It seems odd for a car so new and revolutionary, but the Tesla Roadster has had a facelift. Barely a year after Tesla began delivering cars, it has released the Roadster “2.0”, which has a revised cabin, new Panasonic batteries and some slightly smaller, lighter and more efficient under-the-skin componentry.
As part of the facelift, there's a new go-faster version: the Roadster Sport. It has lightweight alloy wheels, more performance-oriented Yokohama tires, 10-way adjustable Öhlins 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, and it produces 40hp more and an extra 19lbft of torque as a result. If you prefer to measure such things in sheer current, the regular motor can draw 800 amps from the car's lithium ion battery at any one time; the Roadster Sport peaks at 1000 amps.
The difference that makes on the road is considerable. The standard Roadster that we drove in February felt quick but disappointed when we measured it against the clock, taking 5.0sec to hit 60mph instead of the claimed 4.0sec. The Roadster Sport dashes to 60mph in 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 stablemate.
Extracting maximum performance from 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 in the ignition barrel and hold it there for a few seconds. 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 humbler than a Porsche 911 Turbo at traffic lights and hand out a lesson in explosive short-distance sprinting.
Up to about 40mph, this Tesla could run with a true-blue supercar. It serves up smooth but posture-correcting urge the instant you call for it. It's addictive enough to amuse you time after hilarious time.
As your speed increases, so the car's accelerative potential trails off. Between 50mph and 80mph, it goes like an M3. From 80mph to 110mph, it feels just about as fast as a Golf GTi. And trying to get from 110mph to the car's 125mph limited top speed, watching the car's remaining range deplete at a mile every five seconds or so, isn't much fun at all.
This car's suspension makes it better suited than the standard car to back roads. Dial those adjustable Öhlins up to “10” and you'll be much less aware of the extra mass that the Tesla carries compared to its Lotus donor. Body control is improved, and so is overall grip, as well as the car's rather wild on-limit handling. It's not as focused a chassis setup as you'll find on some performance machinery, but it's enough to make the Tesla feel pleasingly taut and sharp across country.
Should you buy one? Depends on your outlook. If you're the kind of early adopter who thinks the standard Roadster's worth the $101,500 MSRP, then this one's easily worth $121k. (Both qualify for a $7,500 federal tax credit as well as state incentives, sales tax waivers and rebates.) As for the rest of us more conventional thinkers who require a sports car to be capable of traveling farther than 150 miles between 14-hour pit stops… Well, we'll just have to settle for Audi's R8 V10. But, believe it or not, there are times when you'd be having more fun in the Tesla.