If small cars are particularly adept at changing direction, you might assume that small car companies can react to customer demands quickly, too. In the case of Tesla Motors, that assumption is correct. A host of updates to the Tesla Roadster addresses almost every concern we had after spending a week with the electric sports car - this Silicon Valley company is clearly listening to what people have to say.
As you might expect from a start-up, Tesla is continually refining the design and manufacture of its cars, mostly with the goal of reducing assembly costs and increasing long-term durability. Some of the changes, such as revisions to the fender liners, are easy to understand. Others require a postdoctoral degree in electrical engineering to comprehend. Like, for example, how new windings in the electric motor's stator reduce the variance in magnetic-field strength through the rotor's travel. Huh? Exactly.
Luckily, many of the changes included in Version 2.0 are things you can see and touch inside the cabin. A new dashboard eliminates the aluminum parcel shelf and replaces it with a real, locking glove box. The center console has been completely redesigned, substituting the shifter with push buttons and housing the LCD touch screen that was previously located near the driver's left knee. The gauge cluster no longer has a separate tachometer (it's redundant when there's only one gear); that space is now occupied by a much more useful power gauge. The climate controls now look like a conventional car's, and the system itself has been redesigned for more cooling output. An optional "executive leather" package swathes much of the interior in hide, completing the cockpit's transformation from Spartan to chic.
Version 2.0 also uses a new 375-volt electric motor with different stator windings that allow more current to flow at lower speeds - resulting in 40 additional hp. A $19,500 sport package (which, along with $14,000 worth of optional carbon-fiber accents, was on the car we tested) includes reprogrammed power-management controls that allow higher peak torque (295 lb-ft instead of 273) and reduce the 0-to-60-mph time from the 4.7 seconds we measured in a prototype two years ago to 4.3 seconds in the Roadster 2.0.
Traction isn't an issue, as the Sport rides on Yokohama Advan A048s - essentially street-legal racing tires (although it was shod with Pirelli winter tires when we tested it in Michigan). The base car's tendency toward understeer has been reduced by adding almost an inch in width to each front tire and by fitting an adjustable antiroll bar and stiffer springs at the rear.
Thanks to adjustable, remote-reservoir Bilstein dampers at all corners, Sport drivers can set up their Tesla to ride how they like. At the factory default suspension settings, the Sport demonstrates exemplary body control but actually rides better than the regular car, progressively absorbing bumps that would bottom out the base suspension. Otherwise, the driving experience is similar: the Roadster remains a hilariously fast leadfoot's delight, combining Corvette-like initial acceleration with Lotus handling and useful cruising range. Not to mention unmatched efficiency.
Now, if the world's quickest car company could just hurry up and make an electric sedan at a more affordable price, Tesla might have the biggest blockbuster since the Ford Model T. Oh, wait, Tesla already announced it - it's the upcoming Model S.