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Tesla Roadster 2011 review

If you like petrol – and I love it – this feels like a betrayal. I’m in a screaming hot sports car that uses no petrol at all, and it might just be the fastest-accelerating car I’ve ever driven.

The Tesla Roadster 2.5, a fully-electric two-seater built in California by way of Lotus in the UK, uses a monster stack of lithium-ion batteries to deliver the sort of straight-line performance usually associated with twelve Italian cylinders (or six turbocharged German ones).

A bigger shock, so to speak, comes when you lift off the accelerator.  Remember what happened when you backed off the trigger on your little Scalectrix cars? They stopped.

Well, so does the Tesla. That mass of cells coupled to a one-speed gearbox acts as a massive (and power-regenerating) deceleration

Which is almost a pity, since the example I’m driving is equipped with a cute combination of AP Racing and Brembo braking hardware. Tooling along in standard Sydney traffic, there’s barely need to use any of it.

As well, there is also the faintest scent of hard-spinning alternating-current motor. It isn’t unpleasant, although it is more intrusive than anything you’ll experience in a comparatively-priced sportster.

Other oddities include the very nature of that fearsome forward propulsion.  A lot happens in a typical high-performance car under maximum acceleration. Hundreds of intricate reciprocating, revolving and repeating parts work together to convert a sequence of controlled explosions into thrust. It’s beautiful and dramatic, if inefficient from a green perspective.

The Tesla just has … power. There’s more drama in a carpet-cleaning infomercial. If you can pick out the AC motor’s high-pitched hum above the tyre noise (which is noticeable here, but usually overwhelmed by the engine in a conventional car) it sounds sort of like a turbo without an engine attached.

In fact, the whole series of events leading up to any accelerative bursts is extraordinarily fussless. Turn the conventional key in the conventional column lock. Wait, out of habit, for the engine noise you won’t hear. Press the button marked D on the centre console. Apply foot to right pedal. Then sweep past almost any car on the road, at least up to the highway speed limit, which the Tesla hits in under four seconds.

A handy g-meter located on the console notes the forces involved. We recorded a quick reading of 0.7 from acceleration alone. Putting aside any technical explanations, this basically gives driver and passenger an instant Botox effect. Ka-pow! No lines or wrinkles as your whole face is suddenly hauled backwards. (Braking causes the opposite, of course. An instant Ernest Borgnine effect.)

Corners aren’t such an easy win. The Tesla is based on Lotus’s rail-handling Elise – although with development now shares only a claimed seven per cent of components – so the basics are all abundantly sound. But the combined mid-mounted cell pack and transmission weighs 450kg, meaning that this is one very light car (largely built from carbon fibre) with a substantially heavy and dense centre section.

It’s fine around town, if you don’t mind the lack of power steering (I don’t, despite it requiring more effort than in the featherweight Elise). Just a guess at this point, but a track test might turn up some quirks. After all, 450kg is hard to hide, as Al Gore’s tailor can tell you.

Which brings us to the types of buyers the Tesla might attract. At a base price of $206,188, this isn’t for the dirt and dreadlocks brigade. Nor, considering the Lotus-inherited entry and egress challenges – youthful flexibility is required – will it suit oldsters or the chunky. But if you’re a cashed-up 30-something with both the hots for Gaia and some surviving strands of testosterone, this might be the guilt-free performance car for you.

One additional advantage: it’s a convertible, so the WRXs and V8s you leave behind can hear you laughing as you go. For petrol-drenched carbon addicts like me, that will be a very cruel sound indeed.

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