‘Drive,’ she said: Hands-on with Tesla’s electric roadster
As a fan of 1960s muscle cars, getting me excited about electric vehicles isn’t easy. But on Friday, I was handed the keys to something that makes my ’66 Mustang feel lethargic and a Prius look like a gas guzzler. And at $138,000, it should.
Miki Sofer of Tesla Motors brought one of the company’s Roadster 2.5 models to the Sacramento area, and I was one of the lucky ones to take it for a spin.
With an advertised 0-60 mph time of 3.7 seconds, I was all but drooling over the electric car that can travel 244 miles on a single charge that, according to Sofer, costs as little as $5 to replenish.
“There are more and more charging stations in the Sacramento area,” Sofer said, “so we’re really looking to expand more into this market.”
She explained that the vehicles can be charged at any outlet, but specialized ones currently being installed make the process faster.
The more than 1,300 Tesla Roadsters delivered since 2008 have driven almost 7 million miles – saving more than 350,000 gallons of gas, according to Tesla spokeswoman KC Simon.
After giving me the rundown on the vehicle and answering my questions, Sofer told me to get behind the wheel.
The roadster’s cockpit was surprisingly accommodating of me, even at 6 feet 2 inches. Sofer stuck the key in the ignition, and I was a little embarrassed at having to ask her if the car was actually turned on.
The watermelon-sized motor didn’t shake the car when it powered up, as I’d expected, and I realized that driving an electric car was going to be a unique experience.
Where a gearshift would normally be were merely four buttons – for park, drive, neutral and reverse.
The Tesla Roadster has only one gear, Sofer said, and as I let off the brakes, the vehicle crept forward noiselessly, giving no indication of the power waiting to be unleashed.
Fortunately for Tesla, fairly heavy traffic gave me some time to get used to the vehicle’s manual steering and the throttle before I had open road on which to unleash the car’s equivalent of 500 horsepower.
As I let off the throttle approaching a red light, I felt the car immediately drag, and Sofer told me it generates electricity off the spinning axles when the driver releases the “gas” pedal.
I tightened my grip on the wheel, the light turned green, and I stomped on the throttle.
It felt like taking off in a fighter jet. I was slammed into the seat, and the roadster shot forward like a rocket. But the individually adjusting suspension and the low profile translated to an incredibly smooth ride.
Traditional gasoline engines need to gain RPMs before the torque peaks and gives them full power, but electric engines peak immediately, allowing Tesla’s roadsters to beat their competition – Porsches, Ferraris and Lamborghinis – off the line.
And the best part? The motor’s muted whine doesn’t alert every cop in town that you might be breaking a few speed laws.
As cool as the Roadster is, it comes with a base price of $109,000, and a fully-loaded one will top $160,000 – making it unattainable for most drivers.
Sofer pointed out that for a hand-built, carbon fiber car, that’s not a bad deal, and several Sacramentans have taken the plunge.
The technology in the supercar, however, will be brought to a sedan in 2012.
Designed to compete with upper-end luxury sedans, the vehicle will be priced at less than $60,000 and is intended to bring Tesla’s proven electric design to a wider population.
As the infrastructure to support electric vehicles continues to be built, Sofer said she sees gasoline-powered vehicles going by the wayside.
“The future is here,” she said. “This car is the future.”
To purchase one of the vehicles, visit the company website.
Photo one by Miki Sofer. Other photos courtesy of Tesla Motors.
Brandon Darnell is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press.