The assignment was simple, or so it seemed. I'd spend a week driving the Tesla Roadster, using it as I would any other car, to see if it was compatible with the lifestyle of someone who has gasoline running through his veins and whose entire identity hangs on the cars he drives.
I will admit to having preconceived notions of how this would work out. I figured that, after the Tesla was flatbedded a few times due to running out of juice, electrical fires, or general mechanical malaise, I would decree the Roadster to be nothing but hype, a pretend green statement for passionless, soulless people who never exceed the speed limit.
But I was completely wrong.
MONDAY: The Big Surprise 0 miles, 0 kWh
I pick up the roadster at a Tesla dealership in Menlo Park, California, and, after a quick lesson on charging the batteries, I'm out the door. I turn the key, and a cheerful gong sounds from behind the dash. It's the same sound that I remember from the 1980s video game Pole Position. In my head, I hear the digitized female voice say "prepare to qualify!" If you insist, hon: I floor it out of the parking lot.
Five seconds later, I'm breaking every speed limit in the county, and I'm hit with the realization that the world's first electric sports car is fast in a whole new way: it explodes off the line, pulling like a small jet plane. And because there's only one gear in the transmission, all of the power is available instantly, with no downshifts necessary. In no other vehicle does a twitch of your right big toe carry such instantaneous potential to tear a hole in traffic: on the point-and-squirt scale, this is the world's fastest car. It's like driving a Lamborghini with a big V-12 revved over 6000 rpm at all times, waiting to pounce - without the noise, vibration, or misdemeanor arrest for disturbing the peace.
Cars that can hit 60 mph in four seconds are usually capable of deafening an AC/DC roadie, but only a faint whine can be heard from the Tesla. And that silence adds a measure of surprise to unsuspecting drivers, whom I dust, Speedy Gonzales-style, at every green light. Every other car on the road suddenly seems so old tech, even Toyota Priuses. If hybrids are a Band-Aid over a bullet wound, the Tesla is a stem-cell DNA cure that'll clone out your injury. In a matter of hours, I've gone from wondering how I'll last a week with the Tesla to wondering how I'll be able to live the rest of my life without one.
By the time I park the car for the night, I've driven exactly 100 miles. The battery has 36 percent of its power remaining, but I am out of energy and slightly nauseated from all the flat-to-the-floor fun runs I've given my friends. I plug the Roadster into a 220-volt outlet, from which it will suck 30 amps of juice until it's fully charged. I turn off the lights in the garage, thinking that I've driven the future, and the future is really freaking fast.