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First Drive: Tesla Roadster 2.5 Sport

img_8285 You know…I just can’t do it.  I tried to write a smart- funny article about the Tesla Roadster 2.5 Sport.  Honestly though, the car simply doesn’t need it.

Would I buy one?  No.  It’s far too expensive and the level of fit and finish is just too much for me.  But it does tick every single box on the opposite side of the Up-Shift equation.

The Up Shift guys have always loved raw feedback, knife edge handling that makes driving seem almost telepathic.  That “push and pull” at the base of your spine or twitch of the steering from every pebble you drive over.  There really is so much going on under the skin of this car that it’s difficult to convey the science behind it all.  And that’s coming from a guy who has some mechanical engineering experience.

So it’s very difficult this.  There is a large difference between watching a balding fat man scream “Say hello to the world of broad band motoring” and actually experiencing that kind of performance.  So difficult in fact that I decided to simply ask Shaun Philips, Tesla Motors rep. for the Mid Atlantic region, how he would described it.  “It really is a rather bizarre experience.”  ?!  Not exactly what I was expecting but it does sum up quite well what happened next.

After a brief walk around and introduction of the info systems, which really should have its own tutorial, we were almost ready for our drive.  Shaun then tells me, “If we get the feeling that whoever is test driving won’t push it, we ask if they mind us driving.  Otherwise they won’t get a good feel for what the car can do.”  “Oh”, Shaun shares, “We have had one guy hurt his neck while testing the torque the car has.”

One of the classic components of a truly great sports car is lightness.  This becomes even more important when you’re talking about electric cars.  The first thing I noticed was the manually adjustable mirrors, which meant I had to ask Shaun to set the passenger side for me.

Making the sharp left turn to leave the parking lot was easier said than done.  Another lightness trick the Tesla Roadster has up its sleeve is a manual steering rack, which happens to be exactly what you want if you’re looking for the most direct road feedback possible.  When you have to park or maneuver at low speeds though, it will be a work out you won’t forget.  A small price to pay for sharp razor like handling though.

Shaun instructs me as we pull out of the lot, “Just hold this speed for a bit, then tap it to the floor and let back off.”

I comply, and almost lose my lunch. img_8371

It becomes immediately apparent that the 2.5 Roadster does not like to wait.  By the time my foot had fully depressed the pedal the car knew I was in a hurry and delivered all 295lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels like Thor’s hammer had just hit the rear end.  It feels as if the car really would leave you behind if you weren’t strapped in.  In fact, the forces on you are so strong I think the only way you could keep your foot on the floor is if you eased the power in.

At this point I’m sure Shaun can read minds.  He encourages, “When we get up here to a straight, just ease it to the floor and watch the speed build.”  I could tell that this would be no ordinary test drive.

What you get is no surprise, there’s a similar push into the seat but this time it comes on gradually and you’re able to maintain consciousness enough to drive the car as its picking up speed.  Until you realize an incredible noise coming from just behind your ear.

Because of the Roadster’s one gear transmission and compact electric engine, weighing a ridiculously scant 115 lbs and with just one moving part, they both sing together with a seductive whine that sounds exactly like a fighter jet taking off!  In fact the Blue Angles Aerobatic team drove the same car and said that it’s the closest thing to the FA-18 fighter that they have ever felt on 4 wheels.  A true endorsement if there ever was one.

The $129K price tag of the Roadster Sport we drove was starting to make sense.  Where it really shines though is when you’re looking at it, not as a driver but, as an owner.  Sure you can find a 911 GT3, Lamborghini Murcielago or even a Ferrari 360 Modena for a similar price in your back pocket right now if you looked.  Question is though, how often does a 911 owner enjoy getting a bill for a clutch adjustment?  How much was the last regularly, and “required”, Lambo service?  How about that $5K Ferrari brake job?  When you start to look at the numbers everything starts to make a frightening amount of sense.

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I’m sure the maintenance on the Tesla Roadster isn’t cheap either, you say?  To some degree you would be right.  Replacement batteries, for instance, retail for about $12K a pop.  But that’s not an expense you’re going to have to worry about for the first 7 or more years of ownership because the 6,831 cells within each battery pack have less than a 1 in 1 million fail Rate.  In fact nothing on the Tesla Roadster gets touched as part of routine maintenance until the 2 year mark, when Tesla suggests changing the brake fluid.  Regardless of outside air temp or how hard you drive the car the battery coolant is constantly working to keep the batteries at room temperature.  Even then the coolant doesn’t need to be replaced until the 4 year mark, but that’s it!  Which means that the only cost out of your pockets is going to be to replace tires, which you’re sure to run through if you like a spirited romp here and there.  “So when all is said and done,” Shaun promises, “your maintenance cost ends up being less than that of a Toyota.”  The average cost from dead to fully charged is just $3 to $5 as opposed to the $30 fill up I have for the family Sentra every week.  Which, if you think about it, means that this car will have paid for itself over 5160 fill ups…or 99 years…  It’s even estimated that an owner may never have to replace his brake pads.  This, however, leads to Jon Gandy’s Tesla Roadster dislike #1.  Well, not really a dislike.  Just something that takes a bit of getting used to.

The engineers of the Roadster 2.5 have done a fantastic job of using regenerative braking to recharge the batteries which helps achieve the cars full 245 mile range.  However, it does so by greatly reducing your speed anytime you’re not accelerating or holding the car at a constant speed and the effect is quite strong.  In a gas powered car this effect is known as engine braking.  In the Tesla Roadster it’s more like deploying a parachute.  A bit exaggerated, yes.  But very close to accurate.

On the positive side this does mean that the only time you really need to use the brakes in this car is in an emergency situation or when coming to a complete stop.  “I’ve gotten so used to that now that I can have people point out a spot in the distance and I know exactly when to take my foot off the accelerator pedal so that I’m almost at a stand-still when we get there.”, boasted Shaun.  Ultimately this means that every bit of energy that the engineers could possibly recover, is making its way back into the batteries.  If used properly it’s a very effective tool.  In fact after just a few minutes of driving it started to become more like second nature.

It was now time to take a few minutes to appreciate the styling changes made to the 2.5 model.  Styling is the most major change to the car since the 1.5 model was updated to the 2.0 and I’ll tell you, it’s had an unbelievable effect.

“The new Roadster 2.5 reflects the future of Tesla design language”, Says Shaun.

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Don’t get me wrong, for a new manufacturer with something to prove the original Roadster’s styling was amazing.  But it kind of reminded me of the cute “girl next door” of supercars.  You know, a bit chubby and adorable.  Whereas there was no shortage of more mature, sophisticated options elsewhere.  Well well well, apparently the little Roadster next door has been drinking e-milk and has shredded all the baby fat in favor of a smoking hot contender of a body.  Though I have to admit, the vents just behind B pillar, the indented sidesteps, the side vents on the front fascia and the lines from the front to rear fenders do make the Roadster look like the love child of a Ferrari 430 Scuderia and ZR1 Corvette.  But you know what, thats not at all something to complain about.

Looking back on the entire experience there was really only one true flaw.  The biggest one of all, having to park it.  Getting out of the Tesla Roadster 2.5 is probably the saddest thing I’ve had to do this month.  I look forward to stepping into and out of a lot of very nice vehicles.  Yet this is just one of those moments you look at and know that, for the rest of your life, it’s going to be near impossible to replicate.

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Check out all of the pictures of the Test Drive here:

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