Tesla Roadster

Has hi-tech newcomer started a battery-powered performance car revolution?

Only a few years ago, the idea of putting an electric car side-by-side on track with a Porsche 911 Turbo would have been a joke. Even today, Britain’s best-selling electric model, the G-Wiz, can’t reach 60mph!

But the Tesla Roadster isn’t your average zero-emissions vehicle. In fact, it claims a 0-62mph time to match Porsche’s finest…

Unsurprisingly, the concept of a car with no internal combustion engine offering this kind of performance has grabbed plenty of headlines. With the Tesla Roadster now officially on sale in the UK, it’s time to see if it can teach petrol-powered rivals a thing or two about acceleration!

Unfortunately, with the sole official demonstrator busy elsewhere, Tesla could only supply us with a development car from its engineering fleet. We were warned that this older pre-production model wouldn’t be the firm’s fastest – but its pace still raised plenty of eyebrows. What sets the Tesla apart, though, is the driving experience.

Turn the key and a chime signifies the motor is ready. Floor the throttle, and the two-seater surges forward as if it’s attached to a high-powered winch. There are no gearchanges, and it sounds like a washing machine going into a subdued spin cycle!

Built by Lotus in Norfolk, the Tesla uses an Elise-based chassis with special carbon body panels. Add unique headlamps and detailing, and the newcomer looks subtly different, although any Elise owner would feel at home in the near-identical cabin.

Open the engine cover, though, and nothing looks familiar – as it hides one of the world’s largest lithium battery packs. This feeds an electric motor that’s about the size of a watermelon. Power is transmitted through a single-speed gearbox, with peak torque arriving instantly at zero rpm. The Tesla weighs 340kg more than an Elise, at 1,220kg. And while it can’t match the likes of the 911 for eye-watering thrust, our car still covered 0-60mph in only 5.1 seconds.

It did this with zero emissions, too – although the claimed 220-mile range is slashed by hard driving. Push it like this, and you’ll soon have to stop, plug in and wait three-and-a-half hours to recharge.

Plus, look beyond the initial novelty of whirring along at speed in an electric car, and the Tesla lacks feel. You don’t get the sound of an engine or the engagement of changing gear, so it isn’t that exciting to drive – particularly when you consider its massive £96,000 price tag.

Still, what’s significant is the technology and where it could lead us. Thanks to the Tesla, we can now mention performance and electric cars in the same breath!

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