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It's A Gas... Oh Wait, No It's Not

The 2010 Tesla Roadster Sport

What better way to kick off the summer driving season than a couple of hours around town in a Tesla Roadster.

Here’s a quick lowdown: The Tesla’s an all-electric, two-seat sports car, powered by a 238-horsepower, three-phase electric motor; a single-speed gearbox drives the thing, from a standing start to 60 miles per hour in 3.9 seconds; the body is hand-crafted carbon fiber; its driving range on a full charge is 244 miles, and a complete recharge can take as little as 3.5 hours (plugging into a regular 120- or 240-volt outlet—the charger itself is built into the car); the battery pack consists of more than 6,800 lithium ion cells which are located, much like the engine in a mid-engined sports car, behind the seats.

And let’s get it out of the way now. Base price for the Tesla Roadster is $109,000. That gets you, among other things (including a ton of thumbs-up signs from passing motorists and pedestrians): heated sport seats with inflatable lumbar support; touch-screen information display; three-spoke leather-wrapped sport steering wheel; cruise control; and power windows and locks. My test car included the Roadster Sport package and a long list of other goodies. With destination charge and California DMV fees, it came to $145,857. Okay, so that’s not within everyone’s reach, but it’s nice to know the technology is there. And Tesla has announced the Model S four-door sedan, which will go on sale in 2012 and should be around half the price of the Roadster.

But enough of that. Driving the Roadster was an unbelievable experience. And I’ve driven a lot of cars these past 10 years. Maybe 238 horsepower doesn’t sound like a lot, but put it in a car weighing just under 2,700 pounds and connect it to a powertrain in which 100 percent of the torque is available 100 percent of the time, and it makes Mazda’s “zoom-zoom” slogan look like it’s been applied to the wrong car. You punch the pedal (in the Tesla it’s not really a “gas” pedal) and the car takes off like a rocket. A very quiet rocket, as there’s no internal combustion engine winding up under the hood, and there’s no exhaust noise behind you because, well, because there’s no exhaust system. Some Tesla sales people, on a test drive, will ask their passenger to tune the radio, and just as they’re about to reach the knob—pow!—they’re planted back into their seat before they even realize what happened. Power’s that instantaneous, and seeing that it’s so quiet, no one ever sees (or hears) it coming. Top speed is 125 moles per hour, not that you’d ever need to go that fast, but if you do need to get out of harm’s way quickly, it’s good to know you can. Between the acceleration and the handling, you should be able to get yourself out of most jams in a jiffy.

My drive started in Orchard Park, where I met Hans Ulsrud, who is regional sales manager for Tesla out of Toronto. He went over the car with me, tossed me the keys, and I was off. The twisty, hilly roads of southern Erie County never looked better than they did through the Tesla’s windshield. Curves were taken flat, hills were climbed effortlessly, and time flew by much too quickly. So I headed into downtown Buffalo for the other side of the Tesla. Quiet is the key word. I didn’t realize it until I got back at the end of my drive, but I never even turned on the sound system. I so enjoyed sitting in traffic and taking off at those green lights to the sound of just myself breathing. And that was with the Roadster’s soft top removed. I was actually getting aggravated that traffic around me was drowning out my silence.

Trunk space isn’t huge, but you can get the golf clubs in there. The interior is roomy enough for my six-foot frame (once you climb over the sill, which is higher than your family sedan, but not insurmountable). There are dash readouts to keep you entertained as to the output of electricity, and how far you’re likely to get under your current driving conditions. And the Roadster isn’t hard on the eyes, either. One guy on Delaware Avenue thought it was a Lotus. Close, but no cigar. A woman at the Erie Basin Marina complimented me on “my” car. Thanks.

Now I’m waiting for the Model S. More practical, less expensive, but probably (hopefully) as much fun.

Read “You Auto Know” every other week in Artvoice and more often on AV Daily at Plus check out Jim’s bolog:

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