Review: Tesla Roadster

Martin Schwoerer
by Martin Schwoerer

I’m anything but a Trekkie, but a recent drive in the Tesla Roadster made me think of the Starship Enterprise. To be more precise, the Enterprise a second after warp speed has been deployed. Imagine for a moment that your brain is Captain Kirk and the “gas” pedal is Scotty. When Scotty receives the warp factor order and flips the fast switch, something very weird and very breathtaking happens. On the Starship, as in the Tesla.

Time and time again, when I’d mash the Tesla’s accelerator, I couldn’t help but curse. As in, “holy *&@!, this is incredible”. That is what happens when you have linear, quiet, shiftless acceleration from zero to sixty in yes, three point bloody nine seconds. Quicker than any Porsche, and as quick as anybody who has not driven a formula car recently can imagine. And with far less drama than I’ve ever experienced in a sports car. You want to go faster, and then, suddenly, you’re faster — faster than you probably wanted.

Doesn’t this kind of power corrupt? During a 20-minute drive through and around Frankfurt, it did, inasmuch as I couldn’t help dishing out gobs of pure speed whenever there was an opening in traffic. And watching motorcycles struggle to catch up was only half the fun. It feels almost unspeakably awesome to have almost unlimited acceleration at your disposal, especially when it’s in an unflashy, inconspicuous small car. A car of which a pedestrian at a traffic light once asked “is it just a quiet car, or is it what I think it is?” When you’re in a Tesla, nobody insinuates you’re a toff, or a wanker, or yuppie scum. You’re in a superfast sports car, and everything is just fine. Has there ever been anything like it?

Did I say sports car? Well… let’s discuss that. The layout is sportscarish, what with two tight-but-comfortable seats, Lotus-low entry and egress, and a cabon-fiber cladded trunk that may be large and wide enough for your golf kit but not much else. Continuing the case for the Tesla’s sportscar-dom by virtue of inconvenience is the top of the windshield’s habit of blocking your line of vision if you’re over six feet tall.

Fit and finish is old-school sports car too: the inside is simple and pretty, but by no means is this the interior of a 100k car. You’ll find no jewellish instruments and no foolish luxury condiments such as an air scarf. No toys, in other words, except the car itself.

A toy, exactly, but, again, is it a sports car? Well, first there’s the steering. What Tesla gives you is a very small, unassisted wheel that doesn’t agree with your arm muscles at low speeds and feels wooden at higher ones. Does Tesla have this feature to discourage hoonage? If so: guys, it works. Then, there is the heavy battery pack which, in contrast to some other EVs, is not flat beneath the floor, but behind you, at around the level of your shoulders. The sum effect is that the Tesla feels solid and substantial but not particularly maneuverable. I didn’t take it to the ‘ring, butI can assume from the way it feels that this Roadster would feel not at all at home there.

On the other hand, ride comfort is suprisingly good. Tramway track crossings are taken in stride and long undulations, of the kind that make many a car feel bouncy on the autobahn, didn’t bother me at all. (Wind noise is present all the time, though).

Does it matter that the Tesla is not as direct, as communicative, as quick handling a car as its Lotus donator is? I’d say, no. Because what you do with this car is point and squirt — albeit with a monster squirt gun.

In other words, you need to employ a totally different driving style than you would in Porsche, for instance. You step on it, reach warp speed, let the regenerative brakes do their thing and get down to a comfortable speed before entering a curve, and then take off again.

Are you catching my, well, drift? This is a modern-day muscle car. It follows a simple formula: put a super-powerful engine in a small package, and watch people pay a hefty premium.

OK — it’s unsophisticated, and if you ask the competitors in the electric vehicle field, the guys who are busy designing some miracle car for 2012, they’ll tell you the Tesla is impossible. Laptop batteries! A Lotus chassis they simply loaded to the brink with Lithium! But really: as much as some people care, plenty of people don’t. And come to think of it, neither do I when the drive is so good.

Also, many people probably care about how long the batteries will last; what happens to your faulty batteries if Tesla’s financing dies; whether these newfangled Lithium-Ion batteries are really safe; whether its range of 50-200 miles is acceptable. (I wouldn’t suffer from range anxiety for the simple reason that anybody with the money to buy one would in addition own another car for the occasional long-distance drive). These issues are in flux, and a matter of discussion to take place outside the context of a test drive. Another qualm might be the price, to which I say: it’s an early-adopter’s toy, for crying out loud — these things are always expensive.

But for me, the real significance of the Tesla is this. For the first time in decades, Americans are offering a car that by way of brute force, cheekiness, acute understanding of new technology, and clever access to financing, has turned into something desirable for people everywhere. America is no longer the laughing stock of the automotive world. Folks, you might not like the Tesla, you might think it’s some kind of Silicon Valley scam, but if it was made in my country, I’d be mighty proud.

Martin Schwoerer
Martin Schwoerer

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  • Bigbadbill Bigbadbill on Oct 16, 2009

    benw: Thanks... I used to hang out in Santa Barbara in the late 1950's...nice town. Tesla: It seems we might be getting our moneys worth for this unique vehicle. Still, I'd like to see 3 years of daily driving in Herkimer County, NY. (winter AND summer). I did just that in a Dodge Omni stick-shift and a Pougeot engine. (and 4 studded snow tires in the winter). The "Spring Thaw" (melting ice loaded with huge doses of road salt) was unbelievable. My Dodge seemed to hold up better than the Honda Civics of that era. They began rusting away after the first winter 'till they literally fell apart in a few years.

  • Caracalover Caracalover on Oct 21, 2009

    The benefit to having a Tesla in a situation like a blizzard, is if the snow really does come down to the point where you are stopped till the plows get you out - you won't die of asphixiation from the fuel in your Saturn coming through the tail pipe and into the cab. Much better to be safe and alive, and in a TESLA.

  • Grg I am not sure that this would hold up in snow country. It used to be that people in snow country would not be caught dead in a white car. Now that white cars have become popular in the north, I can't tell you how many times I have seen white cars driving in the snow without lights. Almost all cars are less visible in a snow storm, or for that matter, rain storm, without lights. White ones become nearly invisible.
  • Douglas I have a 2018 BMW 740e PHEV, and love it. It has a modest electric only range compared to newer PHEV's (about 18 miles), but that gets me to the office and back each day. It has a small gas tank to make room for the battery, so only holds about 11 gallons. I easily go 600 or more miles per tank. I love it, and being able to take long road trips without having to plug in (it just operates like a regular Hybrid if you never plug it in). It charges in 75 minutes in my garage from a Level 2 charger I bought on Amazon for $350. Had an electrician add a dryer outlet beside the breaker box. It's the best of both worlds and I would definitely want a PHEV for my next car. 104,000 miles and ZERO problems with the powertrain components (so far).
  • Panther Platform I had a 98 Lincoln Mark VIII so I have a soft spot for this. The Mark VIII styling was not appreciated by all.
  • Grant P Farrell Oh no the dealership kept the car for hours on two occasions before giving me a loaner for two months while they supposedly replaced the ECU. I hate cords so I've only connected it wirelessly. Next I'm gonna try using the usb-c in the center console and leaving the phone plugged in in there, not as convenient but it might lower my blood pressure.
  • Jeff Tiny electrical parts are ruining today's cars! What can they ...