The Crazy Dream-Car

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

Wil Shipley — who owns a Lotus Elise, the gas-powered car the Tesla is built on — calls the Tesla “the the crazy dream-car that a kid might design in his naivety of how the world really works, except some engineers didn’t get the memo on what’s possible, and went ahead and built it”:

It’s crazy-fast. It handles like a jet fighter. It gets the equivalent of about 140 mpg. It has no gears. It requires almost no maintenance.e It’s gorgeous. It’s whisper-quiet. And, in Seattle, runs off hydro power.

So, yes, I test-drove a Tesla today, for five laps on a closed course in the parking lot of a defunct K-mart. Then I took my supercharged Lotus Elise around the same course. (The Tesla I drove was an engineering prototype but is said to be very close to the one I’ll get next year.)
Remember: this car is NOT an automatic: there are no damn gears. It’s not shifting for you; there’s no annoying pauses where the car decides what gear you might want, right in the middle of your burn. The engine is basically hooked up directly to the damn wheels. It’s amazing. It has that responsive feeling of when you are driving a normal car in first gear, except it has that no matter how fast you are going.
Normally, features like “traction control” or “no shifting” put me off of a car, because they essentially translate to “low-performance-idiot-mode.” You turn them on and you feel like the car is driving and you’re a passenger. I’ve hated ‘em in Ferraris and Mercedes SLs.

With the Tesla, these features are put in to allow you to drive harder and faster and still feel completely in command. I am driving. I feel the road. I feel the wheels.

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