Being a motoring journalist sucks. Yes, I said it. The greatest job in the world for a car enthusiast can be pretty crap.
‘Why!?’, you ask as you slam the coffee down. Because my job is mostly artificial. The experience of driving some of the world’s best and fastest cars on some of the world’s most renowned racetracks is the dream gig for many (including me), but at some point, having watched decades of F1 and WRC, the facade wears thin. (World's smallest violin right here... – Ed.)
I actually just want to race.
Like, seriously. None of this made up manufacturer-sponsored crap. An actual race series, a Targa or something whereby it’s just me, the car and all these other people who want to beat me. So, I am getting old and that quarter-life crisis is calling. I needed a race car that is road-registrable. I needed a Lotus.
So, I bought one. And not a super-expensive one either. Say hello to the Lotus Elise Sport 220.
Many years ago, when I owned a WRX and not much else, the WRC Blue beast spent plenty of weekends at the racetrack (Morgan Park or QLD Raceway), whereby I would measure my lap time against others, realise I suck, then spend lots of money modifying the car to make it faster while still sucking.
Since then, the constant barrage of fast cars and racetracks has kept my appetite somewhat filled, I have had extensive driver training and no longer suck (as much), but ultimately there is nothing like an actual competition where the car is yours and if you bin it, you wear it.
The success of CarAdvice, going from just me in my underwear in 2006 to a business of more than 30 full-time employees today, has given me the good fortune of upgrading my cars.
Having recently cancelled my order for a Porsche 911 GT2RS in a desperate attempt to buy a 488 Pista (and being rejected by Ferrari on an almost daily basis, though I refuse to give up), I had promised my wife that there would be ‘no more cars’. Thankfully, she doesn’t read CarAdvice... I hope (hi honey).
So, why a Lotus? It's pretty simple, actually. For under 100k, which is what this Elise cost me with all the options included, the Lotus is an ideal car that can participate in track days every weekend and also compete in more serious events, such as Targa, without requiring extensive modifications or costly maintenance.
Besides, if I happen to suffer 'an off' or sustain some damage, the cars aren’t that pricey to fix, and certainly cheaper than anything else I could think of that would be as competitive.
There are some compromises, though. As much as I love driving a manual, I would’ve preferred the Elise with a dual-clutch transmission, because when I am racing, I want to be focused purely on the lines and the road, not my shift work (cue the comments about not being a real car enthusiast in 3... 2...).
Oh and, you know, there is the fact that it’s a Lotus – which means it’s not exactly easy to get in and out of. Well, apart from the Evora.
That simple fact rules it out for so many, but you only have to speak to Lotus owners to realise that for the majority, this is not their only car. This is just their weekend or race car.
Having the ability to drive it to and from the track legally makes such an enormous difference, and opens up the possibility of consistent track days. A full-on purpose-built race car (which I looked into) requires – in my opinion – far too much additional work for the same outcome due to transport requirements.
In the Elise, though, I feel more in control. It’s the perfect power-to-weight ratio for a wannabe race car driver, and as pretty much any driver-training instructor will tell you, its rear-engine layout and lightweight configuration are perfect for learning how to drive fast.
The Elise is orange, of course. I am actually having it covered in Halo (spray-on wrap) to match the Exige Orange colour because that looks much nicer and closer to the CarAdvice orange, if you ask me.
Pretty much the only options were the paint ($1397), black pack ($839) and floor mats ($139). It needs a hard-top, which we are ordering, and while we didn’t originally option it with a stereo, one has since been fitted. I do love that this is essentially both a race car and a convertible – it ticks both boxes that way.
What's under the skin?
The Elise (Alborz originally typed 'Elsie' here and I think we may have a new nickname for it... – Ed) is powered by a 1.8-litre Toyota engine with the added benefit of a supercharger. That leaves it with 162kW of power and 250Nm of torque. Not much, right? But this is a car with a dry weight of 845kg, and a kerb weight of 904kg.
It will go from 0–100km/h in about four-and-a-half seconds – and that’s with a manual gearbox – so in-gear acceleration is definitely fast enough for any thrill-seekers.
Being the latest of the current generation of Elise models, it gets the Exige’s exposed gearbox (that looks awesome), and you certainly wouldn’t want to lose a coin in there. It also has an updated front face and some other minor improvements.
But, otherwise the Elise is on a timeworn platform. It has no active safety features whatsoever. It doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is – a go-kart for the road.
The thing people don’t realise about the Elise is that – apart from the getting in and getting out – the car itself is actually very usable as a daily. It presents a nicer ride than some actual everyday cars. Weighing so little and having the engineering might of Lotus behind it, I’ve found the Elise to be super comfortable.
It has next to zero storage space, and even your iPhone will go flying around the cabin at the best of times. However, it does have a USB port, which is nice.
Behind the wheel, the Elise is as described – extremely nimble and highly engaging to drive. Its lack of driver aids in terms of even power steering makes every journey an adventure if you enjoy driving. Sure, it’s not fun in traffic, but if you’re Lotusing in traffic, you’re doing it wrong.
The gearbox is super smooth with the shifts, and the way it all comes together with the powertrain is about as easy as you can expect from a car like this. I took it to a race day at Sydney Motorsport Park and completely fried the tyres (probably my fault for having the wrong pressures), but I tell you what, it was unreal on the track.
I was pushing it 10/10ths and only maybe once in the 40-plus-lap session did I feel like it was about to give out on me (damp track). The rest of the time the car behaved as expected, flawlessly to a point, then presenting understeer. That’s very common and solvable with some tyre changes, and that’s the next step.
To date, the one thing that annoys the hell out of me is that each and every time I jump in, it won't turn on until I then unlock the car again to disable the immobiliser - something that not common, and likely an issue I haven’t had the time to take back for a quick fix. Oh, and you have to insert the key and then press the start button.
So, what are we doing with this Lotus?
It’s getting prepared to enter Targa High Country later this year. Cage and all. In the meantime, I am going to spend every spare moment I have driving it flat-out on a racetrack or around twisty mountainous roads.
Am I going to win my group at Targa? Hell no, but I won’t be holding back. I’ll give it all I have, and sometimes in life that’s all that matters.
Check back while we bring you more updates as the journey progresses.