Road Tests

Road test: Tesla, the electric supercar

Time 2:08 pm, October 19, 2008


We’ve driven the future… and it’s three-pin plug-shaped! In years to come, supercar owners won’t be zooming to the filling station, hob-knobbing with the hoi polloi as they sink yet another £150 of super unleaded into a bottomless tank.

They’ll be molly-coddling it in their garages, polishing and cosseting it like a baby – then, before putting it to bed, plugging it into the wall, ‘filling the tank’ ready for another day of high-speed thrills.

This is the vision of Tesla, whose electric-powered Roadster Car Dealer was among the first in the UK to drive. An electric-powered sportscar is the premise, and for those of you thinking invalid chairs and milk floats, here are two stats: 0-60mph in 3.9secs and a range of more than 225 miles.

This is a superfast supercar, and a super-useable one, too – as it should be for £92k. Powered by the same battery technology that ensures mobile phone cells are both tiny and everlasting, the Tesla is the world’s first high-performance electric car, and innovative in as many ways as the Silicone Valley-based company itself is.

You may know that the Roadster is closely related to the Lotus Elise. In the back, instead of a Toyota engine, there’s a 250bhp motor, 53kW battery and an inverter. Bespoke bodywork is carbon fibre but the aluminium chassis is closely related. The interior, save for more leather and carpet, is virtually identical.

But there is no gearlever, or clutch pedal. There is an energy display next to the driver’s knee, but no conventional fuel gauge. Or a fuel tank. Or an exhaust. Or, alas, the class of a similarly-priced Aston. So what exactly are customers paying for?

Environmental flag-waving, that’s what. This is a zero-emission car, that rabbits will be cheering from the hedgerows, rather than coughing on the fumes. For the rich fund manager, who’s made a killing on investments in environmental stocks, it’s the only way to splash a green corporate image while still having fun. A Tesla is, of course, silent.

This will be an issue for many, who’ll miss the blare of a rorty V8. Anyone who’s heard an Aston will mourn for that. But in the future we may not have the oil to indulge in this.

The Tesla is, instead, a taste of what’s to come, what we’re going to have to get used to. If they can dial out the clunks of the aluminium chassis, reduce the wind noise and jazz up the stereo, they may be on to something.

Because the performance of this car is incredible. Like all electric cars, it gives its all immediately – a stonking 379Nm of torque comes in at 0rpm. But here, there’s 250bhp to play with, too. In a car that, even with batteries, is bantamweight, the effect is sensational. It simply flies, the very nanosecond you press the accelerator.

The light, feel-packed chassis and steering are as great as they are in the Lotus, but it’s the rollercoaster-like response of the engine that really does it. The Roadster is like an electric shock (excuse the pun), but incredibly controllable with it. Really, it makes all but the fastest supercars feel a bit slothful. It’s quite bewildering.

Some 250 of this launch edition will be sold, before the series model arrives in 2009, for around £88,000. The single, Tesla-owned dealer won’t be in place until 2009, but orders can be taken now. The £92k list price might seem dizzy, but don’t overlook the Tesla – it genuinely is the future.


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Car Dealer has been covering the motor trade since 2008 as both a print and digital publication. In 2020 the title went fully digital and now provides daily motoring updates on this website for the car industry. A digital magazine is published once a month.

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