting, you’ll need to keep your eyes on the road.
Those screens for the sat nav, and information should really be combined – as in a Prius – so you have fewer things to look at, and fewer distractions. Ideally, it would be nice to have some more information on the sparse dashboard. As it stands, here, you get only a small amount of information about the battery charge and range along with speed and gauge that tells you how much power you’re draining – or in regenerative braking, how much is going back in to the batteries.
We don’t want to lapse in to stupid cliché here, but the Tesla will make you feel happy in a way that you won’t be expecting. Right now, it’s enough of a unique experience to feel special, but that’s something that will fade as electric cars become more commonplace. We've walked away feeling like a 16-year-old who has just fallen in love for the first time.
In the cabin, the Tesla feels like a bit of a compromise. The driving position is good, but with the roof on, it’s cramped and the view outside is bad. With the roof off, it’s lovely, and the lack of visibility out of the windscreen matters less. You also have quite a lot of intrusion in to the cabin from the structure of the car. This is not a spacious place to spend your time, frankly. The stereo is reasonable, but could be far slicker, especially in a car this expensive.
If you’ve got the money, and you’re looking for a fun car, then the Tesla is that. You won’t be able to drive from London to Scotland in it, but you’ll have a lot of fun zipping around making yourself weak at the knees with the awesome power of this amazing electric car. Let’s hope this, not the G Whiz, is the future of electric travel. And let’s hope it gets a lot cheaper.
Most of all though, once you've driven one, you won't ever be able to stop thinking about it.