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When the name Tesla Roadster Sport was penciled in next to the new Porsche Boxster Spyder, I paused. The sorts of things that ordinarily differentiate comparison contestants are generally pleasant little trifles — a few more cc here, an unexpected turbocharger there. These alone can keep us chewing for several pages.
So how in heaven do we get our arms around two cars propelled by entirely different energy sources, employing completely different means of power-making?
By considering them simply as…two sports cars. And not a speculation more. Global warming, battery economics, and recharging infrastructure — the whole swarm of peripheral questions presently swirling around electric vehicles — are more expertly answered by our esteemed counterparts at the journal SCIENCE. But how well do these cars perform as sports cars? For that, baby, the MOTOR TREND test team is cracking our knuckles in anticipation.
The name Tesla Roadster Sport was nominated to face the brand-new Porsche Boxster Spyder because the scrappy San Carlos, California, outfit has now officially paid its dues for the invite. Despite a pistol-whipped economy, a popcorn machine of lawsuits (all nicely detailed in the L.A. TIMES Business section), and a Quixotic attempt to make a two-speed transmission withstand the brute torque of an electric motor, Tesla, scarred, singed, and almost surprised to be with us, is still marching forward. As of this writing, 900 Roadsters have been delivered. Venerable Mercedes-Benz has seen enough to purchase a 10-percent stake. And the federal government has spotted Tesla a goggle-eyed $465 million dollar loan to build its next car, the Model S.
The flip side, though, is that with credibility, comes comparisons.
Facing off against our $155,000 (I’m suddenly dizzy) Roadster Sport is a comparably bargain-priced, $62,150 Boxster Spyder. While your basic Tesla Roadster costs $110,950 (including destination charge, but excluding $7500 in potential federal tax credits), the Sport option tacks on another $19,500, buying you a hand-wound stator, helping the motor to produce its peak oomph (288 horsepower) at 600 fewer revs (its torque rises to 295 pound-feet from 273 and, as always with electrics, at zero rpm). Our Sport-spec car also wore black Tesla-original forged alloy wheels wrapped in fly-paper Yokohama Advan tires, paired with three-position-adjustable shocks coupled to 10-setting shock absorbers.
While the Tesla Sport rings in at the 911 Turbo’s rarified price, the Roadster’s specs align better with Zuffenhausen’s new UBER Boxster. Compared with the Boxster S, it’s 176 pounds skinnier via such jettisoned features as A/C, radio, and even conventional doorpulls (replaced by fabric straps) plus added aluminum doors, lightweight sport seats, and feathery 19-inch aluminum wheels. The whole shebang also squats 0.8 inch closer to the tarmac, helped by a short, steeply raked windshield and a minimalist, erector-set top. Deployed, it’s spectacular, with its aft portion being tensioned by fabric flying buttresses that pull it like a toupee to hooks on the sprawling, undulating, one-piece engine cover. Stowed, it evokes the visual ghost of James Dean’s 1955 550 Spyder quite effectively.
Under that vast engine cover is a 320-horsepower edition of the Cayman S mill, though its peak punch isn’t reached until 7200 rpm, a whopping 2800 revs later than the Tesla’s bundle of magnets and wire. This rpm disparity thing gets completely whacko when it comes to torque, as the Boxster’s 273 pound-feet doesn’t occur until 4750 rpm. Those with calculators will find this exactly 4750 higher than the Tesla Sport’s torque peak.
Before you can finish mouthing “what the…,” you’re at 60
mph in 3.7 seconds. Six-tenths of a second sooner than the
Porsche, which has already lost time at its first gearshift.
On the other hand, the Boxster Spyder’s five extra gears make for one of the strangest comparison’s of zero-to-whatever acceleration I’ve had the pleasure to plot. After briefly twisting the ignition switch to its full throw (a request for maximum power), fully compressing the accelerator (this is truly drive-by-wire), and releasing the brake, the Tesla can vanish like the center seats at a 3D “Avatar” showing. Before you can finish mouthing “what the…”, you’re at 60 mph, 3.7 seconds later. Six-tenths of a second sooner than the Porsche, which has already lost time at its first gearshift. With its instantaneous reactions (the motor has minimal inertia and never pauses to suck a breath of air), this could be the worlds’ swiftest utensil for carving up traffic into utter puree. And just when you’re thinking its unexpected 162-pound weight advantage on the “lightweight” Boxster explains it, suddenly…
… the Porsche begins to grow in the mirrors again. The Boxster’s extra gear cogs let it press the acceleration reset button by up to five more times, so that by the quarter mile, it’s rubberbanded back to within biting distance and moving 7.3 mph faster. Were this to continue for several more quarter miles, the Porsche would eventually top out at 166 mph-sans top. Top-up, it’s limited to 125, no more than a brisk walking pace faster than the Tesla.
|2011 Porsche Boxster Spyder||2010 Tesla Roadster Sport|
|Drivetrain layout||Mid engine, RWD||Mid engine, RWD|
|Engine/motor type||Flat-6, aluminum block and heads||375-volt AC air-cooled|
|Valvetrain||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl||N/A|
|Displacement||209.7 cu in/3436 cc||N/A|
|Power (SAE NET)||320 hp @ 7200 rpm*||288 hp @ 4400 rpm|
|Torque (SAE NET)||273 lb-ft @ 4750 rpm*||295 lb-ft @ 0 rpm|
|Redline||7500 rpm||14,000 rpm|
|Weight to power||9.2 lb/hp||9.6 lb/hp|
|Transmission||6-speed manual||1-speed reduction gear|
|Suspension, front; rear||Struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar||Control arms, adj coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar; control arms, adj coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar|
|Brakes, f;r||12.5-in vented disc; 11.8-in vented disc, ABS||11.5-in vented, drilled disc; 11.5-in vented, drilled disc, ABS|
|Wheels, f;r||8.5 x 19-in; 10.0 x 19-in, cast aluminum||6.0 x 16-in; 7.5 x 17-in, forged alloy|
|Tires, f;r||235/35ZR19 87Y; 265/35ZR19 94Y Bridgestone Potenza RE050A||195/50R16 84W; 225/45R17 90W Yokohama ADVAN A048|
|Wheelbase||95.1 in||92.6 in|
|Track, f/r||58.7/60.2 in||57.7/59.0 in|
|Length x width x height||172.1 x 70.9 x 48.5 in||155.4 x 72.9 x 44.4 in|
|Turning circle||36.4 ft||36.3 ft|
|Curb weight||2940 lb||2778 lb|
|Weight dist., f/r||47/53%||35/65%|
|Headroom, f/r||37.6 in||36.7 in|
|Legroom, f/r||41.6 in||42.0 in|
|Shoulder room, f/r||51.5 in||52.0 in|
|Cargo volume||5.3 F/4.6 R cu ft||6.0 cu ft|
|Acceleration to mph|
|0-30||1.6 sec||1.5 sec|
|Passing, 45-65 mph||2.1||1.8|
|Quarter mile||12.7 sec @ 109.9 mph||12.6 sec @ 102.6 mph|
|Braking, 60-0 mph||101 ft||113 ft|
|Lateral acceleration||1.05 g (avg)||0.98 g (avg)|
|MT figure eight||24.2 sec @ 0.84 g (avg)||24.6 sec @ 0.81 g (avg)|
|Top-gear revs @ 60 mph||2500 rpm||6860 rpm|
|Price as tested||$72,570||$155,850|
|Airbags||Dual front, front side||Dual front|
|Basic warranty||4 yrs/50,000 miles||3 yrs/36,000 miles|
|Powertrain warranty||4 yrs/50,000 miles||3 yrs/36,000 miles|
|Roadside assistance||4 yrs/50,000 miles||3 yrs/36,000 miles|
|Fuel capacity||14.3 gal||53 kW-hr (1.6-gal gas equiv)|
|EPA city/hwy econ||19/26 mpg||29/32 kW-hr/100 mi (116/105 mpg equiv)|
|CO2 emissions||0.90 lb/mi||N/A|
|Recommended fuel||Unleaded premium||Electricity|
By Kim Reynolds