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Tesla Roadster

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SPECS

Year: 2008
Country of Origin: USA

Class: Sports Car
Type: 2-door roadster
Host: GT5

Price: $100,000

Construction: aluminum & carbon fiber body & chassis

Length: 155.35" // Width: 72.9" // Height: 44.33"
Wheelbase: 92.6"
Overhang: 
Track: 57.6" [F] 59.0" [R] 
Ground Clearance:

Weight: 2,728 pounds
Layout: mid motor/rear-drive
Tires: 175/55R-16 [F], 225/45R-17 [R]
F. suspension: dual wishbones, coils, shox, anti-roll bar
R. suspension: dual wishbones, coils, shox
Brakes: vented discs front & rear + ABS

Engine type: 3-phase, 4-pole electric motor

Tested HP: 278 @ 5,500 rpm
Tsd. torqe: 273 @ 2,000 rpm

Credits per HP: $359.71
Pounds per HP: 9.81
Pnds per torqe: 9.99

Idle: 0 // Redline: 13,000 // RPM Limit: Nil

Transmission: 1-speed direct drive?
Differential: open type

TCS? no
ASM? no

0-60 mph: 6.417 seconds
0-100 mph: 13.77x seconds
0-150 mph: nil

Top Speed: 145 @ 12,500 rpm   

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-------------EXTERIOR / HISTORY-----------------


Today is the day before Memorial Day, 2011. At this date, I'm not sure how many car reviews I've written. I forgot all about my website's birthday, which would have been just seven days ago. One thing I know for sure, though: this next write-up  will be an electrifying one.


http://www.myhero.com/go/hero.asp?hero=jrouse

James Rouse
. That is the name of the guy who financed and developed my home town of Columbia, Maryland during the early 1960s. He did this by secretly buying up acres and acres of farmland, and at some time in 1967, opened up his second planned city. Reston, Virginia was his first project. 

One of the main ideas of the planned city was to reduce urban sprawl. Instead of having developers build and build houses side-by-side, a certain amount of open space would also be included. A certain amount of people would therefore be allotted per square mile, without multiple developers building almost virtually on top of each other. Some trees in early neighborhoods would be kept standing, land formations like hills and rivers would not be simply torn away. Advertizing? It would be against Columbia's policy to have a business and just throw up some huge, tacky sign without being approved by Columbia's Association. Low-income housing (lots of it) would be included for all races, somewhat of a new concept in the 1960s. 

All of these decisions created a city which had a less cluttered look than other American cities and suburbs of the time. There were other advantages, but I don't wanna get too far off-topic here. This is going to be a car review, not a history of my home town.     

Anyways, I grew up in this "planned community". One of the few things I knew about James Rouse was that he lived a bike ride away, about 10 minutes away matter of fact, right on the side of a man-made lake. One day in 1980 or '81, I used the telephone directory to find his house. This may not sound very exciting, but in the days before the Internet, this is as good as it got. Like I said, I rode my bike there, expecting this huge mansion, to be surprised that his home was nice, but not gigantic or opulent in any way.  

So I found his house, but I didn't find his famed electric car. Instead of an electric car, James had a pair of cheap '80s-era Oldsmobiles.  


Jim had one of the first and only electric cars built during the '70s, the Citicar, which is pictured above. Back then, the "electric car" was just as much a rarity as it is now. I don't remember actually ever seeing Jim drive his triangular-shaped 2-seater, but I knew of him driving it around Columbia. The Citicar truely is a city car.

The Citicar (and I'm sure any electric car back in those days) would have been a slow, pint-sized automobile which didn't have the batteries to get very far. Despite the gas crisises of the '70s, very few people bought electric cars because, well, it kinda sucks getting to the end of the charge after just a few miles of driving. Now you're stuck somewhere. Hopefully there's an electrical outlet close by. The advantage of gasoline-powered cars (even the shoddier ones) is they can usually run quite awhile before needing fuel. Re-fueling can be accomplished in just a few minutes, and filling stations are plentiful.

In comparison, electric cars (especially electric cars of the '70s) were known not to be able to go that far. Like I said, they were slow, and it took many hours to recharge them. Usually, an overnight charge was required.

And there's the "slow" part. Jim's Citicar probably rarely saw anything much faster than 40 mph (top speed was 45). Despite such slow speeds, the Citicar probably felt like a deathtrap; this being the age before airbags. It must have felt like driving a soda machine. 

The Citicar was equipped with heavy lead acid batteries, which are the same sort of batteries often used to start a regular car engine. Unfortunately, lead acid batteries aren't very good at holding and dispensing a charge for very long. And assuming the driver did not drive his Citicar for about two weeks, it would probably need yet another recharge.

When I was a kid, I rode my bike everywhere. I lived in this safe, brand-new city you see, so I was lucky to be able to do lots of exploring. One day, I was riding my father's Peugeot bicycle on a dead-end road, although I didn't know it dead-ended because it was my first time riding on it. Anyways, it dead-ended into a thick batch of weeds and trees, so I had to turn around. I wound up taking a left or a right, and was now riding in some parking lot shortly afterwards. And there it was.

It was Jim Rouse's electric car, sitting in an out-of-the-way parking space. Again, have a look at the car pictured a few paragraphs above for a visual reminder. 
 
It was about the size of one of today's Smart Cars, and just as goofy-looking, too. Its tires were tiny, maybe twice as big as the tires on a golf kart. It was orange (I think) and had a funny triangular shape to it...or actually if you combine an obtuse triangle with a rectangle, and added a couple of circles (the wheels) that's how you draw a Citicar. Its headlamps looked like they might have come off a VW Beetle. I think I determined that it had a fiberglass body, but this memory could be foggy. All of this happened over 30 years ago, after all. 

Jim's car looked abandoned. As if it hadn't been driven anywhere for years. Perhaps Jim drove his Citicar here at some point, it ran out of juice, and he never returned to get it? Nah...a more likely scenario would be that he sold it or gave it away to somebody. But I like my "abandoned" theory. It has a certain mysterical sadness to it.   
        
The bottom line is...this is what the electric car used to be. A slow, cramped, possibly frustrating experience; soon to be abandoned for a Volkswagen Rabbit or Honda Civic, two of the better gas-engine alternatives for those who were wishing to be energy-conscious back in the day. Well, all this has changed now.

I'm estimating I probably found that Citicar when I was 12. A couple years later, I got my first real electric car. Actually, it was a Tamiya 1:10 scale model of an Ford F-150 truck. It had a wickedly-fast motor, took hours to build and tweak, but unfortunately its charge only lasted about 15 minutes or so. It had a nickel-cadmium battery about the size of five ordinary C cells. This thing would go and go, full steam-ahead, but after those 15 minutes it would just die.  

But it made me think. I'm thinking way back when I was 14: geez, we can put a man on the moon, but we can't build a real-size electric car? With all our technology?

Years and years went by, and this was my assumption. It MUST be possible to build an electric car which has the range and speed of an ordinary gas-powered car. Why isn't it happening?

Over the years (before the Internet) I picked up rumors and misnomers from various sources: car magazines, newspaper articles, and during philosophical discussions. Basically, I and a few others I've known over the years were of the assumption that the electric car is certainly a possibility, but the Big Oil Companies (with their Big Oil Dollars) do not want to see electric cars become a reality. That would cut into their profits.

So any engineer out there who put forth a patent, not just for an electric car but for any alternative-powered vehicle, would eventually be confronted by these Big Oil companies. Who would NOT want to put this idea into motion. The Big Bad Oil companies would do whatever it took, buying out the engineer's patent (or having his brains erased) so it would never see daylight. As the Internet became popular, there were (and probably still are) many conspiracy websites about why electric cars are not on our roads. There was even a movie about it: Who Killed the Electric Car. Starring Tom Hanks and Jeff Bridges. Lol.

Anyways, forget all that. The reality is it's taken this long (until 2007, anyways) for the world's first truely useful production electric car to make pavement. "Useful" in the sense that it can actually keep up with virtually any gasoline-powered car. It can even blow many of them away. Mmm hmm.

And while it can't run as many miles as a gasoline-powered car, this electric 2-seater won't run out of juice after just 40 miles, or 60, or whatever that car from the '70s got. It will not wind up abandoned in some decrepit parking lot. And many thousands of these runabouts are already on the road, in 30 countries, matter of fact.

Meet the Tesla Roadster. Unlike Jim's electric car, the Roadster is supposed to go a lot further. 244 miles per charge, if driven conservatively; which I'm assuming means no faster than California's typical highway speed of 65 mph. But first things first: whoo look at that price!
 
As a new technological advancement, the Roadster is pricey for sure. GT5 has it at $100,000, which is pretty close to real-life. The main reason this car is priced so high is that it's not only a sports car, but it's also packed with materials (mostly in those batteries) which are rare.

Ion lithium batteies are what the Tesla uses, not lead acid (as in the Citicar), nickel-cadmium (my teenage RC cars), or nickel-metal hydride (Toyota Prius). Ion lith batteries are expensive, but the truth is their popularity in laptops and other modern portable devices has actually brought their price down. These batteries have an interesting pattern. Instead always of running power from positive to negative, the ion lithium battery runs it from positive to negative but then negative to positive. These batteries gain efficiency this way. Whoever invented the ion lithium deserves lots of cookies, and popcorn. ;-) 
 
The Tesla uses lots and lots of these batteries, though. Over 6,800 cells. Not only is this battery pricey, it is also heavy. Nearly 1,000 pounds of the Roadster's weight are from the battery pack alone!
 
This doesn't sound good, does it? Does all this weight slow it down? Is all that money better spent elsewhere?
 

-------------ENGINE / DRIVETRAIN------------


Well, the Tesla doesn't actually have an engine, it has a motor, but you get the point. Anyways, is this just another Citicar, only much more expensive? We shall find out, won't we?

Notice the torque curve, which starts off with a bang right from 1 RPM. Horsepower also climbs quickly, but tapers off after 6,000 rpms. There's only one speed, which is odd because in real-life the Roadster comes with a clutchless 2-speed manual  transmission. The first Tesla Roadsters had some sort of issue with their 2-speed transmissions, so Tesla decided to sell them locked into 2nd gear, since it would have cost more money to remove the trannies altogether for new ones. Later on once they figured things out, Tesla then brought their earliest cars in for one of their very first recalls (ahhh, how cute!), and unlocked 1st gear so their earliest customers would not start lawsuits.  

This is important. Though the Roadster's 70-ish pound electric motor could do fine motoring around in 2nd gear (all that early torque helps) having first gear available changed everything.

The real-life 2007 Roadster could make a zero to 60 mph run in 5.7 seconds with 2nd gear locked into place. As a 2-speed, it could now make 60 in just 3.9 seconds! Wow. 3.9 seconds from a 2,700-ish pound electric car. That blows lots and lots of gasoline-powered sports cars away, folks. A Tesla quarter-mile run can be done in just under 13 seconds. Too bad Jim didn't live to see this phenomenon. Who says electric cars must always be slowpokes? Not Tesla Motors.

Unfortuately, there is a problem, a problem here in our game.

As noted, real-life testing of the Roadster has it pegged at just 3.9 seconds, over and over again. This is definitely from a dead-stop (zero revs) because electric motors do not idle. There's even a story that Tesla boasted to its earliest reviewers that if a passenger tried to change the radio dial while the car accelerates from zero mph/zero revs, that passenger simply will not have the torso strength to actually reach the dial! He'll be thrown back into his seat, unable to overcome the G-forces being caused.    

So why is it that in our game, the best I could do was a disappointing 6.4 seconds? WTF PD? Actually, this is not really disappointing; it's actually pretty good considering I thought I'd never drive a full-size production electric car which could move so fast. 6.4 seconds is RX-7 country I believe. But it's disappointing in the sense that PD's Roadster isn't as fast as a real-life one. PD has nailed plenty of cars from real-life to the game. By that, I mean they have gotten plenty of their virtual cars accelerating close to what real-life versions can do. So how and why are they off-base here with the Tesla? 

 I understand the motor has to overcome a taller gear, and it is my opinion that PD modeled the 2008 Roadster in GT5 as a one-speed, possibly because cars locked into 2nd gear are all that was available when PD included the car in the game, but still. The real-life Roadster can still make 60 mph in 5.7 seconds. Grrrrr.....          

That's annoying, so let's talk about some of the Roadster's better features. Like that 13,000 rpm redline. Despite being a one-speed, this car never runs out of rpms. I have no idea what the Roadster's RPM limit is because I've yet to hit it. 

Unfortunately, as the motor goes faster and faster, it eventually cannot overcome its own speed. It revs with vigor up to its peak HP of 5,500, but from there on up the motor still gains speed, but gets slower and slower while doing so. 

Well, I promised to write only good things in that last paragraph, but actually, there's more sucky stuff to report. Yes this car is fast, yes it can keep up with lots of gas-powered vehicles, but there are no power upgrades for it. Granted, 278 horses is plenty! But without any upgrades, it's sad to say there aren't very many arenas we can do battle in...not without blowing away other cars (Sunday Cup) or being unable to keep up with them (Supercar Challenge). 

This sells the great Tesla short. I have confidence in future games the Tesla will have improvements, but for now we're racing what amounts to a rather big prototype experiment in GT5. There's a lack of A-spec races a Roadster can do battle in, but I've done plenty of racing online! Occasionally skooling STis, Evos, S2000s, RX-7s, Mustangs, and more. 

Anywhere below 5,500 rpms (where peak horsepower is located) and the Tesla also has some dreamy abilities to dismiss itself from turns. As long as the car is lined up properly, it has no problem laying down its electricity. But if it's not lined up properly, if the driver is steering a little too hard and gives a little too much electricity, the Roadster has a tendency to lose its MR traction fast! So careful here. 

The real-life car has an amazingly high 88% motor-to-pavement efficiency. There are only a few moving parts for power to get lost by. Most gas-powered cars lose power, as they must churn a bunch of gears, driveshafts, fluids, and axles. Not the Roadster.  

One of the Tesla Roadster's other main advantages over gas-powered cars is that it's so darn quiet. This might not seem like it would be an advantage, yet there's actually a couple of plusses here. 

(1) You always hear what's going on around you. In a Tesla, the sound of the car's tires, its horn, wind noise, and other cars tends to be balanced with the Tesla's motor. The motor itself sounds like a jet-plane taking off from the runway, yet it's still a quiet powerplant. This car allows us to hear what's going on at all times, which is a surprising bonus.

(2). Sometimes other drivers (online) won't be able to hear the Tesla as it sneaks up on them!

For these reasons alone, I highly recommend a spin in this car. No, it can't accept power upgrades. No, it can't be equipped with its real-life 2-speed transmission. But the Tesla has its own applicable advantages. In the next chapter we shall learn a few more of them.  

  

-----------CHASSIS / HANDLING-------------

The beginning of this article had us sitting in Jim Rouse's funny-looking electric car, puttering along at maybe 30 or 40 miles per hour at best, hoping we can actually make it home. Performance? Ha ha...what performance? "Performance" in this sort of vehicle meant getting plenty of stares, but for the wrong reasons! As learned, this is what the electric car used to be like.

So it may come as quite a surprise that not only is the Tesla Roadster comparably as fast as many gasoline-powered cars in GT5, but it's also quite the sports car. Lotus helped with the development of the Roadster, Tesla getting plenty of mentoring, basing their Roadster on Lotus's Elise. Driving the Roadster, therefore, really is like driving many other 2-seater mid-engined sports cars. Though it's a lot heavier than an Elise, it has comparable weight to a Lotus Esprit or an NSX Type S Zero.

The Roadster's flexibility is remarkable. Yes, the Roadster is one of the first cars which truely is looking like it could save us from dependence on oil, but that doesn't mean it's not all about fun. That doesn't mean it's not all about pwnage. This car has its own rules for the driver to follow, for sure. But it certainly can be a successful racing car.

First rule. When you think of steering this car, you have to consider that it's not just the front-end that does all the steering. Matter of fact, the rear is just as important. Getting the rear lined-up properly is sometimes more of an issue than aiming the front-end. We can really steer from the rear in this car! After getting to know this car, I've found myself swinging it predictably into certain turns.

Front tires are extremely narrow, while the rears are about average when compared to many other sports cars and "sporty" cars. In the game, we start off with Hard Sport tires.

The second rule to realize is that the front-end isn't very grippy, which is a good thing. They are only about as grippy as needed during most mildly hard cornering situations. Those 175 tread-width front tires have a habit of lightly understeering, instead, which gives the Roadster a bit of a limit as to how hard it  can be pushed.

You might think this sounds bad, but it's actually an effort by Tesla (and probably Lotus, as well) to keep the car from exhibiting too much lift-off oversteer. If we had a super-grippy front-end, the rear of the car (where more weight is located) might wind up getting too swingy. This could lead to there being too much of a tendency to nearly spin every time we enter a turn too hot.
 
I'm finding that it's safest to brake in a straight line, anyways, if you're new to this car. Then once you start to learn it, you can start to experiment with trail-braking more often. The Roadster is extremely happy to corner; just as happy as many other modern gas-powered mid-engine automobiles. Once you get to learn it, you can start to predict how it's going to corner, which is when things really start to get sweet.

The Roadster is my first GT5 experience with a high-speed MR automobile. I'm not sure if all mid-engine cars drive like the Roadster in GT5, but I'm glad the Tesla Roadster was my first.   

       

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PROS---------------------------------------------

1. Just as much of a handling demon as many mid-engine / rear-drives. The virtual handling characteristics of a Cirque du Soleil acrobat. Easy to drive for those with experience, and mega-fun as well.   

2). So quiet! This car is like a little stealth racer. I've managed to sneak up on a occasional drivers during online races, who told me they didn't even know I was behind them. 

3). Engine maintnenence and oil changes? Ha!

4). A car that generates its own power during braking & coasting, which means certain city & technical tracks pose some advantages for this car.

5). Perfectly weighted in lots of ways. Weight reductions available, as well as minor body modifications (wheels, wings, spoilers, etc.) from GT Auto.

6). Premium in GT5. Love that tach & speedo.

7). Lots and lots of torque off the line, yet those rear tires can handle it. Decent acceleration.

8). A handsome design. A bit generic, a bit too much like the Lotus Elise it was mentored from, but the Roadster is certainly not an ugly car. Or a pretentious one. 

9). Being green doesn't always mean being unseen.     

CONS---------------------------------------------

1. Expensive! Good thing a monthly electric bill is also not included here.

2). Only one speed. And PD somehow screwed up its virtual power-to-speed abilities, so that the Roadster is over a half-second slower than its real-life versions.

3). No power upgrades of any kind.

4). That battery eventually (and rather quickly)  will run out of juice, especially at tracks with lots of straight areas.  

5). Other than a couple gauges, the Roadster's interior is rather dark & dull. Newer Roadsters (after 2009) apparently get a Prius-like console screen, which displays all the typical power conversion info. We get a black leather console with no such cool stuff.

6). Careful when leaving tighter areas. Plant the electricity while the motor is below 5,000 rpms, and the car will quickly lose traction if it's got a little too much steering input.

7). This car is so perfectly quiet, is that why it's got such an ANNOYINGLY LOUD HORN?

8). Not a car for novice drivers. No no...go back to your Honda Beat, n00bs!  


Published: June 2, 2011