Yesterday morning, I had the pleasure of taking the 2010 Tesla Roadster Sport out on the town in Menlo Park, California. It's the latest from the eco-friendly, Silicon Valley-based super-fast all-electric-car company started by PayPal co-founder Elon Musk. I can't really afford one in my everyday life (this orange beauty retails at $150K), so I decided to test its street cred by taking it out to some classy American locales. There was drive-thru Jack in the Crack a few blocks from the Tesla showroom, so I decided to stop there for a cup of coffee.
It was lunchtime, and there were a half a dozen cars merging into the drive-thru lane from two entrances to get their fix of Ultimate Cheeseburgers and Jumbo Jacks. A Jeep Cherokee let me cut in even though he was clearly there first. (That would have never happened in my RSX.)
The Roadster Sport looks slick, but it is strangely devoid of typical sports car characteristics in the way it sounds and feels. Like its predecessors, the Roadster Sport doesn't have gears &mdash it has single speed transmission. Instead of a gear shift knob, there are buttons labeled P, R, N, and D. This means there's no rumbling or jerkiness when you accelerate; it just shoots up smoothly and silently like one of those crazy free fall rides at the amusement park. But still, this is one fast machine! It does 0-60 in 3.7 seconds--that's faster than a Porsche Carrera GT.
As I rolled up to the giant menu billboard, some guy in a beat up Toyota revved his engine and winked at me repeatedly. I smiled politely and ordered a coffee with extra sugar and a few packets of ketchup.
The Roadster Sport has one cup holder which folds out from the center console to the passenger side. I like that it provides utility without impeding on the clean design, but that also meant that the coffee resided under my passenger's legs, which made it hard to reach for.
In a way, this car is more like a drivable computer than an ordinary car. It runs on Li-Ion batteries, charges its internal battery at any electrical socket, and needs the occasional firmware upgrade. You never have to go to a gas station or get an oil change. Looking at the company's DNA, it's not hard to figure out why — only a third of the Tesla Motors' 500 employees were hired out of the auto industry. The rest are mostly Silicon Valley types, including industrial designers from Apple and engineers from Google and YouTube.
The company claims that the car averages about 244 miles per charge, driven at a normal speed. Each full charge costs about $4.90 worth of electricity at an ordinary 120V outlet in California. That means that it is very economical and ecological if you're rich enough to afford one. It's not ideal for road trips longer than 244 miles, though — what are you supposed to do if you run out of juice in the middle of a highway?
The great thing about Menlo Park is that, despite its vicinity to some of the greatest tech companies in the world, it is not devoid of good old suburban charm. To my delight, there was a Target just minutes away from the Tesla showroom — the ultimate place-to-go-to-buy-things-I-never-knew-I-needed. Some of the luxurious accessories on my Tesla were things I never knew I needed, too — a USB port, an iPod dock, two screens, inflatable lumbar support, and a carbon fiber exterior from France.
After short stops at Taco Bell (I like gorditas) and Oil Changers (I was just curious what they'd say — a nice Hispanic man politely told me that they do not service Teslas), I returned the Roadster Sport to the Tesla store...
...but not before giving it a friendly Hello Kitty makeover.