Sunday, July 12, 2009

Testing A Tesla

Saturday evening, my wife and I stopped by the Tesla Motors dealership in West LA on our way to dinner. The last employee was locking up when he noticed my MINI E. Mr. "Tesla", my wife and I spent the next hour talking about EV’s and test driving cars. After crawling all over my MINI E, I let Mr. T get behind the wheel.

It was his first time driving the MINI E and he seemed duly impressed with the performance and refinement of the car. However, he quickly noticed the lag at takeoff (not surprising from a Tesla guy) and cited a lack of traction control in the vehicle; which I had noticed but didn’t fully appreciate until later.

I had heard from a friend that Tesla didn’t let people actually test drive their exotic EV’s. Instead, you were allowed to experience the thrill of potential ownership from the passenger seat. I guess they make exceptions if you pull up in a MINI E. Mr. T took the wheel first in order to expose me to the “full potential of the car” (as if I might not). We got onto an open “private” road and he floored it.

BREATHTAKING! This is the Ferrari of EV’s. The Tesla Roadster effortlessly propels you to 60 mph in less than 3.9 seconds as you are seemingly launched off an aircraft carrier. The torque is monstrous and completely exhilarating. As he threw the car around corners at speed (something I wouldn’t do this aggressively in my MINI E), I could see why he commented on the traction control in the MINI E. The Tesla was glued to the pavement with minimal body roll. The lateral G’s are almost as much fun as the acceleration.

Finally, I got to take over. After a brief overview of the straightforward operations of the vehicle, I found that “private” road once again and catapulted us well into 60+++ mph. I had to catch my breath, but the car is so sure-footed and the manual steering is so fitting to the gobs of power that there was little reason to feel uneasy. The Tesla doesn’t feel as heavy as a 911 (because it’s not) and it doesn’t feel like it’s going to have the power of a Lamborghini (but it does). This is what the future of exotic vehicles feels like.

There are too many technical details to put into this blog, but I will save them for another time. Instead, below are my key impressions of the Tesla Roadster:

- Better than expected power with all the torque/smoothness I’ve come to love in the MINI E – just much much more of what I love
- Well executed traction control system. A surprising contrast to the MINI E and hopefully something BMW & Tesla engineers would be willing to discuss
- Impressive controls with much more data than the MINI E. For example, I don’t have access to real-time electrical use. Also, the Tesla allows you to set the time to start charging the car. One of my favorites, however, is the ability to dictate the power output based on your desired driving style (I would never leave “Performance” mode).
- Charging the Tesla with a 70 amp service combined with a great battery/software configuration means you can charge the battery array in about 2 hours (if I heard that right) and get a 240 mile range.
- Low, tight sports car feel. I only wish I had found an F430.
- Passionate, knowledgeable employees.

- The regenerative braking system required some sort of warm-up routine that I still don’t fully understand. It didn’t operate quite as regularly as the MINI E.
- Tesla is still using much of the interior from Lotus and the ergonomics need to be reworked. The screens are too small and certain gauges are hard to reach. I heard that the layout was changing in the 2010 models.
- The car felt a bit lose to me – as if it wasn’t completely bolted together (just slightly). The car I drove was a development vehicle and I’m comparing it to the MINI E which started life as a production vehicle.
- Speeding tickets and high insurance will most certainly come hand-in-hand with this Porsche killer.

In summary, where do I sign up? Oh yeah, there’s the small matter of $120,000!



  1. Very cool. I think the Mini is a better solution than the Tesla. If they really make you give yours back, we're publishing a series of videos on how to convert a 2009 Mini Cooper Clubman.

    Jack Rickard

  2. After they take your MIni E back buy that 2010 Tesla. What a novel concept, an electric car you can actually buy now instead of lease and no im not that Teslaguy or affiliated with the company in Just a Tesla owner wannabe. Enjoying the blog keep them coming.

  3. Jack,
    I'm not sure I'd say the Mini is a "better" solution since they are both aimed at different targets. Tesla basically took a Lotus, made it electric, and made it faster. BMW took a Mini, made it electric, and lost the back seat ;) Kudos to both but we need to wait and see what a production Mini ends up being, not to mention costing.

  4. After BMW dropped me the MINI-E program pushed me to a Tesla too.
    BMW has a lot of catching up.

  5. NIce write up, enjoyed it. The MINI E Tshirt guy.

  6. The mini cars are very comfortable for me specially when i need to park in a small place, they can go fast when there are traffic jump that is why I love the mini cars, they are really beautiful Actually i think to approach costa rica investment opportunities and a mini car there would help me a lot.

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. I find mini cars more manageable than the ordinary sedans. I have been traveling too much, yet in order to escape traffic, I try different routes. Due to the convenience of small cars, I'm planning to have one from used car dealers in Houston, Texas. I have heard a lot of great used car specials deal from Texas and I would like to have my first mini car purchased there.