REVISIT: 2011 Tesla Roadster Sport 2.5 review

For World Electric Vehicle Day, we're winding the clock back to where it all began for the Tesla brand with another look at the crucial Roadster. 

The car business is at a crossroads — the proverbial intersection, if you will. The race is on to create better, faster and stronger vehicles that will, at the same time, emit fewer emissions (if any) and use less fuel (if any).

While a variety of alternative-fuel vehicles are vying for the spotlight, this could be the year that the electric car takes the lead — possibly for good.

Now, it’s true that finding a petrol station is far easier than locating a charging station. It’s also true that a long trip in a current electric vehicle (EV) would quickly become tiresome if you had to stop to charge the batteries every 200km or so.

Some might also argue that an EV is only as clean as the electricity it runs on and that there are questions concerning how long a battery pack will last and what will be done once it’s depleted.

All valid points, to be sure — but the future is arriving at a furious pace and the only form of vehicle without any long-term promise is one that runs on fossil fuels.

For a certain type of commuter, particularly one interested in a second car to run errands around town, an EV can be an inspired choice — and the 2011 Tesla Roadster Sport 2.5 is the most inspired of them all.

The first Tesla Roadster was introduced in 2008, but it was hampered by teething problems, most of these due to the astronomical cost and complexity associated with starting a car company from scratch—let alone an electric car company.

Since then, the company’s troubles have been ameliorated by investors, government assistance, and technological partnerships with mainstream manufacturers such as Toyota and Mercedes-Benz.

With the promise of blue skies ahead, Tesla has introduced a revised version of its Roadster and this dynamite car has, in turn, helped pave the way for mass EV appeal.

In driving the 2.5, one thing becomes immediately clear: This thing is a very serious performer that can out-race all but the most exotic of exotic cars on the road today.

Of course, this performance is accomplished without the usual sports car sound and fury — no rumbling engine (just a persistent whine), no earth-shaking gear changes (a single fixed-gear launches the car forward) and, more pointedly, no emissions whatsoever.

The engine behind the Roadster Sport 2.5 is an AC induction unit that generates the equivalent of 215kW and 400Nm of torque.

While these numbers aren’t close to the most exotic cars on the road today, the Tesla regains its competitive edge through the use of lightweight materials such as carbon fibre and aluminium.

In addition, as with all EVs, the motor behind the Tesla achieves its peak torque from the very start. Thus, the car can launch from a dead start to 100km/h in a swift 3.7 seconds and power on to a top speed of 201km/h.

If the Tesla is driven at a street-legal pace, its lithium-ion battery pack can achieve a range of 394km, which eclipses other EVs either on the market or on the verge. (The distance record for an EV is an amazing 501km — set when an original Roadster was piloted from Alice Springs to Marla.)

Speaking of which, there are three options available for recharging the Tesla. The car comes standard with a 120-volt mobile connector, which can be supplanted by a 240-volt universal mobile connector for an additional fee.

Erstwhile owners can also opt to install a 240-volt wall-mounted charging system for their garages at a cost of around $2000. Charging time for the wall-mounted system is 3.5 hours.

Electrics aside, the Roadster Sport 2.5 comes armed with some serious sports car-style equipment, including an adjustable suspension system, forged aluminum wheels, summer performance tyres and a regenerative braking system that helps recharge the battery pack.

These elements combine to give the Tesla a suitably racy feeling—the steering is ridiculously sharp, the handling is more of the same and the brakes have a certain, reassuring vibe. This is an exotic car experience, minus the exotic car residual guilt.

There are drawbacks, though. Interior space and cargo capacity are, understandably, not plentiful in this two-seater. Accessing the cabin is a tricky bit of business that requires more than a little dexterity. (On the positive side, this characteristic does serve to place all the controls within ridiculously easy reach.)

The interior is also not up to the standards of a car that costs well north of six figures. There’s an almost crude look and feel to the gauges, dials and controls (despite the liberal use of NASA-grade carbon fibre), the kind of characteristics you’d expect from a stripped-down track toy.

Of course, it’s also worth remembering that this track toy costs just pennies to operate and is, again, faster than most.

The 2011 Tesla Roadster Sport 2.5 will not meet with every driver’s approval. Even those who yearn for high performance at every turn might find this sports car too quiet, too composed and too refined.

But for those with a need for green speed — and the ability to score the $US128,500 cost of entry ($206,188 before on-road costs in Australia) — the Tesla is as compelling a vehicle as can be found.

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