I spent a day driving my 325 hp Elise and a Ferrari F430 back to back
I posted this for my car buddies on Facebook but a Lotus friend suggested I post it here as well and I thought that was a pretty good idea. Take a read if you’re an Elise fan.
“First of all I have to give a huge thank you to my friend Nathan W. He took out a Ferrari F430 this weekend through his car share club, Club Sportiva, and, knowing my insane love for cars, as well as my stewardship of a dangerously overpowered Lotus Elise, Nathan kindly invited me to join him on a gorgeous summer Northern California circuit drive from Petaluma, over the hills to Oakville/St. Helena, and then back over the hills to Santa Rosa and then finishing the circuit back in Petaluma again at the end. We had an absolute blast trading off driving the Ferrari and the Lotus all morning long. We both got intermittently skunked going uphill in the twisties behind slower cars but we also both got to experience motoring nirvana when the road cleared up and we could engage maximum attack hill climb mode. I’ve driven a couple of Ferraris before but they’ve been less impressive models like the 348 and California. I certainly enjoyed them and they both sounded incredible, but they didn’t really get my blood boiling, and . . . um, dare I say it, they weren’t really that fast.* Nathan's Ferrari F430 was the first Ferrari I've driven that reset my perspective and made me really, truly appreciate the Maranello masterpieces. The F430 is now two generations and a little more than a decade old but it's still a 490 hp fire breathing monster. Sweet Jesus that thing is fast, beautiful and sounds like a sex on a stick every time you hit the loud pedal. It was the first Ferrari I’ve driven that made me fall for Ferraris in actuality rather than just as magazine pinups.
My 2005 Lotus Elise in its stock form has about a 10:1 weight/power ratio, which is similar to what a base Porsche Boxster of that era has. I often say a stock Lotus Elise is a quick car, but nothing that’s going to scare the hell out of you, and it’s definitely not as quick stock as it looks. The Ferrari, which is contemporaneous with my Lotus, has just better than a 7:1 weight /power ratio, which is obviously more than a 50% improvement on the stock, non-supercharged Lotus Elise. As quite a few of my car friends know, I modified my Lotus many years ago with an aftermarket turbocharging kit and almost doubled the horsepower. Now my Lotus has about a 6:1 weight/power ratio, which is terrifying on a public road. If you’re really into cars, I’ll put that into perspective by saying that the W/P ratio on my car is better than an F430 but just short of a 458 Italia; it’s better than the whole Gallardo family but just below a Lambo Huracan. A McLaren 570S has a slightly better W/P ratio. To put those stats into further perspective, all those cars I mentioned have stability control, traction control, launch control, the Lambos are AWD, etc. In short, those cars are all high tech spaceship masterpieces that deliver on every level. They have electronic driver aids that keep you from killing yourself, working AC, and are generally able to function as a real car any time you want, even on a hot day. My Lotus has none of that. It’s a homemade hot rod. It has no cupholders. When I hit the AC button a little Blue LED turns on and the vents gently wheeze out slightly cooler than ambient air as if it was blowing on you through a skinny straw. After a long summer day of bombing up and down deserted canyon roads in the heat I get home panting like a rag doll asking for a saline IV drip, as Greg B will undoubtedly remember from past adventures. Now, all that being said, the thing my dangerously overpowered Lotus does better than any other car I’ve ever experienced is attack twisty mountain roads like an ax murderer. Or maybe I should say a scalpel assassin. It’s a question of physics. My Lotus weighs about 1950 pounds, which is just slightly heavier than a Smart Car. That incredible Ferrari I drove weighs 3350 pounds. And that Ferrari was awesome, but at the end of the day, it just couldn’t dance around tight corners and rip through S-curves at the level my Lotus can. The Lotus just devoured those tight corners again and again and then asked for more. A stock Lotus Elise has ridiculously overbuilt brakes for street use and of course the handling is world class. When I added the extra power, the chassis didn’t feel overwhelmed at all. With the extra power, the brakes, chassis and thrust finally felt like they were all appropriately matched. That car has ruined me for all other automotive dynamic experiences. I drove a 470 hp 997 turbo Porsche 911 for fun a couple of weeks ago, and because I’d driven there in my Lotus my test drive takeaway was, *this is a fantastic car but it feels kind of . . . (and I’m wincing as I type this) . . . dare I say it . . . fat and lazy.* Short of going to something like an Ariel Atom or BAC Mono, which is basically abandoning any notion of actual, functional transportation in the real world, I’ve ruined myself for all other dynamic driving experiences. It doesn’t matter if the next Ferrari that follows the 488 GTB has 850 hp. As long as it weighs 3300 lbs it won’t be any faster on a tight, curvy road, despite having more than twice the horsepower. And it certainly won’t be as much fun as a lightweight, overpowered Lotus.
It comes at a price, though. On a warm day like we enjoyed this weekend I arrived home feeling like I’d just completed the Bataan Death March after a long, hot freeway slog back to East Bay. My car’s audio system is relatively pathetic, even after I upgraded the speakers, head unit and added a small, lightweight amp. There is almost no NVH isolation in the car whatsoever, to the extent that you can’t possibly talk on a cell phone in the car at freeway speeds. The list goes on . . .
But still, if we’re talking about pure driving dynamics, (and at the end of the day that’s what pushes my buttons more than anything else) there is no other vehicle with doors, a windshield, and a semi-waterproof top that can possibly do on a curvy road what my Lotus Elise can do. My Bordeaux bomber is the devil and it wants to seduce (and possibly kill) anyone that gets behind the wheel.
I’ll never give it up.
*It is a very relative scale by which I measure that.
'05 Bordeaux Red/Biscuit Elise
FF 275 turbo kit (actually 325 hp!)
rear panel delete & custom mesh panel replacement
painted center console & AC surround
upgraded JL/Kenwood/JVC audio
duct & panel mods to enable AC to function