Typically we'd do a set of unboxing pictures for a high-profile new gadget like this but, well, deploying this thing required only backing it out of the Tesla showroom on West 25th and onto the street -- through a doorway with about an inch to spare on either side. Thankfully this was a task handled for us -- just driving this on a city street felt challenging enough, thanks in large part to the color.
Telsa calls it "Lightning Green" but "loud" will do just fine. Most little cars disappear in NYC. Not this one. The most jaded of hipsters and poshest of businessmen turned their head to look at this curious little evergreen thing that zipped through intersections without making a noise. If you want to be subtle, pick a different color. Maybe a nice shade of silver.
It's so quiet because it is, of course, a battery-powered electric car. There's no hint of hybrid trickery here, not a whiff of combusted fuel, just a big lump filled with lithium ions tucked behind the seat and a hand-wound electric motor slung down behind the rear wheels. That 375 volt motor puts down 295lb-ft of torque in Sport guise (273 if you go for the $19,000 cheaper base Roadster) and 288HP. It has a torque curve so flat you could build a boat on it.
That's paired with a 53kWh li-Ion battery pack that contains 6,831 cells and is about the same size as a chest freezer. It slots into the chassis where your average Lotus Elise would get a Toyota-sourced 1.8 liter engine, this car sharing a frame and a lot of DNA with that little roadster from Hethel. Tesla indicates that less than 10 percent of the two cars are actually shared, but it sure feels like a lot more. That's not a bad thing, mind.
The result is a two-seater with a removable fabric lid (there's an optional carbon hardtop) that has a wheelbase of 92.6-inches and a curb weight of 2,723lb. That's over 700lbs more than an American-spec Elise, but its 288HP does compare quite favorably to that the other's 189. And while you might think the lack of internal explosions piped through a sports-tuned exhaust might make for a tiresomely quiet affair, think again. Driving this car sounds like cruising around in Blade Runner
, but you don't have to debate the implications of origami unicorns. This is for real.
Taking a seat
Getting gracefully into and out of the Roadster is, again like the Elise, something that takes a little practice. It's a bit like squeezing into a fiberglass karting seat, except here that seat is clad in leather. It also isn't bolted to the chassis, but if you're expecting power adjusters or lumbar support boy oh boy are you reading the wrong review.
Plop down first then swing the legs in and you'll be ready to go sans-hernia. The little Momo wheel falls right to hand, the simple brake and gas pedal nicely under-foot. Yes, that's all your tootsies will have to do here. There's a single-speed transmission, so no clutch required. And yes, we did just say
how much we preferred having a traditional gearbox to driving something with flappy paddles, but this is different.
Here instead of having a computer shift for you there's no shifting to do at all. Sure, that seems boring, but the basic result is that you're always running in first gear. Since the motor can manage 14,000 RPM it never needs another gear and the result is amazing throttle response that will put passengers in neck braces should you not give them the courtesy of a heads-up before dipping into the throttle.
It is a bit of a bummer to lose the feeling of rowing through the gears as you flow through the corners, but really it's proper throttle response at any speed that is the real joy of driving a manual, and this car has that in spades. That's especially true in Performance Mode. Give the key another twist to enable it and suddenly the gas pedal becomes hugely more responsive, and even more likely to induce whiplash in those sitting to the drivers' right.
The car was picked up in New York City, one of the worst places in the civilized world to drive. So away we went, heading due north to a Level 2 charging station with our name on it up in Albany, NY. On the highway it's a little over 150 miles, but that's no fun -- and battery-powered EVs don't necessarily like long stretches at high speed anyway.
So we wound our way up along the river, burning no more gasoline than Henry Hudson did on his journey through these parts, and also doing without any nasty mutiny business. Mind you, the river that would be named after him is hardly a jaunty
affair, but many of the roads that run along it are, and the Roadster Sport handled them with aplomb.