Handing Over the Keys III

A critical part of the sales, marketing, and service function at Tesla Motors is to help inform product development and engineering decisions based on a customer perspective, a part of what we call “product marketing.” When validation prototype 10 (VP10) was built, one of the things we planned to use it for was to put a lot of miles on the car and provide marketing feedback to engineering teams for final refinements or validation. We recently scheduled rides with some of our customers to expand the feedback loop and asked them to share their driving experiences publicly on this blog. Customer opinions are unedited, save for my commentary in [brackets]. This week we present three perspectives from our latest testers. Find previous customer posts here.

Tom and Cathy Saxton

Last month we had the opportunity to take the Tesla Roadster for a test drive. Before that, we had only seen the Roadster in photos and video, plus the tantalizing descriptions we've read on Tesla's website and in the few early-version reviews. We were about 80 percent sure we'd like the car well enough that we'd be happy to replace our 1995 NSX-T. We think that Tesla Motors is doing very important work, and we'd be willing to compromise a bit to be able to support Tesla's concept and help generate excitement for quality electric cars by driving an eye-catching Tesla Roadster.

After driving VP10, we're totally sold on the Tesla Roadster. It's more fun to drive than the NSX by a good margin. We can't wait to get our Tesla Roadster so we can drive it all the time. We've documented our experience and impressions of the Roadster on our website.

Jon Faiz Kayyem, PhD

September 23, 2007, Malibu, CA – After a cold front rolls through Los Angeles, it’s amazing to stretch your eyes out and enjoy the 100-mile visibility and beautiful coastline and canyon views of Malibu, and I enjoyed these views very much last Sunday both before and after my test drive in Tesla Roadster VP 10. During my test drive, however, I was focused on the turn ahead and the chase car behind...way behind where I intended to keep it. To be fair to Darryl driving the pace car, I should admit that I really didn’t give him a chance. As I sat in the Roadster on the side of the road with Zak (Zak Edson, member services) pointing out features to me, I saw a car about to pull slowly onto Mulholland ahead of our planned test drive. Visions of a slow speed test drive behind this car triggered an automatic and potentially rude response from me, as I jammed the accelerator and took off ahead of the car. My concern about my own rudeness quickly faded, as the Roadster accelerated very well in second gear, and the slowpoke wasn’t impeded at all. In fact, all he probably saw was a blur ahead and the BMW chase car right on his tail. By the time Darryl had a chance to pass, Zak and I were gone.

What an amazing car. Before the test drive, I was telling Zak that I really wasn’t upset by the program delays, as I was pleasantly surprised that a startup was doing so well at simply staying in business and making forward progress. After the test drive, I’m totally bummed I can’t drive the car right now. It was singularly the best driving experience I’ve ever had, and though I’m not as car-savvy as many Tesla Motors fans, I’ve had my share of driving experiences in Europe and at Willow Springs and never have I had such a smile on before. I think what I enjoyed the most was that I was driving fast but felt completely in control. I wasn’t driving super fast, but I suspect the feeling of control would have remained at even higher speeds. However, I was driving exactly as fast as I wanted to and never felt any pangs of nervousness or fear. Once when I entered a turn a little faster than I wanted to, I just let up on the accelerator, and the regenerative braking slowed the car perfectly. I had both a Porsche C2 and a C4 at different times in my life, and the C2 would not have liked that move. The Tesla Roadster took turns like my old all-wheel drive Carrera 4... only better. I’m not sure why it was better, but it definitely was. Maybe it was the fact that I had both hands on the steering wheel and wasn’t even thinking about shifting gears. The torque that’s available at every speed I tested (0 to 80 mph I’d guess) was so plentiful and smooth that I’m rethinking all my past driving experiences. Sure, it’s fun to shift, but it’s a lot easier and safer and faster not to.

Test drives in Malibu

I’ve just read some of the other test drive blogs and don’t want to reiterate what others are saying, so I won’t give any more details about the performance of the car. It simply is great fun to drive. I like the regen setting where it was during our drive, and if it’s adjustable, I’d love to have a little more assist in the brakes. Or maybe I’d get used to it, but I was surprised that I had to push on the brakes so hard to slow the car dramatically. [Editor’s note: the brake feel has already been improved on other Tesla prototypes with the use of a faster gear ratio for the brake pedal.]

Darryl told me that a purpose of these test drives and follow up blogs was to help Tesla Roadster fans and owners to tolerate the wait. For me, the test drive has made the waiting much less tolerable. I’ve got the solar panels installed on the garage and a 220V circuit ready for the charger, and now I fear that the wait for the vehicle will be interminable. I might have to buy a motorcycle--something I haven’t owned in a decade--just to hold me over until I get my car. I really think you should not do this test drive unless you’re extremely good at delayed gratification. I don’t even think you should read these blog posts, and writing this one is getting me all worked up again. I can’t wait for this car!

Editor's note: If you want to find out more about what prompted Faiz to reserve a Tesla Roadster, see his previous post.

Bill Bennett

So I got a call on Thursday night from Zak at Tesla Motors to see if I wanted to take a test drive the next day. Well that was pretty much a no-brainer. I was hoping to drive our hot-rodded Porsche 911 Turbo up to the meeting point so I could have a back to back comparison of super cars, but unfortunately the Porsche had a flat tire so that nixed that. Instead I drove down the coast and up into the Santa Cruz Mountains on my 400cc “scooter.” Talk about contrasting rides. I met up with Zak and Aaron (Aaron Platshon, product marketing) across from Alice’s Restaurant at Skyline and 84 in Woodside. Trying to be inconspicuous (yeah, right) they pulled up with their large tow vehicle and the Tesla Motors enclosed trailer. I was actually waiting for them over at Alice’s and their arrival caused quite a buzz among the paying customers. They backed out a beautiful silver Roadster (the color my wife and I have selected as it turns out) and got ready to roll. Zak started me out with a basic intelligence test – I hate when people do that – always sets me up for failure. The test: How to open the driver’s door? I won’t spoil this test for people that don’t know the answer, but I am happy to say I passed! I guess Zak wasn’t fully convinced of my intellect (I did hesitate a bit on the door opening test), so he put forth a second test – how to start the car? I’m not sure if I passed that one, but we did get the car started and off we went.

The test drive was about 12 miles from Alice’s south towards Highway 9. This is a very nice drive with some good curves and some long straights. On a late Friday morning it is also almost deserted. Come back 24 hours later on just about any Saturday with decent weather and you are likely to be inundated with high-end sports cars and sport bikes. For our ride, we had the road to ourselves – except for Aaron and my co-test driver, who were following in Zak’s rather large, black Chrysler 300. In fact, we only came up on one other car the whole way down – a local in a pickup truck.

So, to my driving impressions. Having had the pleasure of driving (and owning) a few very high-end sports cars over the years, and also having a fair amount of on-track driving experience, I took a very leisurely drive. I pushed the car nowhere near its limit and only took one turn where we felt any real lateral forces – a large sweeper that I took at 70 mph and the car felt like it could take it at 140 mph. The power delivery is seamless and very linear. It does not feel anything like a muscle car in that there is no peaking of the power – it is just flat power delivery up the tach. We were driving a car that still uses the old transmission so we were limited to second gear. Even at that, the takeoff from a standstill was quite strong. It is odd to look down at the tach and see the rpm reading of 8500, with plenty to go. This car is quick, but not scary fast (as is my 911 Turbo). In fact, I would think this would be a great car for autocross or even track driving as the motor is so predictable. When we passed that one truck we came upon, it was a very smooth and controlled jaunt up to 80 mph or so and then back down to 50 mph, with no drama at all. Is it possible that electric cars will make people better drivers??

The motor sound is also quite pleasing to me. It is basically a medium turbine-like sound that never gets loud but is always audible. I love the sound of the Porsche flat 6, but the Roadster sound also has plenty of character – although it is clearly a lot less important to driving this car. In a manual sports car, when driving under performance conditions, most people use engine sound to know when to shift – lest you hit the engine cutoff. In the Roadster this is obviously not an issue so my guess is that after driving the car for a while the motor sound will fade into the background.

As I had already had the pleasure of getting a few test rides, I was familiar with the sound and the speed of the car. What I was really looking forward to was getting a feel for the suspension and handling of the car. In this area, Tesla Motors and their team of Lotus co-conspirators have hit a home run (without the use of performance enhancing substances – at least to my knowledge). In my past passenger test rides the suspension was a bit harsh, maybe a step above the Lotus Elise, but not much better, and the cars were rattle prone. In the validation prototype all rattles were gone and the car was remarkably smooth. The handling was very precise and predictable and there was no noticeable body roll. Better cornering is usually achieved at the sacrifice of a smooth ride. Not so in the Roadster, the ride was very smooth, even over bumps, yet the car stayed flat and tight in corners. This has to be the best suspension I have experienced in a production car. The ride is smoother than my BMW M5 and the handling was crisper than a Porsche Boxster.

I expected handling in turns to be similar to the mid-engine Boxster. In the Boxster, the car tends to feel like it is getting pushed straight to the side when cornering hard. In a 911, on the other hand, you feel oversteer, meaning that the back end of the car starts to push outward away from the direction of the turn. Surprisingly, although I did not push the Roadster in any meaningful way, my impression was of slight oversteer for the car. It felt a bit like a 911 in that respect, although the oversteer was quite mild. When I mentioned this to Zak he confirmed that the car weight bias is 60 percent to the rear, not too different from a 911.

I am 6’2” with long legs and I found the car to be very comfortable to drive. Zak, my co-pilot, is 6’5” and he also fit in the car. The new seats, though appearing to be almost track seats, were actually very comfortable. I could easily see doing a several hour drive. The only negative I saw was that the rear view mirror offers pretty limited visibility. I would expect that one would have to rely more on the side view mirrors than in other cars in order to get a good view of the rear. The steering wheel is very small and there is no power assist, which could make for heaving steering. I found the steering feel to be just about perfect. Perhaps at slow speed maneuvering there may be a little more effort than people would like (for those who have driven '80s era 911s, the steering effort is quite a bit lighter than those cars), but the front tires are not massively wide so it is quite manageable.

As for braking, I know there has been a lot of discussion of the regen braking on the Roadster. I found the regen to be almost imperceptible. Most of my cars have been manuals, so perhaps I am used to engine braking, but that is basically what the regen felt like. We were in second the whole time, and Zak and Aaron both indicated that in first the regen is much more noticeable, but I was of the impression that they could up the regen a bit in second – particularly if it enable the car to extend its range a bit. I for one would be in the camp to allow for driver selectable regen profiles.

Because the regen allows for “engine braking,” I really didn’t get much of a chance to test the actual brakes. The only time I stopped hard was when we reached the end of the test drive and the brakes seemed sufficient. I would expect that they would match the performance of the suspension under hard driving, but I am sure the car magazines will put them through the paces soon enough.

The fit and finish on the car itself looked to be very high quality. Unfortunately, I was so taken with driving the car that I failed pay attention to anything else – like the seat heaters (which I would have activated if I had thought about it as it was a bit chilly), the stereo, the A/C, the power readout and other gauges. Oh well, I guess I’ll have to wait for my next drive for that!


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