The first thing you notice when driving the 2009 Tesla Roadster is not what it has, but rather what it lacks: a gear shifter. Any sports car worth the name on the market generally has a manual transmission option, and switching through gears as you accelerate is half the fun. The Tesla Roadster doesn’t have a transmission because it has an electric motor connected to a one-speed transmission. The gas pedal (technically, it’s a foot-controlled potentiometer) is all you need, and the reaction to putting your foot down is strong and fast.
The electric motor is powerful, putting out 248 horsepower and 276 lb-ft of torque. The entire car only weighs 2,750 pounds, so that power makes for some very quick accelerations. The top speed is limited to 125 mph in the name of preserving battery charge and 0-to-60 mph is accomplished in a quick 3.9 seconds.
That weight is also expertly distributed, keeping the Roadster’s center of gravity low and the front/rear distribution favors the back end. The Tesla Roadster will rip around corners with the best of them and drivers can feel confident in the unassisted rack-and-pinion steering system. Yes, unassisted steering seems a bit old-fashioned for an electric-powered sports car, but it serves a purpose. First, no energy is wasted to run a power steering pump, and second, the driver’s feel for the road is unimpeded by any fancy hydraulics or electronics. It definitely feels different than the steering setups of many of its sports car contemporaries, but different is by no means bad.
Another big difference is in the brakes. One of the ways that the Tesla Roadster keeps its batteries charged is through regenerative braking. Essentially, when you apply the brakes, the regen system takes the heat and friction and turns it into electricity. This puts extra friction on the brake discs, meaning that you stop quicker than you would in a traditional braking setup, but after a few miles you’ll get the hang of it and hardly notice.
Right now, the big challenge for Tesla is to start delivering the Roadsters. Between the 2008 inaugural model and this years version, they have made some very big strides towards becoming the premier manufacturer of electric cars. What they need is to produce and deliver the Roadster (there’s already a waiting list for this year’s production run) so that they can generate some revenue. Once they have some money, they will be better positioned to pick up a sizable loan from the Department of Energy so that they can push their Model S electric sedan into production. The Tesla Roadster is an incredibly fun drive, but it is the Model S that could take Tesla from a boutique California manufacturer to the top of the market.