So one evening last week whilst enjoying a steak with some mates at Gauchos on Gouger I get a text from Jamezilla from the Supercar Club
saying he needs a car moved sometime in the next couple days, and given:
a. it's a long weekend
b. everyone else has family stuff to do
c. I'm inherently unlovable
d. nobody would care if I disappeared without warning
...it seems I was an obvious choice for the task.
The best part of the news - the car which needed to be transported is one of my top 5 dream cars, way above Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and the Mach 5, probably almost on par with the Batmobile...
Allow me to present the Lotus Exige S.
I had 24 hours to get the car from Melbourne to Sydney - I'd just spent 9 hours paxing in a Porsche 911 Carrera S to get to the city-of-self-importance-and-retarded-traffic-flows so it was around 6pm when I first saw the car with somewhat tired eyes - but upon getting a visual it was like having a strange optometrist install toothpicks between my eyelids.
Knowing there was about 1,200km in front of me and a deadline of about 8pm the next night I decided to knock out some of the boring freeway miles that evening - as obviously I would probaby not remain on the main roads the whole way - I mean do those guys in Texas really leave the house with a weapon not intending to use it?
Now as much as I'm a complete geek and love statistics and stuff - when it comes to cars, I'm largely not interested. When I was a teenybopper reading magazines (yes there were primitive information mediums before the interwebs *gasp*) or in my early 20's playing Gran Turismo and Need For Speed I would spend all night poring over the specs and performance data and just ponder how well they stacked up to my '81 Sigma SE...
The obsession over specifications and performance statistics was deep-sixed when I started spending some time in exotics and realised the numbers didn't reflect the experience. If you want to look at the stopwatch after you've had a drive to let you know how good a time you've had, get a Porsche. Or if you'd like to feel as though you're crawling in traffic eyes like Graham Kennedy looking for greed cameras when you're doing 110kph on the freeway (no cruise-control and 1mm of throttle equals ~50kph) then get a Lamborghini. If you'd like to drive flat-out everywhere you go and not get in trouble - get a Lotus Elise and don't change out of 2nd gear.
If you're in need of numbers and stuff to understand a car - let's just go with the bastion of integrity and scientific proof, Top Gear.
Here's where it stands on the TG Power Lap board driven by The Stig in reference to a few other interesting cars available in Oz (I think).
1:19.5 - Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4
1:19.5 - Porsche 997 GT2
1:19.7 - Nissan GT-R
1:19.7 - Ferrari 430 Scuderia
1:19.8 - Lamborghini Murciélago LP640
1:21.2 - Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano
1:22.3 - Ferrari 360 Challenge Stradale
1:22.3 - Porsche 911 GT3 RS (996 mk.II)
1:23.9 - Aston Martin DBS
1:25.1 - Lotus Exige S
1:25.3 - BMW M3 E90 Sedan
1:25.7 - Audi RS4
1:25.7 - Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder
1:26.0 - BMW Z4M
1:26.0 - Mercedes-Benz CLK 63 AMG Black series
1:26.0 - Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VIII MR FQ320
1:26.2 - BMW M5
1:26.2 - Porsche 911 Carrera S (997)
1:26.7 - Porsche Cayman S
1:26.9 - Mercedes-Benz CLS55 AMG
1:27.1 - Aston Martin DB9
1:27.2 - Tesla Roadster (mildly moist)
1:28.2 - Lotus Elise Sport 190
1:28.7 - Porsche Boxster S
1:30.1 - Subaru Impreza WRX STi
1:30.1 - Vauxhall Monaro VXR
1:30.9 - Audi S4 quattro 4.2
1:31.8 - BMW M3 E46
1:31.8 - Nissan 350Z
1:31.8 - Mazda RX-8
1:32.8 - Honda Civic Type-R
1:33.3 - Volkswagen Golf Mk.IV R32
1:34.2 - MINI Cooper S Works
And if you need some moving visuals to make this a verified Web 2.0 post, here's Jeremy Clarkson's review - if I had the time I would have made a far more entertaining video, you'll just have to trust me on that one:
So I'd driven a couple hundred k's out of Melbourne - I had no GPS except for my iPhone which I soon realised is about as useful as an on-road tool as licking your finger and sticking it out the window, so with no real idea where I was going - my theory was I just kept the car pointed toward towns I'd never heard of and I was probably going in the right direction.
It's getting toward midnight and I'm around Bairnsdale about 300km east of Melbourne, having been up since 4:30am and spent over 1,000km on the road in sportscars I'm kind of spent. I do a couple laps of the town looking for late night accommodation with my mate's words from earlier ringing in my ears when I mentioned I might do some driving and look for somewhere to crash late that night... "Yeah of course - there's heaps of people like you who try to drive late at night and need somewhere to stay at the last minute." - Ok, one caveat that we didn't contemplate was that this was a long weekend - and the areas I was driving through are mega tourist areas, hence everything was fully booked out - d'oh!
After Bairnsdale I try Lakes Entrance about 40km down the road (not to mention pulling into the half dozen caravan parks along the way), no luck there so I just keep driving - it's now after 1am and I am really really rooted, not to mention the high-beams are either ineffective or inoperable - but still the Exige it feeds you confidence on the road like a morphine drip, so even when the road turns to dirt and my instincts are that I'm now entering Deliverance country and just two awkward conversations away from being told to squeel like a pig I'm impelled to press on.
After Bairnsdale I try Lakes Entrance about 40km down the road (not to mention pulling into the half dozen caravan parks along the way), no luck there so I just keep driving, it’s now after 1am and I am really really rooted, not to mention the high-beams are either ineffective or inoperable – right now I’m praying to spontaneously develop the ability to astral travel to see into the distance – but still the Exige it feeds you confidence on the road like a morphine drip, so even when the road turns to dirt and my instincts are that I’m now entering Deliverance country and just two awkward conversations away from being told to squeel like a pig I’m impelled to press on.
Thankfully the Exige over-ruling my instincts turned out in finding the way to new towns without a time-costly trip back to the freeway – you’ll find that in driving the Exige there are so many times it beckons you to do things that are a polarity shift against your instincts, let me just say it’s very rewarding when you do so. (note: does not constitute legal or spiritual advice)
So the Exige S, why?
This is the stupidest production car I’ve spent time with.
To get in or out you need to open the door to it’s full extent – yes it’s a tiny car – but it means you can’t safely park within 1m of any other car/wall/bollard/blade of grass. Also being extremely low, be careful when near seaside suburbs or towns, they tend to have higher kerbs (would be great in summer when chicks are wearing shorter skirts…). And trying to get into a carpark… you have to get out of the car to get your ticket, which means driving a few feet forward of the ticket machine – at which point you realise the car will actually fit under the gate and you ponder just driving through.
Another thing – the central rear-view mirror is there only for ADR compliance – well, and to admire the engine bits or see the reflections of the dash and radio at night. There is no chance of being able to check your “blind spot” – which includes 90% of the planet which happens to be behind you. Reversing out of parking spots is largely a faith experience. On the highway and open roads it’s not a problem – people are somewhat more predictable over the longer distances you have to overtake them and change lanes – but for inner city multi-lane driving it’s just way more stress to try to figure out whether the muppet you just passed has remained at constant speed or decided because they’ve just seen a sportscar overtake them they should speed up too. That – and the hapless folks in the Landcruiser short-buses in front of you either have no idea or just don’t care that you’re there. Oddly enough bus and tram drivers notice you – it’s just the Mum’s taxis which place a relentless stake on any piece of real estate within 50 metres of their vehicle.
But God dammmmm – this car is fun!
I’m not talking about a day of skirmish with the guys at the office where you get to shoot that annoying bland guy from finance in the nuts, or when you sticky tape your girlfriend’s shoes to the floor so she does a comedy stack when she puts them on… This car induces pure dopamine – you feed it fuel, it feeds you smiles – this is the simplest equation since beer = good looking women.
So anyhoo I eventually make my way to a town called Orbost in Snowy River Country and it’s 2am, freakin cold and I need sleep after driving what is basically a race-car on the road for 400km. In the mean time I’ve noticed how people react to the car when I pull up somewhere – I’ve spent a fair bit of time in Lambos and Ferraris and Porsches etc – but this car is somehow different. I don’t know what the exact ingredient is – and much may be skewed given I’ve mostly paxed in the others – but in the high-end cars you tend to only really get the young boys and mid-life-crisis geezers come and talk to you about the car, most others give a sideways look because they want to see it but want to appear uninterested – I mean they’re pretty big, imposing and impressive cars.
In the Lotus though – nobody seems to have any qualms, it’s so little that people aren’t intimidated – but they’re definitely impressed. Perhaps I should clarify for fellow guys – by people I mean everyone including chicks – not just teenage boys and old geezers… in 24 hours with this car I had more chats, smiles, waves, photos, indecent offers etc than I’ve had in the last several years around all the other exotica I’ve been in. Who knows – maybe I’m just hotter now that I’m older and I would have got that attention in a Commodore.
So fast-forward past the indecent proposals of the evening around Orbost where I couldn’t find accommodation but had a few random offers, it was now 2:30am so I found an out of the way location behind some shed and parked on a mild incline, and proceeded to attempt to get some sleep – in the Exige.
For those who haven’t sat in one let me paint a picture – I don’t think Colin Chapman’s mates were considering this human function of rest and unconsciousness when they designed it – the seats are small, you have only a few inches of legroom either side of where you put your feet, and the sports seats they installed have a headrest which is forward of the neck. This headrest thing – not so much an issue when you’re driving – but when you want to relax, hmm, imagine a carbon fibre pillow 1.5 inches wide covered with a slim leather outing which forces your chin into your cleavage…
No – you can’t just lean to the side, the seats hold you in place – it’s not like a normal car where you can just put your head up against the window, your only choice is to sit upright with your head resting on your shoulder. I think a HANS device would be handy as it might actually provide decent support for you to be able to rest your neck.
I won’t bore you with the details – but it wasn’t a particularly rewarding sleep, at 6:30am I decided I’d had enough drifting in and out of consciousness so decided to get back on the road…
Ok – first thing, I was camped in Snowy River Country, second thing – it’s winter. I woke up not only stiff from 4 hours of attempted sleep in a race-seat preceded by several hours of driving in one – but shaking like Michael J Fox on ecstasy techno club, just getting out of the pax seat to go to the driver’s seat I’m sure I could have won numerous dance awards.
I let the car and myself warm up a while – thankfully the Exige has exceptional heating qualities for it’s little cabin, at one stage I was considering just snapping off a few of my frozen fingers as they seemed to just be in the way, but within minutes I was doing a confined striptease in the cabin – shedding layers of clothes which somehow just a while ago seemed to be the only thing stopping me from becoming a popsicle.
Fog was heavy in the air like the last fat chick at the bar, and every exhalation almost obscured my own view with the mist produced, but the roads around Orbost through the farmer’s areas and Snowy River foothills are fantastic – apart from “Megan Fox” and “morning glory” being in the same sentence I find it hard to imagine a better way to wake up.
It took me 3 attempts to leave Orbost – the first two times I took the “wrong” road which did all the right things, however somehow lead back there – eventually I managed to find a road out which delivered me to other roads which were the perfect combination of forest and seaside boulevards – I can only hope the people the folks in the cars I passed got half the joy I got out of passing through.
I found a few random places along the way in the early morning mists – one was an interesting little inlet where people were launching boats and walking dogs – this is right on the edge of Victorian pine forests (or something) and so the freshness and smell of the combination of sea and pine area at dawn is simply amazing. I posted the pics I took on the dock above for those who might be too busy/lazy to read the whole sordid story.
This area was just so serene and beautiful that it gave me a somewhat callous pleasure to hit the starter button of the Exige and break the silence with a bark of exhaust – it was like walking into a nut-allergy-support-group and licking peanut paste out of the jar and rubbing my nipples.
I feel I’ve already over-written this silly little road-trip at the point of dawn when I still have ~800km of adventure ahead. People do the Melbourne-Sydney run every day and don’t make a big deal posting it on the interwebs – I guess the thing to ask is how many people thoroughly enjoyed the trip…
One of the things that need to be pointed out is just how great it is to drive such a machine – there are so many cliches regarding “wearing the car” and “handles like a gokart” etc, but the next night in the pub telling a fellow Lotus enthusiast mate about the trip I was trying to convey how it absorbs a corner… even trying to avoid the cliches I had to deliver the only point of which he might closely know the experience – and that is of a go-kart… that point where you are at full-tilt through a corner and the kart slips a little bit but you just instinctively correct – that’s the feeling you get in the Exige, only at (slightly) higher speeds – most of the time the corrections are due to crap bits in the road, they happen without thinking, but in a normal car you may find yourself overdoing it and end up wrestling with the car like a one-armed paper-hanger.
I was really quite put-off prior to driving as to whether a regular schmoe like me could handle it – I’ve driven Lambos and Ferraris and Porsches and Lotii etc before, but mostly modern stuff which in comparison are soft GT tourers, but surprisingly this car is so difficult to put a foot wrong. I didn’t baby the car (James said “use it”
) – there were segments of 20+ minutes where it rarely went below 7,000rpm – but even at full-tilt round a bouncy bend you just know you could drive this thing up the cleavage of Kate Moss.
Getting into trouble in the Exige S would require one to have such a dullened sense of excitement, that in order to wake up he needed to inject tabasco into his eyeballs and lick a power socket.
I won’t bother comparing the car to most others – except to say if you’re driving around for a few minutes and have time to think – you start to realise the complete lunacy of what you are in, wondering how the hell they made this legal.
As for comparison to the Elise – I’ve only been in a few and only as pax, but these times have been let’s say “spirited” – and I was left with being rather impressed with their lateral-G’s (that is to say I’ve been through a few underpants) and launch from nought – but underwhelmed by their acceleration over 60kph or up hills, always feeling they were just not meant to go much above the speed limit.
In the Exige S – firstly it has six gears – yes six – I’m still not sure where they fit them. Let’s just tackle highway driving first… Leave it in sixth all you want, in a 110 zone and some Hi-ace is doing 87 flat out and there’s a bend 300m in front? No problem – this thing has enough torque to simply launch you around the mobile chicane without changing gears. I was truly astonished by how much this car was capable of without dropping cogs – it’s just really strange to drive a car that thrives at 8,000rpm to have such a strong response at 3,000rpm – I found myself dipping back to 2nd simply for the noise!
For the spirited roads (generally indicated by a sign showing logging trucks), 2nd gear is all you need. Most of them at rated at 80kph but some are 100kph – either way just leave it in 2nd and if you need to change into 3rd you are breaking the law. According to the handbook 3rd redlines at about 180kph.
4th and 5th are wasted gears for road driving, third is nice but unnecessary – the Exige S may as well just have 1st 2nd and 6th.
I have to mention I found almost zero difficulties in other areas you find hardship in Ferrari/Lamborghini/etc – there is such little overhang that the lowness of the car doesn’t particularly matter, sure, you have to be mindful of spoon drains and speedhumps and the like, but there were very few times when an extra reverse move was required to get the right angle of approach to enter or exit a street.
Is this car something you can live with? Definitely.
Every day I hear people bitching about jobs they hate and relationships they tolerate, for the compromises you need to endure to experience the greatness of this vehicle I think it far outweighs the everyday comfort of a “practical” vehicle – 99% of my trips are relatively short and by myself – why not enjoy them?
One of the major shortcomings that can be overcome is the rearward visibility – I don’t know why a rear-camera with screen attached to mirror isn’t an option in this day and age – at least it’s an easy fix with aftermarket facilities, the other option is to install a periscope.
The bruises I have on my arms and legs and body parts I was until now blissfully unaware of because of 24 hours straight in this car would surely only cause my body to adapt and toughen up – fine by me.
Either way – road-going sublime has a benchmark.