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My Lotus Diary April 2002Previous Entry | Diary Index | Next Entry
4th April 2002My first virtual pint. Cheers Ole!
5th April 2002Had a great drive in the Rover 200vi over the weekend. At one point I passed a Caterham 7 and he decided to follow me. We were not racing but it was interesting to compare the two cars performance. Not sure what was under the bonnet but he had a passenger to slow him down. Surprisingly, the vi was quicker on the straights above 40mph, he seemed to need to make more frequent gear changes. I guess the passenger was his biggest problem. Despite the advantage of ABS, he closed the gap on the approach to roundabouts by braking later than me (and that was quite some feat!). I would have liked to have been his passenger for that bit, not.
I envy anyone with a well run in Elise 111S. The vi now has 30,000 miles on the clock as is absolutely flying. With a decent chassis and 300kg less bulk, the 111S must be one very quick car. To be honest the vi feels faster and certainly more fun to drive than the Impreza. The power delivery is so smooth and effortless. It pulls strongly from low down, then stronger at 4000rpm all the way up the 7000rpm red-line and limiter. It hasn't got the turbo kick in the back but the Impreza feels crude in comparison and can never hide it's 1280kg. The Impreza also excels at silly speeds, the fun really starting above the legal speed limit. The vi is more fun at real-world speeds and also sounds better too. The only downside is that with front wheel drive, the chassis and suspension simply cannot get 145bhp through the front wheels cleanly on corner exits. I feel a Race Technology AP-22 purchase coming on to see how they compare a bit more scientifically.
Booked a test drive in the new 2002 model Honda S2000 and the MGTF. Still trying to get a test drive in the VX220. My brother's Sylva Striker has passed its SVA test and now has a Q-plate registration. It's a bit like as Caterham 7 that shrunk in the wash (except the engine). Big boys Meccano with a licence to use. Scary stuff! Not sure if my wife will let me in it though. Last time I took my elder brother out for a test drive was in May 1999 and he ended up with four stitches in his head!
11th April 2002In a business and marketing partnership, Caterham Cars are working with MG Rover to produce use the MG X Power engine. The agreement includes an exclusive (to Powertrain) contract for Powertrain Ltd, its engine and gearbox subsidiary, to supply all power unit requirements for Caterham Cars. Presumably these engines could be made available to Lotus as well. The X Power engine will be available to Caterham in 140bhp, 160bhp, 200bhp and 230bhp form. So there is some life in the old K-series yet!
12th March 2002
16th March 2002If there was just one car that shows why Lotus can't afford to let the Elise go soft and up-market, then it is the Honda S2000. Revitalised in the chassis and handling department, I felt I had to give this car another look. I test drove it in June 2000 and wasn't overly impressed but, I was looking at the S2000 as an challenger to the Elise on it's home ground. The shape has grown on me and now, with an improved 2002 model available, I thought it deserved a second chance. Changes to the chassis, steering and suspension have focussed on making it more of a drivers car, adding a bit more feedback and driver involvement. I know that the Elise and S2000 were conceived for different purposes and with different objectives in mind but, for the purposes of this comparison, I'm playing devils advocate to show what happens when the Elise is playing away from its traditional strengths and steps into S2000 territory, where a fast sports touring, convertible road car is the order of the day.
On paper the S2000 makes the Elise in Sports Tourer specification look a tad expensive when you compare the standard features. At £26,000 on-the-road the S2000 comes with electric power steering (claimed to sap less power and provide a more natural feel), ABS, driver and passenger air-bags, seatbelt pretensioners, air-conditioning, electric soft-top with heated rear glass screen, leather seats and interior panels, keyless central locking with alarm and immobiliser, RDS radio and CD player, aluminium switchgear, gearknob, handbrake sleeve and kick plates. Also standard are body coloured mirrors, electric windows, HID headlamps, headlight washers and a 3 year / 90,000 mile warranty. If you are thinking that that's pretty good value for money, then read on and weep. The S2000 has a 240bhp 4-cyclinder engine, 6 speed gearbox, torque-sensing limited slip differential and 300mm front disk brakes. Metallic paint is a £265 option and the body-coloured hardtop adds £1000 to the on-the-road price. Oh, and being a Honda, build quality and reliability are 'better than average'. So, on paper the Elise Sports Tourer is pretty well stuffed out of sight in the value-for-money stakes. But how does it compare on the road?
Well, to start with, £26,000 buys you a little too much Honda to be honest. A whole 1260kg in fact. Hopefully, a 50/50, front/rear weight distribution will help hide some of the bulk. Still, 1260kg isn't my idea of a sports car. Even with 240bhp, it's a claimed 6.2 seconds dash to 60mph (but EVO magazine time it at a more realistic 5.5 seconds, given it's 194bhp/ton power to weight ratio). Top speed is a 150mph. I want to like the S2000 though. It's looks have grown on me and the interior is simple and effective, luxurious yet almost minimal. Shame about the bar-graph LED intrumentation but at least the layout is clear and easy to use. I also want to like it because, if it really does handle more like an Elise, it represents the performance bargain of the decade. Maybe they've even fixed the annoying engine note and replaced the annodyne hum with a more suitable soundtrack?
Getting a test drive is simply a matter of phoning the Honda contact centre and they organise a suitable time, date and venue based on the nearest dealers. Iwas disappointed with the interior, all black and pretty bland. Just like my Impreza but with annoying LED instruments instead of clear analogue dials. This time I was pretty much allowed to go where I wanted to, after the car had been warmed up. Luckily the dealership is very close to my favourite local circuit. A combination of twisties, some long sweeping corners, some long straights and a few large roundabouts that are taken at 60mph tops in the Elise. The first thing to check were the brakes and they have improved. Stopping power is still very good but there is now some more feedback to them. With this first test behind me, I was now prepared to give it some stick with a degree of confidence. The steering feedback is also improved though is bettered by my Impreza. It's now about average for this sort of car. Through the B-road twisties the car felt composed with lots of grip but never a huge amount of fun. My favourite sweeping corner was comfortable in the S2000 at 70mph (conditions wouldn't allow a faster entry speed but the Elise was starting to twitch on the limit of adhesion at 90mph). The S2000 feels a lot slower than it really is, which is a bad thing in my book, what with speed cameras and traffic all over the place.
The six-speed gearbox on the Honda is just great. 80mph in 6th equates to less than 4000rpm and a relaxed motorway cruise. I can't think of a better gearbox in any car I've driven, once you've got used to the short throw gear lever. I find it hard to find words to describe the engine but I'll do my best. I don't like it, yet I know I should. Afterall, it's a 240bhp, 9000rpm screamer but it simply doesn't sound the part and it simply doesn't have enough torque for a car like this. It's constantly reminding you that it's there by buzzing away but it won't do as I want. It won't excite me. The car is perfectly tractable at low revs and pulls well from the off. It has an additional kick from 6000rpm all the way up to 9000rpm but feels well down on the 4000-7000rpm performance of the Impreza. Maybe it is going as quick but it sure as hell doesn't feel like it. And that is the key issue I have with the S2000. It doesn't feel fast and it doesn't really excite. My Rover 200vi feels quicker and certainly sounds miles better, it has a better mix of weight, torque and top end power. And it's a more enjoyable drive because of it, despite its chassis and suspension limitations.
So in summary the Honda S2000 is a good car but, despite the standard equipment list, it misses the mark in the excitement stakes and thus somehow misses the mark in the sports tourer stakes as well. It's a car that you struggle to place in a category and it's the engine that is its downfall. It's a good car and a great engine but they simply don't go together well. I couldn't live with it. Although it is fairly quick, there is no incentive to push it hard to tap into this performance. I wouldn't want to leave work at lunchtime to get into an S2000 and that is the measuring stick that any Elise contender will have to score on as far as I'm concerned.
The S2000 has a 5-month lead time and the dealer showed no signs of being willing to negotiate on price. Interestingly, in some respects the S2000 is harder to get out of than an Elise, the steering wheel is just in the wrong place and I wanted to run the seat back to make the task easier. Something it doesn't really do by more than a few inches. The boot is a reasonable size, though on a par with the Elise S2, possibly a better shape due to the wider opening. It does have a space saver spare and a tool kit hidden away inside it though. Crucially to me, the S2000 is not available in silver (only a darker Gun Metallic equivalent). Custom paint colours are also not an option. Stepping back into the Impreza straight after the test drive was another reminder. Better steering, better brakes, more feedback, a rush of intense acceleration from the off and a soundtrack worth listening to.
30th March 2002Some leaked pictures of a possible S2 Exige have caused a stir on the various Lotus forums and a request for them to be removed from the Previous Entry | Diary Index | Next Entry
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