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Big Boys' Go Kart - Driver's Seat

Feb 22, 2007

I might finally cross over to the big boys' club. No more holiday meals at the kids table. What metaphorical object could I possibly be talking about? You'd be a smart gambler if you guessed a car, not exactly a long shot in this column. The big boy's toy in question is a Lotus, the entry-level exotic car often seen carving corners at the track. Why would I look to add a Lotus to my menagerie of vehicles when they have been out for a few years now? Having always been 100% devoted to sport compacts, my interest in Lotus peaked with their newfound affiliation with Toyota. Once those tangerine and yellow wrapped Toyota 2ZZ-GE engines hit stateside, I took notice.

To those who know my attachment to mid-ship Toyota MR2's, it's no big surprise that I would fall equally in love with the Toyota Celica engine in a tiny Matchbox-size vehicle. The zippiness of a rear-powered toy car is unsurpassed. Not to mention, I already love driving around Turbo's Project Celica GT-S. Just the thought of the same amount of 2ZZ-GE power in a car almost 600 pounds lighter makes my adrenaline pump with anticipation. The true beauty of the Elise/Exige shines at the track, especially seeing how well these light vehicles tackle corners and accelerate away on the straights.

Initially, I was less than interested in the new model Lotus Elises and Exiges due to their huge dealer sticker markup. I am hardly interested in paying more for sheer exclusivity. Also, I'm not one for wait lists or for paying $5000 more for some ugly wheels a dealership slaps on. The influx of the Elise models also lessened their exotic appeal. Maybe they're a rare sight in the heartland, but here in SoCal there are enough old guys with money who picked up an Elise that it makes you think twice about wanting to be associated with a midlife-crisis car.

Now the Exige, that's another story. The limited-release higher-performance big brother of the Elise, that might be something I'd drop a dime (OK a huge chunk of change) on. And let's just put it out there-no, I can't afford a Ferrari or Lamborghini unless we are talking used from the '80s, so the Lotus is my closest bet.

You might ask: Why not a Porsche instead? Simple: The Toyota-powered Lotus is loads cheaper, and it has superior handling. Also, the Lotus is more of a raw driving experience as opposed to the luxurious Porsche. You feel like you are in a race car cockpit in the Lotus, especially when compared to the leather interior, Sunday-drive feel of a Carrera. Because this race car feel is exactly what many journalists' driving impression critiques have cited as a negative about both the Exige and Elise, I went out to testdrive one to decide for myself.

Before we get to the testdrive itself, I have to say I was surprised that the dealer let me drive off in the Elise for a private testdrive without a ride-a-long or a credit check. Clearly, I'm not test driving an Aston Martin or a "real" exotic. Being 5'11" I was worried about feeling cramped, but actually found the Lotus surprisingly roomy. You do rub elbows with your passenger, but there's plenty of legroom and headroom. A helmet when racing, that might be a little tough, but, at this point, I'd take out one of my other track-prepped vehicles to the road courses first. I ain't that rich to roll my newly purchased Exige.

The Exige has a good amount of pull in first and second gear, and quite an rpm range. You can comfortably accelerate from 20 to 60 mph while in second. And, even though it throws your head back it doesn't have an oh-my-goodness-hold-on acceleration that you might expect. It's as fast as an S2000, but the lack of torque makes for lack luster low-end acceleration until the VVTL-i kicks in. Once the tach hits 6000 rpm, the Elise really comes alive, screaming all the way to the 8000 rpm redline.

The whole Exige versus Elise argument basically comes down to this: Can you handle not having a rear window in the Exige? You may or may not like the no-rear window body style, but can you safely drive it? Also complicating things, is that there are very few new 2006 Exiges available to purchase, so color and dealer options (suspension upgrades, etc.) may not be available. Two other factors to consider: the new 2007 Exiges are all supercharged and will be released in limited numbers (unlike the 2006 model). Do you really want to buy an overpriced factory supercharger or would you rather have the joy of handpicking your own aftermarket upgrades? It goes without saying that I am for the latter. I'm also hesitant to buy a used Exige, because of the likelihood that it took quite a beating by an ill-equipped driver in its early miles. Did they properly break in the car's first 1000 miles with Lotus' specially designed abrasive mineral oil solution?

So, where does that leave me? After many hours of Internet research and perusing, I think I'll wait to check out the 2007 models before I make my decision (I am writing this in December due to our lead time in publishing). I may miss out on a new '06 Exige, but I'd rather wait and see what's around the corner first. Toyota's rich cousin may just be my ticket into the bourgeois country club crowd. Yeah, right. I'd still roll up in my '86 Corolla and save the Lotus for the high speeds of the open road.

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Tech SceneForums SuckHell Hath No Fury Like A Kid And His KeyboardForums suck. Lately I've been spending more time than I care to admit lurking around the Internet forums. And that's surprising, considering how much I hate them and all they stand for. But they can be useful. Sometimes. And unquestionably addictive. Most of the time. I have my reasons for wasting time with these online populations, and not just the automotive related ones. Some guy from somewhere in the Midwest helped me figure out a plumbing problem recently. I didn't question his eagerness to assist me, or why he was so fervent to discuss the ramifications of flux and soldering copper piping at 10:30 at night. His motivation, his desire for Internet heroism in the home improvement realm make no difference to me. There are few topics that have been left out of the assemblage of Internet discussion forums. This can be viewed as either a fortunate or unfortunate set of circumstances; and the automotive segment has no such shortage when concerning forums, discussion boards and chat rooms. Let me tell you why they suck.

Reason one: There's just no oversight here. Teenage boys on the brink of a driver's license pluck away at their laptops with reckless abandon, dispensing automotive advice as if they had a clue what they were talking about. They dole out their ill-conceived wisdom to unsuspecting, gullible seekers of Web guidance with little to no challenge. Online seminars dealing with advanced topics like engine bearing clearances and camshaft profiles are imparted onto the digital masses by boys who've yet to shave for the first time and who employ Huffys as their sole means of transportation. To be fair, there are also more than a few experienced, knowledgeable individuals among the auto forums as well. These people are so smart that you can walk away from the keyboard smarter just by breathing the same virtual air. The problem is making the distinction between those filled with crap and those not filled with crap. Unfortunately this distinction is left up to you, the end user.

Reason two: Where's the accuracy? I won't lie to you. These forums can't be good for the publishing business, and I'm not even going to get into the whole illegal federal copyright practices some of these sites partake in by distributing our work, my work. I'm more concerned with noting the differences between unchecked, online information taken as the word of God handed down from the heavens and that which is more carefully and consciously served up by the auto magazine racks and bookshelves. Perhaps the most important distinction between the two is the publishing industry's system of checks and balances. It would be almost impossible for any of us journalist types to pull a turbocharger's specs or a complete detail of an engine's valve timing characteristics out of our asses without challenge from not just the many people who oversee our work before it's even published, but from the readers themselves.

Reason three: Forum people are really mean. You won't have to go far to see some innocent information seeker get flamed for asking the wrong question, to the wrong person. Ask a question that you could just as easily have pulled up from the forum's search archives, and you'd better run for cover, as all hell is about to break loose. The vitriol spewed from the forum junkies' mouths when you fail to click the search button is something to be rivaled only by some mid-'90s Andrew Dice Clay stand-up routine. Seek advice on which shop you should take your vehicle to for repair work and receive an equal flaming simply for not being man enough to do it yourself. Never mind the fact that the guy flaming you likely doesn't even have a car to work on himself. But he'll be damned if he's going to take his Huffy to the guy at the bike shop the next time his chain falls off.

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