New range-topping Tesla delivers greater thrills and fewer spills

What is it?

A new version of the Tesla Roadster. It seems like an odd move for a car so new and revolutionary, but the Roadster has had an early facelift. Barely a year after Tesla began delivering cars it has released the Roadster ‘2.0’, which gets a revised cabin, some new Panasonic batteries and some slightly smaller, lighter and more efficient under-the-skin componentry too.

And as part of the early facelift, Tesla has introduced a ‘go-faster’ version called the Roadster Sport. It’s got lightweight alloy wheels, more performance-oriented Yokohama tyres, 10-way adjustable Ohlins dampers, adjustable anti-roll bars, and the all-important more powerful electric motor.

The Roadster Sport’s AC induction motor is hand-woven with more copper than the standard car’s powerplant gets, and produces more power and torque as a result: 40 extra horses and 19 additional foot pounds to be exact. If you prefer to measure these things in terms of sheer current, the regular motor can draw 800 amps from the car’s lithium-ion battery at any one time; the Roadster Sport’s peaks at 1000 amps.

What’s it like?

Quick. The standard Roadster we figured back in February felt quick, of course, but we were disappointed when measuring it against the clock, as it took 5.0sec to hit 60mph instead of the claimed 4.0. The Roadster Sport dashes to 60mph 3.7sec, or so Tesla says. And while we can’t confirm as much officially, it certainly feels like a seriously fast car at times, and an even quicker one than its rangemate.

Getting maximum performance out of this car involves more than just mashing the throttle. First, while the ignition’s on but the transmission’s disengaged, twist the key around to the right and hold it there for a few seconds, as if you were cranking the starter motor. A small yellow ‘P’ will appear in the top right of the car’s tunnel-mounted energy flow monitor. You’ve just entered Performance Mode. You can now pull alongside anything on the humbler side of a Porsche 911 Turbo at traffic lights and hand out a lesson in explosive short-distance sprinting.

That’s because up to about 40mph this Tesla could run with a true blue supercar. It serves up posture-correcting urge the very instant you call for it. Urge that’s every bit as mind-blowing for its immediacy and smoothness as it is for its overall magnitude, and that’s addictive enough to amuse you time after hilarious time.

It’s a peculiarity of the Tesla’s electric powertrain that, as your speed increases, so the car’s accelerative potential tails off. Between 50 and 80mph it goes like an M3. From 80 to 110mph, it feels just about as fast as a Golf GTi. And trying to get from 110 to the car’s 125mph limited top speed, watching the car’s remaining range deplete at a mile every five seconds or so, actually isn’t much fun at all.

Thanks to that better-specified suspension, however, this car is more suited to British B-roads than the standard one; it feels taut and sharp across country. Dial the Roadster Sport’s adjustable Ohlins up to ‘10’ and you’ll be much less aware of the car’s 1.3-tonne weight, as it jinks over crests and through compressions, than you would be in a regular Roadster.

And though you can still feel the car’s heft at times via the load running through its unassisted steering, that wheel remains a joy to interact with, as alive as it is with communication and feel.

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While body control has been improved, so has the Roadster’s roadholding for the Sport version. The car’s rather wild on-limit handling has also been tamed slightly by those stiffer anti-roll bars and better dampers.

Tesla’s improvements to the Roadster’s cabin are also welcome. Our Sport came with lashings of attractive carbonfibre trim, more leather than the original car, and a new more expensive-looking button-style gear selector. The cabin’s still not quite fitted and finished with the care and attention that a £100,000 car’s interior deserves – loose trims and rough edges could be found without too much poking around – but at least progress is being made.

Should I buy one?

That depends whether you were in the market for a £86,950 regular Tesla Roadster. If you were, and you can find the £15k extra you need to trade up to the Sport without too much unseemly rummaging, we’d say go for it. Because if you’re the kind of early adopter who thinks the standard Roadster’s worth £87k, this one’s easily worth £102k. It’s a much better sports car. And as of January 2010, you’ll even be able to buy one in right-hand drive.

As for the rest of us more conventional-thinkers who require our weekend wheels to be capable of travelling further than 150 miles between 14hr pitstops… well, we’ll just have to settle for Audi’s R8 V10.

Which is no great hardship, you might say – and we’d agree. But believe it or not, there really are times when you’d be having more fun in the Tesla.

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

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230SL 26 October 2009

Re: Tesla Roadster Sport

jackjflash 24 October 2009

Re: Tesla Roadster Sport

rogerthecabinboy wrote:
Word is Dieter Zetsche, the Daimler boss, is a, to put it mildly, unloved autocrat, whose decisons have handicapped Daimler behind the faster reacting BMW and VW Group. The fact that Zetsche and his yes-men have bought into Tesla is not a recommendation or vote of confidence for Tesla, quite the opposite.

So Roger; Daimler has no board of directors, you know how badly things can turn with one German in charge of any endeavor. As for your beloved VAG, are they not in process of making a stump pulling electric supercar that was announce just weeks after their moron engineer claimed electric cars were for idiots. You are right about fast acting BMW; they just announced a three wheeled electric zeppelin that nobody wants or can afford. Milk floats may become popular in Germany next time Putin turns off the oil.

david RS 23 October 2009

Re: Tesla Roadster Sport

Autocar. I'll be in GB next week. Is-it possible to test it?