Working on Roadster Post

I’m continuing to work on a draft of what it’s like to own the Tesla Roadster.  It’s been nearly 3 months since I acquired it and I’ve been meaning to write this for a long time.  The post is suffering from “feature creep” (I keep adding in new stuff to write about), having been busy (AKA lazy), and the fact that it simply takes a long time to put together a post of this size.  Since I’ve been silent about the Roadster for so long, I thought I’d give you a preview of my current outline.  If there’s anything you don’t see here, let me know and I’ll factor it in (mmm, more feature creep!).

Performance

Acceleration

Braking

Cornering

Traction

Comfort

Interior

Suspension

Driving Difficulty

Noise Levels

HVAC

Design

Ingress and Egress

Charging

Gauges

Convertible

Storage

Driving

Visibility

Ergonomics

Lighting

Cold Weather

Radio

Misc

Quality

Day to Day

Service

 

I’ve had the Tesla Roadster for nearly 3 months now.  It’s got about 2200 miles (3550km).  I’ve been able to drive it with the top off on 50-70F (10-20C) weather, in ice cold 10F (-12C) mornings, rain, and some snow (with winter tires).  It’s had some minor issues which resulted in servicing it both in my driveway as well as in the NY service center.

Overall, I’m enjoying the car.  I’ve had it long enough that I’m (mostly) over the giddy excitement and can start taking a balanced look at it.  Any negative comments I make are meant to shed light on what could be improved, and not to argue against BEV’s (Battery-Electric Vehicles).  I believe in their future, but it’s a huge uphill battle.

Performance

Acceleration

I enjoy acceleration (much more than top speed).  I’m no stranger to it — my other car is a modified STi which will go 0-60 MPH in less than 5 seconds stock.  With its current modification, it has incredible power even in third and fourth gear on the highway.  I usually don’t feel the need to downshift from 6th to make an aggressive passing manuever.  It has a top speed of 160 MPH.

The Roadster’s 0-60 is definitely fast.  What’s most incredible about it for me is that it’s an effortless and smooth experience.  No shifting, no jarring movements.  Just floor it and grin.

Even more impressive is flooring it when you’re cruising at, say, 30 MPH.  I describe the experience as being rear-ended by a Mack truck because it’s so instant and so powerful.  There is no comparison to any normal “ICE” (Internal Combusion Engine) vehicle.

Acceleration above 60 MPH, and especially above 75, is not impressive to me.  I’m probably spoiled by the STi in this area.  Fortunately it doesn’t bother me because it’s more than adequate and my commute doesn’t involve the highway.  There’s a section of road that I’d have fun flooring the STi and getting up to 90 MPH before slamming on the brakes to make the corner.  I’m lucky to get the Roadster up to 80 MPH on that same run.

Braking

The regenerative braking in the Roadster is atypical and important to understand to see its incredible value.  By merely letting up on the accelerator pedal, the Roadster will behave as if you’re hitting the brakes.  This process of slowing down the car actually recharges the batteries.  What’s important to realize here is that you can generally drive in traffic without moving your foot to/from the brake pedal — you just adjust your position on the accelerator pedal.  I find this to be a significant advantage and particularly attractive feature of the Roadster.

What may not be obvious, especially in light of the way regenerative braking works in the Roadster, is that the throttle mapping — the design of how the car accelerates/decelerates based on how far you’re pressing the accelerator down — is extraordinarily well-designed.  Tesla engineers really nailed this (and I imagine it was a long and difficult process).

The actual brakes are weaker than I expected.  I have not tried mashing the brakes as hard as possible at 60 MPH — but I do find that when I need to quickly stop, I need to apply a significant amount of force to the brake pedal and I find myself wondering how much more quickly I could stop if I needed to.  I can tell that I’m pushing the system without causing the ABS to engage — and I’ve felt like I’ve pushed the system when there should have been more.

Cornering

The weight distribution of the car is something like 65% rear, 35% front.  This significantly uneven distribution of weight makes it difficult to design a car for balanced traction while cornering.  The Roadster suffers from significant understeer — which means the front tires lose traction before the rear tires.  While this is safer than oversteer (rear tires give way, which leads to losing control of the car), the car doesn’t corner as “quickly” as I’d hoped.  It’s certainly  better than average, but it’s not as good as it should be.

Traction

Many people ask me if I can spin the tires by flooring it.  Sadly, I cannot do so on dry pavement (even with traction control off).  I don’t have the Sport edition (which might have enough low-end torque to do it), but I also don’t have the ultra-sticky sport tires, either.  I actually think it’s good design that it’s just on the cusp of being able to spin the tires — it means the tires are just right for the application (and not too big, which would just mean excess weight, rotational mass, and frictional loss on the road leading to poorer range).

The traction control on the Roadster is nothing like what you’ve ever had before.  It’s incredibly sensitive and accurate.  Several days ago, I drove it uphill in 1.5 inches of soft snow — about the worst traction conditions you can have (except ice).  The TC system kicked in without me noticing — except that no matter how much I modulated the accelerator pedal, the forward acceleration remained constant.  I was unable to detect any adjustments the TC system was making to keep the wheels from slipping.  It was an incredible experience.  There were no signs of your typical ICE-based TC behavior (increase torque, slip, decrease torque, increase torque, slip, repeat).  Even on dry pavement with the winter tires (which can’t handle the full torque output), the TC does a perfect job at maintaining the tires at their maximum output without losing traction.

And related to the torque involved in flooring it while at a stand-still, the Roadster does not deliver 100% torque at 0 RPM.  It definitely ramps up, and you can feel it (once you’ve become used to the car).  Everyone talks about 100% torque at 0, but it’s really not true for the Roadster.  If it did have 100% at 0, the 0-60 would be even more impressive (though I think keeping torque at 100% from 45-60 is probably more important).  It doesn’t bother me, however.

Comfort

Interior

Seating

leg rubbing against center console

Suspension

I’ve become used to the stiff ride of my STi.  The Roadster is actually a softer ride in most respects.  Anything that causes large sudden movement in the suspension is louder than the STi, but the Roadster handles it well.

Speed bumps are softer in the Roadster — especially in the rear due to all the weight on the rear axle.  My daily commute involves 5 large speed bumps (2 rated at 15 MPH, 3 at 20 MPH).  I go 5-10 MPH faster over them without trouble.

Railroad tracks are handled better than my STi.  The ones I drive over regularly aren’t the bumpiest, but it’s a good testament to the way the Roadster generally handles road imperfections.  I’m pretty happy with it.

Driving Difficulty

Steering, steering wheel, accel/decel

Finding buttons while driving

Brakes; transitioning from 1 MPH to 0 MPH (motor cut-off results in sudden jerky stop); need to press brakes more as you approach 0; braking while regen shuts down due to slippage .. unsafe, awkward

Noise Levels

Rain & soft top

A/C noise (mine’s louder than usual? fixed?)

sound of motor; wind; road noise

Play in tranny at low speeds is detectable (feel & sound); unfortunate

HVAC

Heat (weak, takes time; floor heat good for passenger, not driver)

heated seats

Effect on range

A/C — haven’t needed it yet

Design

Ingress and Egress

Charging

should have a way to set time to finish charging; starting charging at a particular time with plenty of time planned, i found it still charging in the morning

J1772 connector; barrel end of UMC is metal, heavy, getting hard to twist, especially in the cold (cold to handle, too)

Gauges

“it’s cold out” warning light trains my eyes to ignore warning lights on the console

Show outside temp on all VDS screens or somewhere else please

VDS (quality, usefulness)

If estimated range is based on 40 miles of driving, VDS should have 40 mile option

Interior lights when dark — drive selector too bright, doesn’t fade with the dimmer well

KW meter is awesome — great to have it there

Convertible

Taking top on/off

Storage of soft top

Storage

Storage (rear, glove compartment); taken up by soft top and umc

Glove box; small but I have plenty of stuff in it

Driving

reverse-to-drive — need to be near 0 MPH; not obvious when it doesn’t shift, you step on accel and go the wrong direction; scraped front end as a result

Not sure how I feel about the buttons; I’d rather something physically prevent me from doing something if it’s unsafe so I’m not guessing/assuming

Accelerator mapping (repeat of above)

canceling cruise control (not that I’ve used it) = sudden, unintended slowdown

Visibility

blind spots; mirrors (manual adjust); center rear-view too big for taller people

seeing stoplights, and i’m 5’3″

Ergonomics

Heated seat buttons hard to get to, nearly impossible to see (are they on high/low/off?)

Repeatedly hit the wiper when pulling my hand away from volume on radio

Can’t see or use iPod in it’s “dock”

Taller people can’t see gauges

Lighting

Headlights (fog, frost; sky-facing materials)

Rear taillights — offensively bright

Cold Weather

Regenerative braking shuts off entirely when the battery pack goes below 40F (4C).  It does this because charging the batteries below freezing negatively affects their lifespan.  Unfortunately, this alters the intrinsic behavior of the car.  Suddenly instead of slowing down when you lift off the accelerator, you simply coast.  You must quickly re-train yourself to use the brake pedal (and lose out on the range benefits of regenerative braking).

Heat first to charge

Range

Radio

Alpine & provided speakers provides plenty of good sound

Misc

keyfob range terrible

dome light

Quality

Rattles

Not particularly refined

Alpine HU buggy; backup cam to bluetooth starts music (was stopped before); doesn’t always see phone

Center console flexes with driver and/or passenger leg resting on it

Day to Day

Charging

UMC a pain to use every day; stiff when cold

finding a spot to charge

Range — 30 miles left… was worried; actually dislike seeing under 100, especially under 50; can’t imagine 100 mile range EV

Inspection sticker

Service

My problems: ignition wouldn’t turn, rattles & squeaks, water thru door handle, fogging headlights, loud A/C, bubble in 3M paint protection, alpine NAV muted (no voice guidance), trunk release, play in seat, play in steering wheel

The service I had done (talk about the experience)

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