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Tesla Roadster review

MOST of the dozen Australian owners of the world's fastest production electric car use them for daily chores. So says Tesla Motors Australia boss Jay McCormack. But with acceleration to 100km/h as quick as a V8 Supercar and a body and suspension based on the quick-handling Lotus Elise, it's no wonder some owners are taking them out for track days. And that is where I had my second test drive in the limited edition Roadster, at Queensland Raceway.

VALUE

McCormack says they have sold 12 since January and expect to sell 30 by the time production winds up. They arrive at $160,000 but with various duties and taxes they cost $206,188, despite the fact that electric vehicles attract no stamp duty in Australia. Add in the on-road costs and it is one expensive daily runabout. But if you consider the acceleration, Lotus pedigree and intrinsic value of being an early adopter, it could start to make sense for some rich eccentrics.

If you are one of the 15 per cent who opt for the Sport variant you can add an $30,000. For that you get an extra 50Nm of torque (400Nm), adjustable Bilstein rear suspension, forged alloy wheels, a "more capable" AC motor and a "slightly different software program" for the cooling process. A full charge will only cost $8 and if you drive in the "range" mode you get 394km of range. There is also a "standard" mode and a "performance" mode with range determined by your driving style.

The resale value is very good, according to McCormack.

"I cant see many being re-sold, but some have sold for more than they cost new. I would expect most customers to hang on to them. If you look at the beginning of the modern electric car, this is history."

TECHNOLOGY

This is actually the fourth iteration of Roadster. Like computer software program names, it started with the 1.0, then 1.5, 2.0 and now 2.5. Only the 2.5 has been sold here, although I last drove a privately owned 2.0 at QR in 2009.

The 2.5 has the same AC motor and gearbox but slightly different software, 30Nm more torque and an extra 3kW hours of storage.

At the heart of the Tesla is a battery of small lithium-ion liquid-cooled cells powering a four-pole AC induction motor which provides the sort of performance power and torque figures you would expect from a sportscar; certainly more than the petrol-powered Elise on which it is based.

Tesla claims it will hit highway speeds in less than four seconds which is the same as a V8 Supercar.

You can charge it at home, but it will take about 15 hours on 10 amps. At the track, we plugged into a 32 amp charger which takes about six hours to fully charge.

Tesla claims 394km range in "range" mode, but after some furious morning laps by potential customers, at 266km it required lunchtime charging.

DESIGN

It's based on the stylish Elise and adds tonnes of carbon fibre including the detachable roof and has a space-age interior. There is little room for any luggage and the interior is fairly Spartan.

SAFETY

It comes with two airbags, four-wheel ventilated disc brakes, stability and traction control, but no crash test results. There are two Yokohama tyre options - Neova and extra-grippy A048 which we drove on the track.

DRIVING

The Roadster saves some of its battery life by not having power steering which makes it heavy to steer around pit lane, despite the light weight of the vehicle. Just after the pit lane 40km/h speed zone ends, I flatten the throttle and experience an uncanny linear acceleration feeling like a rocket. But it takes longer to go from 100km/h to our top speed down the main straight of about 170-180km/h.

It's a mid-engined, rear-wheel drive car, but it doesn't handle like one. Turning into the first few corners, the steering goes light and the front end pushes with understeer. With the sport option Yokohama tyres fitted, there is plenty of lateral grip for good mid-corner speed, but it runs wide coming out of the corner because it is difficult to invoke oversteer. That is because acceleration is linear and not peaky, so it is difficult to break traction or suddenly shift the balance to the rear with power.

The bumpy Queensland Raceway circuit provokes plenty of kickback through the steering wheel and with no power assistance the driver fights the wheel and has to hang on tight. Ride is also fairly stiff and it would probably be fairly uncomfortable on normal roads with that hard sports seat.

The last time I drove the Roadster, I set a lap record for an electric car on the Queensland Raceway truncated "sportsman" circuit of 1:13. This time it was dry and, although we didn't have the lap timer running, it would have been much faster with the grippy Yokohama tyres.

Last time we experienced brake fade and an overheating motor, but despite higher track temperatures, there were no such problems this time, although the brake pedal is soft and stopping power requires pre-empting the usual braking markers.

VERDICT

This is a piece of history that you can drive on a daily basis and take to a track day for some fun with a relatively clear environmental conscience. Left-hand-drive Roadsters have ceased production and there are only about 100 right-hand drives to come before production ceases. With so few available, it might even make sense to an investor or collector to grab one and put it in storage.

TESLA ROADSTER 2.5

Body: 2-door roadster
Motor: 3-phase 4-pole AC induction motor, 185kW/350-400Nm
Transmission: single-speed gearbox, rear-wheel drive
Battery: 53kWh lithium-ion cells
Range: 394km maximum in "range" mode
Dimensions: 3946mm (L), 11873mm (W), 1127mm (H), 2352 (WB) Kerb weight: 1235kg

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