I'll get the disappointments out of the way first. There is no video to accompany this blog. So you'll have to make do with my words and your mind's eye. And yes, when you thrap the knackers off a Tesla Roadster (to coin a colloquial Yorkshire term - ed), then the quoted 225 mile-odd range probably isn't achievable - as Jeremy Clarkson was so keen to point out when he tested it on Top Gear last year. Yet to dismiss what Tesla has achieved with the Roadster, and specifically the new, faster Roadster Sport version I drove yesterday, is to do the company an absolutely huge disservice.
Words struggle to describe what happens when you plant your right foot in this car. In a 'normal' sports car - let's say a Porsche 911 - when you flatten the gas pedal from low revs, the car takes a moment to build a sense of acceleration, before screaming towards a red line of - typically - 7000 rpm. You then change up a gear, the sense of acceleration diminishes slightly, and the process starts again in the next gear. It's terrific fun, addictive, but the noise - from the engine - is central to the experience.
So in comparison, you'd expect an electric car - with no engine noise, and only a single gear speed - to feel perhaps anodyne, unexciting, and maybe uninvolving. But the reality is different. Very different. Setting out from Millbrook proving ground's central area, I pick my way silently between other cars, exhibits and people unaware of the Tesla's stealthy, silent presence behind them (apparently, it being bright yellow isn't enough for them to notice me). Already though, I can feel the sporting intent - the tiny steering wheel, heavy, feel-some, unassisted steering.
Navigating the roundabout on the way out onto the proving ground, I squeeze the throttle pedal perhaps a quarter of an inch, and the Tesla rockets round, limpet like, feeling like a heavier, planted Lotus Elise (which isn't exactly a surprise). Then we turn onto the access road to Millbrook's famous high speed bowl. Built by GM in the 60s, this is a high speed proving circuit. Two-miles long, it is banked, fiercely, across its 5 lanes. As we round the corner to join the bowl, a familiar, British speed limit sign appears. But it causes me to do a double take. Instead of the usual 40 or 50, the number in the red circle says '130'. If only you saw that every time you joined the M1...
Google maps aerial view of the Millbrook proving ground.
Not knowing how many other cars will be on the circuit, I approach things gingerly, just slightly squeezing the throttle to join the track. We're doing about 30mph. Audra from Tesla, who's sitting to my right, glances over her shoulder, turns to me and says "you can just go, plant it".
So I do... Foot to the floor. And even though I've driven a number of electric cars now, and even though I reckon I've read nearly every road-test of the Tesla Roadster, I'm still unprepared for what happens next. It feels like we've been hit from behind by a silent express train. One which has no intention of stopping. We're positively flung forwards - 40mph, 50mph, 60mph, 70mph... the numbers coming up on the speedometer faster than you can read them. I let out a stupid laugh, and glance across at Audra who's now grinning wildly. "Wow" I say. And we're not slowing down. The acceleration rate hasn't let up, I haven't changed gear. We're just pilling on speed as if we're attached to a manic bungee chord which is intent on 'twanging' us towards the horizon, with all its might. This is the roadster sport, after all. It does 0-60 in 3.7 seconds...
By now I'm up in the fourth highest lane of the banked bowl, the car tilted at perhaps 15,20 percent against the horizontal. But looking down at the speedo, I'm doing 95mph, and the notional 'speed limit' in this lane is 80mph, so with a big deep breath, I squeeze the throttle once more, and gradually slip out into the fifth - and highest - lane of the banked bowl. I'm scared. In the top lane, all you see to your right is a crash barrier, and then the sky above it. You're pitched at a crazy angle against the flat horizontal, very aware that your passenger is sitting much higher up than you are because of the tilt of the car. A thought flashes through my mind - "god she's brave - putting her life in my hands (and feet)". The manic whine of the electric motor is being drowned out by the noise of the wind as we cut through the air at nearly two miles per minute. Such is the angle of the banking, and the forces that they generate, legend has it that at 100 mph in this top lane, you can take your hands off the steering wheel, and the car will simply continue to stay where it is, circling the bowl.
Snatching a glance at the speedo shows we're doing 120mph now though, so I think better of taking my hands off the wheel, and then a thought briefly flashes through my head - "what if we had a tyre blow out, what if I let go of the wheel... we'd be gonners, what would people say to my fiance if they found me in pieces amongst a mangled yellow sports car on the other side of the car barrier?" I quickly banish the thought from my mind, but it's enough to make me back off the accelerator, and filter into the next lane down. I take a moment to savour what I've just done. As a gearhead, circling the Millbrook bowl in the top lane has always been on my "things to do before I die" list, and I've just ticked it off. In an electric car. The weirdness of that thought distracts me from the fact that I've just overtaken a new Saab 9-5, still covered in disguises and camouflage tape. And then I think "sod it", and mash the throttle pedal again. And this is all you need to know about the Tesla Roadster: it feels like it's accelerating as fast at 80mph as it is at 30mph. And it's addictive. So much so that I complete another couple of laps. Who said the future wasn't going to be fun? What a car.