For the past five years or more, the iconic Tesla Roadster has been the poster child for electric cars.
Produced between 2008 and 2011, the two-seat Tesla Roadster combines the desirability of a luxury sports car with race-car performance, while its massive 53 kilowatt-hour battery pack gives enough power for up to grand-tourer style road-trips.
Sold in the U.S. until the end of December 2011, most of the Teslas on the roads of the U.S. today are still with their original owners, but with the 2012 Tesla Model S launch imminent, some Tesla owners are selling their Roadster in preparation for their new 7-seat sedan.
But should you buy a Tesla Roadster used? What are the differences between the various models? And how much should you pay?
Although there are many early Tesla Roadsters on the road with 1.x generation drivetrains, most of the Tesla Roadsters on sale today are based on the later, much improved 2.x series drivetrain.
Replacing the original two-speed transmission, the 2.x vehicles combine a single-speed, fixed ratio, rear-wheel drive transmission with a 185 kilowatt, mid-mounted AC induction electric motor to give 200 foot-pounds of torque, and a 0-60mph time of 3.9 seconds.
Available as an upgrade, complete with hand-wound motor, power electronics, sports wheels and tires, adjustable suspension and sport badging, the Tesla Roadster Sport cuts the 0-60mph time to 3.7 seconds.
All Tesla Roadster 2.x. cars benefit from improved cooling and power electronics designed to improve performance in extreme cold or extreme heat over the original 1.x models.
Essentially the same car, the 2.0 and 2.5 variants of the Tesla Roadster look similar from a distance.
However, the Tesla Roadster 2.5 benefits from an updated interior, redesigned, more comfortable seats, improved sound insulation and an optional 7-inch touchscreen display with rear-view camera.
There’s also a few subtle changes to body panels, including a redesigned front grille and rear diffuser that echoes the front grille from Tesla’s 2012 Model S.
LIke many limited-run, premium cars, Tesla is more than happy to perform upgrades on Roadsters after purchase.
Since there were continual small changes during production, it also allows owners to upgrade everything from centre consoles, heater knobs, trunk liner, radiator fans and even seat components as the owner desires.
In fact, Tesla offers both a sport upgrade and a 2.5 upgrade as complete aftermarket add-ons, allowing Tesla Roadster owners to upgrade their car to Roadster 2.5 -- or even 2.5 Sport specification.
All at a price, of course.
2011 Tesla Roadster Sport 2.5
2011 Tesla Roadster Sport 2.5
With most Tesla Roadsters still in the hands of their first owners, most are maintained and kept by Tesla according to its own service schedule.
With on-board telematics communicating battery health to Tesla, battery pack problems are often known about by the firm and remedied before they become apparent to the owner.
It isn’t just battery packs either. One Tesla Roadster had the entire chassis repaired just before the expiration of its 36,000 mile warranty after a Tesla Mechanic spotted a barely-visible crack.
In short, provided its owner follows all the necessary battery care instructions and follows recommended maintenance routines, the Tesla Roadster should give many years of reliable use.
Because such limited numbers of the Tesla Roadster were made, the all-electric sports car has become somewhat of a collector’s item, with most used examples selling for anything from $80,000 upwards on auction sites like Ebay.
But be aware: cheaper, older versions for sale may use the 1.x drivetrain, which is a little slower and has less efficient cooling than the 2.x drivetrain, meaning power can be limited a little sooner in the case of over-spirited driving.
These can be identified by the presence of a gear-lever instead of the push-button arrangement used in later cars, and a much more spartan interior.
With an active owners club and a limited production, the Tesla Roadster is a fun sports car that can combine a solid investment with a fun driving experience.
But remember: while it will perform the duties of a two-seat commuter car, it’s happiest racing along open roads or the local race-track.
If you’re looking for a fun car that will always make you feel as young as you did when you left college whilst providing the thrill of zero-emissions driving, look no further.
If you’re looking for a sensible daily drive that will handle all of those usual errands you encounter in the course of a busy family day, your pennies might be better spent on the up-coming 2012 Tesla Model S.
With the base-level model starting at just $55,000, it has more seats, more space and more practicality, but retains the legendary Tesla drivetrain and performance.
Finally, if you do decide to buy a used Tesla Roadster, be sure to check out our comprehensive review, weekend drive report, read 10 reasons why you'll love the Tesla Roadster, and pay a visit to the Tesla Motors Club for real-world experience from long-term owners.