My Dream Date With A $109,000 Electric Car, The Tesla Roadster

Tesla test drive

Photo: Matt Rosoff Business Insider

Tesla Motors is on a mission: proving that electric cars can be awesome.The eight-year-old company is about to start building its luxury sedan, the $57,000 Tesla Model S. That’s the car that founder Elon Musk and Tesla investors like Daimler (which owns 9%) and Toyota hope will make Tesla a household name.

But the company started with the Roadster to dispel all ideas that electric cars can’t perform well. It’s a limited run of less than 3,000, and once they’re all sold, Tesla won’t make any more.

So I felt pretty lucky when the company invited me to their plant in Palo Alto, California, to take one of the Roadsters for a spin.

Here’s what I learned.

Here's the entrance to Tesla HQ in Palo Alto. It's part factory, part corporate headquarters.

We were able to snap one picture inside before a security guard stopped us. The company is very concerned about intellectual property, and photography is strictly regulated inside.

Here's a demo showroom for the upcoming Tesla Model S.

Interactive displays in the showrooms let you design your own car. Tesla has 18 showrooms in the U.S., Europe, and Tokyo.

This is the only picture we were allowed to take in the factory. Tesla manufactures the drive trains and battery packs for the Roadster here, but the body is made by Lotus in Europe and the cars are assembled down the road in Menlo Park.

The corporate HQ is upstairs. It's laid out with an open floor plan like a typical Silicon Valley company. Founder Elon Musk sits in one of these cubes.

But enough touring -- let's see the cars. Each of these fine machines lists for $109,000 (or $101,500 after a U.S. tax credit).

The chargers in the parking lot look like traditional gas pumps.

But they're actually plugs. They're designed for this special charger, but adapters are available to plug them into household 220v or 110v outlets.

The trunk is all battery. We got to see them assembling a battery inside -- it's made up of more than 6,800 lithium-ion cells.

The battery pack is cooled with regular automotive coolant.

There's no engine under the hood -- just these big fans.

Slick.

It's a nice day, so let's take the top off.

The control panel is pretty simple. The top screen is showing the music playing on the attached iPhone. The small middle screen shows how many miles we have left before we need to recharge. Those buttons at the bottom are for putting it into gear. It's in park right now.

You're really going to let me drive this thing?

We did a couple practice runs up and down the quiet road in front of Tesla HQ.

It accelerates very smoothly -- there are four gears, but no speeds, and you don't really feel the transitions. The tachometer does jump high when you rev it, though, so it's definitely shifting..

The car uses regenerative braking, which makes it seem like it slows down faster than normal. It's similar to braking in a Prius. It's also low and tight, which means you really feel the road like a typical sports car.

Time to hit the freeway. This is Interstate 280, one of Silicon Valley's main freeways. It's usually pretty quiet in the middle of the day.

Perfect for testing the Roadster's passing ability. It boasts 288 peak horsepower and 295 ft.-lbs of torque, whatever that means. We found that it accelerates almost instantly and goes really, really fast.

A comfortable cruising speed.

We kept close to the speed limit for the most part -- 280 is crawling with state patrol cars. But yes, it can get up to 100mph in a split second. Uh...so we hear.

A side trip to VC headquarters -- the famous Sand Hill Road.

I parked under the trees, stepped out and made a phone call, just like a big shot investor might do.

Then it was time to head back. I took some curvy side roads to test the handling. It takes tight curves at 30 to 40 mph with no problem at all.

Overall, an amazing experience. It's hard to say whether it's worth the price -- I've never driven a car this expensive. But I have driven other sports cars -- like a Porsche 914 -- and it was just as fun as those.

Now, check out the kind of party a Tesla owner might throw....

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