The Tesla Roadster was far from a successful vehicle program by most conventional standards. It was late, had a difficult rollout, and only roughly 2,400 units were delivered during its ~4-year production run between 2008 and 2012.
But it was successful for Tesla because it achieved its main objectives. The Roadster changed people’s perception of what electric cars can be and it helped launch or accelerate several more electric vehicle programs. In the future, when all new cars are electric, we will likely look back at the Tesla Roadster as the vehicle that sparked the automotive industry’s electric revolution. Let’s take a look at the latest iteration of this iconic vehicle…
On a high level, the Roadster’s mission was to make a statement about the feasibility and fun of EVs in order to attract customers and investors to Tesla. Remember, before the Roadster, EVs were glorified golf carts. The Roadster catapulted the EV to exotic supercar status. The Roadster program would finance the launch of the less expensive Model S and now Model X, which in turn, are currently helping finance the production of the even less expensive Model 3.
In order to thank those early believers who bought the Roadster and made it all happen, Tesla started offering last year a new battery pack upgrade for the vehicle to increase the range and make the Roadster more relevant today.
The new battery pack comes with a $29,000 price tag, but Tesla is not hoping to make money on the package. The price is equivalent to Tesla’s expected cost of components and labor. It is expensive because the old battery packs are sent to Fremont factory where Tesla dismantle them to reuse as many parts as possible and then replace the battery cells with newer more energy dense cells.
We are talking about a really labor-extensive process on limited use, older equipment and nothing like Tesla’s current battery pack production for Model S or Model X.
The result is roughly a 35% increase in range, which is a testament to the improvements in battery technology in the 5 years since the Roadster went out of production in 2012.
Tesla made several upgrades to the Roadster during its production, which led to renaming it Roadster 1.5, Roadster 2.0, Roadster 2.5, and now with the new battery pack upgrade, the vehicle is referred to as a Tesla Roadster 3.0 or R80.
During a visit to California earlier this month, Tesla lent us one of those rare Roadster 3.0s for the weekend. It was a 2009 Roadster, one of the very first ever built, and it had just received the battery upgrade.
The first thing that comes to mind when seeing the vehicle in person is just how small it is – something quite different from Tesla’s current vehicle lineup.
It’s so small that you feel like you could almost pick it up like a Hot Wheels toy car. That’s until you remember that there is a 1,000-lb battery pack in the back of this little sports car.
The size makes it hard to get in and out of – especially if the top is on and the driver is over 6 feet tall. Here I have to work my core to get out:
It would be hard for me to recommend the vehicle to anyone much taller than 6-ft (my height) since I was only comfortable in the car with the seat pulled all the way back. Yet, I know of a 6’3″ tall Roadster owner who says he never had a problem so what do I know?
Anyway, once you are comfortable in the car and shut the door – that’s where the fun begins.
The Roadster sits so low to the ground that it almost feels like a go-kart – a 3,000-lb go-kart that can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in just under 4 seconds.
Within minutes of first driving the vehicle, I pulled up next to a Fiat 500e, another electric vehicle known to be small, and I was looking up to it as if it was an SUV. So yeah, the Roadster is crazy low to the ground but that’s what makes it so fun.
Combine that with the lack of power steering and the instant torque, and it’s hard not to have a perma-smile on your face when driving it.
Here’s a quick summary video of our 3-day test drive around Northern California:
Despite its small size, the vehicle feels very solid on the road thanks to its weight and the handling is as sharp as expected of a small sports car. It also still turns some heads, even in Silicon Valley.
The instant torque is felt at virtually any speed and just as fun when passing another car on the highway going 60-80 or from a standstill at a traffic light.
The experience makes the Tesla Roadster 3.0 a splendid vehicle geared toward entertaining weekend drives.
I know that there are a surprising number of Tesla Roadster owners who use the vehicle as their daily car for commuting (but certainly not carpooling with its 2-seat layout and very little storage space). While I believe it’s far from being practical enough to be someone’s main vehicle, we have to keep in mind that from 2008 to 2012, the Tesla Roadster was the only choice for anyone looking for a long-range all-electric car.
If someone prioritized converting most of their mileage to electric over practicality, they ended up with a Roadster in those days. And that brings us to the range.
The original range of the Roadster on the 53 kWh battery pack was 244 mi (393 km) and the new Roadster 3.0 pack, which has a capacity close to 80 kWh, increases the range to over 300 miles (480 km).
Our vehicle had just received the battery pack and the displayed ideal range had yet to adjust completely based on the new capacity and driving. It was displaying 265 miles of ideal range, but after driving the first 15 miles, it had only dropped by 10 miles.
After a few days of driving the vehicle, it became clear that we could easily get the vehicle over 300 miles in range mode, but that’s no fun.
With a vehicle like the Roadster, one would be tempted toward some more spirited driving on sports mode and that will bring the range down a bit. That’s what makes the 3.0 battery pack upgrade interesting since it enables a range of well over 200 miles even if the vehicle is driven more aggressively.
The charging options on the Roadster are not like what you should expect from Tesla for the Model S and Model X today. The Roadster can’t charge on Tesla’s Supercharger network nor does it even accept DC fast-charging unless you buy an aftermarket third-party upgrade. It’s by far the largest electric vehicle battery pack on the market offered without DC fast-charging.
Therefore, a Tesla Roadster driver is limited to level 2 charging up to
40-amp 70-amp with a J1772 adapter.
Level 2 charging networks have grown significantly since the Roadster first hit the road so it’s not a problem to find a charger, but that’s a big battery pack to charge only at up to 70-amp. It is geared toward overnight or at work charging.
Most used Tesla Roadster for sales today are listed between $55,000 and $80,000 depending on mileage and general condition. That’s aside from the 3.0 upgrade, which again cost $29,000.
If you can afford it, it’s definitely the only option to consider for an all-electric sports car in that price range and it offers quite a unique driving experience. On top of that, you get to own a piece of electric car history.
Jordan Kahn and Seth Weintraub contributed to this report.
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