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Tesla Roadster: Buying guide and review (2008-2012)

Tesla Roadster: Buying guide and review (2008-2012) Classic and Performance Car
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Tesla may be better known for its Model S and more recently Model X range of family cars, but its foray into the world of electric vehicles all started back in 2008 with the two-seater Tesla Roadster. Debuting a whole host of world firsts, it showed that EVs could be fun as well as efficient, and gave the motor industry a wakeup call in the process. Today most major manufacturers have a handful of hybrid and fully electric offerings in their ranges, but it is Tesla that has genuinely thrived with the concept.

Introducing an expensive EV into an established and very competitive sports car segment takes some bravery; first time buyers of electric vehicles tend to focus on how the driving experience and convenience will differ from what they are used to, and the Tesla Roadster offered a compelling enough proposition to appeal to over 2400 early adopters. As a second hand purchase more practical concerns such as long term reliability and manufacturer support become important, with this in mind we delve into the practicalities of owning and running a pre-owned Tesla Roadster. 

Which Tesla Roadster to buy?

Thanks to its last generation battery packs, the Tesla Roadster is considerably heavier than the Lotus Elise it was based on. It’s still a deft handler, but the firm ride and noisy cabin make it about as comfortable on the motorway as an Elise. Range is directly linked to your right foot, with 235miles achievable but half that more likely on spirited drives or during the colder months.

At close to £100,000 when new, the Tesla Roadster was up against some very capable machinery, however with well resolved handling, instant acceleration from the electric motor and zero emissions it was an utterly unique offering. 
UK owners benefitted from an exemption from road tax, congestion charges in central London as well as getting free recharging where available. Used owners get to enjoy these perks too.

The first cars were offered to US customers starting in 2008; the UK had to wait until 2009 to get their hands on the first left hand drive Roadsters. Continuous updates were carried out throughout production, the most notable of which took place in 2010. Outward changes were minor but vastly improved heating, sound insulation; push button gear change selector and 10 way adjustable suspension were the key changes. UK customers also finally got the steering wheel on the correct side of the car.

An S version with increased power was introduced, offering a 0.2 sec decrease in the 0-60 time and a few more interior luxuries as standard. Modestly specced, the most common extras you will find on a Roadster are a hardtop and home charger, both good items to have. 

Tesla has become known for making product improvements available to existing customers and the 3.0 version of improvements introduced in 2014, well after production ended, focused on aerodynamics, battery packs and tyres to increase range. In the UK the post 2010 models are the most desirable as they are right hand drive and feature worthwhile improvements over the first cars. 

Performance and specs

Tesla Roadster 2.5 
Engine Electric 3-phase 4-pole
Power 302bhp @ 5000-6000rpm 
Torque 273lb ft @ 0-5400rpm
Top speed 130mph 
0-60mph 3.9seconds 
Fuel consumption N/A mpg 
Gearbox Single speed transmission 

Dimensions and weight

Wheelbase 2443mm
Length 3940mm
Width 1722mm
Height 1126mm
Weight 1235kg

Common problems

• While there are no oily bits under the bonnet, dampers and brakes do wear out, so a full service history is essential. Tesla recommends a service every year or 12,500miles, whichever occurs first. 
• It is highly recommended to have these services carried out only at authorised Tesla service centres.
• Battery packs tend to slowly lose their maximum capacity over time and letting them discharge fully can cause irreparable damage, however there have been few issues with them in general and they should last 100,000miles. They also come with an eight-year warranty.
• The carbon fibre body can be expensive to repair so take a close look for any damage especially around and under the front bumper.
• Whichever year model you buy check what factory upgrades and post production improvements have been carried out, later cars had much improved NVH levels.
• There was a recall issued on cars built up to September 2010 regarding the 12v auxiliary battery. Cars built up to April 2009 were also recalled for correct tightening of rear inner hub flange bolts. Both minor issues but worth checking if your potential purchase falls into those build dates.

Model history

2008: First Tesla Roadster delivered to Elon Musk, signalling serial production commencement. Labelled as the Roadster 1.5 it was initially only available in left hand drive form
2009: Roadster Sport introduced offering 288bhp, 295lb ft and 0-60mph in 3.7seconds. Tesla Roadster becomes available in the UK.
2010: Roadster 2.5 introduced. Major interior upgrades including right hand drive (for UK), push-button gear selector, improved heating, sound deadening and upgraded suspension
2012: Tesla Roadster production ends with over 2400 cars produced but development continues
2014: Tesla Roadster 3.0 upgrade offered: improved aerodynamics, battery packs and tyres help increase maximum range.
2016: Battery upgrade offered to Roadster owners from 53kWh to 80kWh

Owners clubs, forums and websites

• www.teslamotorsclub.com – Tesla enthusiast site
• www.tesla.com – Manufacturer website
• www.tesladrivers.club – Tesla owners club

Summary and prices

Tesla owners tend not to be your typical car buyer, informed and enthusiastic they form a bond with their cars that means most are well cared for. They rarely come up for sale either. Out of the 2400 cars built worldwide, fewer than 100 were sold in the UK so your choice is limited. Residual values have remained strong and when these cars do come up for sale £50,000 seems to be what an early 2009 car goes for. The updated 2.5 Roadsters can command another £10,000-£20,000 on top of that.
With continued factory backing and support as well as a growing network of charging stations, the Tesla Roadster has become an even more compelling buy than ever before. This little Roadster offers a combination of eco-friendly excitement and ease of use that still has the competition playing catch-up. 
Words: John Tallodi
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Last updated: 21st Oct 2016
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