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New Year diet. Image by Kyle Fortune.

New Year diet
Lotus drops the supercharger off its extreme 2-Eleven and proves that power isn't everything.

   



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| First Drive | Hethel, England | Lotus 2-Eleven 190 |

No doors, no windscreen, no heater. That's all I can think about when I'm driving up to Lotus to test its naturally aspirated 2-Eleven - a new, non-supercharged, entry-level edition of Lotus's extreme track and road car. It's December, so it's cold and damp. I've had a few "moments" in my normal-tyred transport up to Hethel on the slippery roads, so it's hardly surprising that the prospect of the cut slicks of the Lotus are also on my mind.

In the Metal

You really do have to recalibrate your expectations of what a car should look like when you first set eyes on the Lotus 2-Eleven. Some of its Elise DNA is apparent, but the absence of a windscreen really jars, the 2-Eleven looking more like a track car than anything that should be used on the road. Pore over the details though and the 2-Eleven is exquisite, the starkness and purity of its exterior lines and interior are quite stunning. There's nothing superfluous; indeed such is Lotus's obsession with weight I wouldn't be surprised if a meeting was held to discuss whether the extra micrograms of weight that the 'Lotus Sport' and 'no step' stickers adorning the body were really necessary.

Those no step notices are on the gap behind the front wheel. They underline the other unique feature of the 2-Eleven: no doors. You have to clamber in over the high sills. Think of it like getting into the fastest, most enjoyable bathtub ever. Once in, there's space beside you, unless you've opted for the passenger seat. Yup, that's an option, losing it removing around 9kg. The interior houses the essentials you need to drive it and not much else. A starter button, instruments, light switches, four-point harnesses, a variable knob for the traction control, a steering wheel, gearstick, three pedals and that's your lot. Not that you need anything else.

What you get for your Money

This 2-Eleven is the naturally aspirated car, which means there's no supercharger forcing more power out of the 1.8-litre Toyota-sourced engine that sits behind you. That's no real problem, as it's not exactly under endowed in the output department with a healthy 189bhp and 136lb.ft on offer. Consider too that the 1.8-litre engine only has to shift 720kg and it's hardly surprising that the 2-Eleven offers a 0-62mph time of 4.5 seconds. That's only 0.5 seconds slower than its supercharged relative and with the wind rushing by the open cockpit you'll struggle to really notice the difference.

The supercharged car has an advantage at higher speeds, but the naturally aspirated 2-Eleven is certainly not slow. It'll cover a quarter mile drag in 13.1 seconds, which is only 0.9secs slower than the 251bhp version. On all but the fastest tracks there's little point in the faster car; indeed, on the road, the naturally aspirated car's performance is arguably more exploitable more of the time making it the sweeter driving package. It's cheaper too, at 27,995 in track guise, an SVA pack and on-the-road charges adding 4,445 to that - making a road-drivable 2-Eleven cost 32,440. And what do you get for that? Four wheels, an engine, a brilliant chassis and a huge big grin. What else could you possibly want?

Driving it

The 2-Eleven might look extreme but it's a surprisingly easy car to get in and enjoy. Actually, getting in is a bit of an issue, but enjoying it when you've negotiated the large sills isn't. The steering is as perfect as we've ever experienced, the clarity of the information coming through the wheel's rim allowing you to place the 2-Eleven with absolute precision on every corner. There's real feel to it too, Lotus's chassis people managing to engineer the steering to telegraph intimately the surface conditions and available grip through the wheel without overly loading it up with weight. It's light, feelsome and very accurate.

That's true of the rest of the driving experience. The engine might not sound particularly sonorous when you thumb the large starter button but it delivers so much elsewhere. The acceleration feels very linear up until the cam profile changes at around 5,000rpm where the 1.8-litre unit finds more muscle and pushes you into the lightweight, super supportive sports seat with even more conviction. The gearshift is typically fast and precise at speed, though feels a bit sloppy at slower speeds - Lotus is working on a sequential unit for those that want the full race-car experience. The limits of grip even on cool tyres on a damp track are very high, but when the adhesion is lost the 2-Eleven is so friendly and controllable it's simple to catch and enjoy. After a few laps it's easy to push beyond its limits and exit corners with a few degrees of corrective lock on the steering wheel.

What is surprising is the amount of lean that's apparent. Lotus's engineers prefer a softer set up and it really works. It allows you to better feel the limits of the 2-Eleven's grip and traction, the transition from grip to slip more benign as a result. It also means that the 2-Eleven rides with a quality that's remarkable for something so focused; on the road you soon learn to stop bracing yourself in anticipation of a jarring from manhole covers and broken tarmac and instead glide over them as if they weren't there.

The brakes never feel troubled; the ABS's limits are so high that you'll need to be doing something really silly to result in a pulsing brake pedal. Much the same is true of the traction control system. Leaving it on rarely results in intervention and when it is required it's very subtle in its action. It's controlled by a dial, which allows you to choose how much control you want to give the 2-Eleven's electronic safety net. If you want you can switch it off altogether.

Worth Noting

Buying the standard naturally aspirated car is the cheapest 2-Eleven option, but it'll grow with you if you want it to. You can retro-fit the supercharger for more grunt and more extreme adjustable suspension set-ups are on offer too. We'd stick with the standard Bilstein dampers and suspension set up and we'd also forgo that supercharger kit, as the basic package with 189bhp is more than adequate.

Summary

Less really is more with the naturally aspirated Lotus 2-Eleven. The balance between performance and poise and road and track performance is judged to near perfection. That makes the additional pace, cost and adjustability of the more expensive model seem entirely unnecessary. Save the money and spend it on some all-weather clothing and a good helmet and drive it everyday. We would, it's that good.

Kyle Fortune - 30 Dec 2008



  www.grouplotus.com    - Lotus road tests
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2008 Lotus 2-Eleven. Image by Kyle Fortune.2008 Lotus 2-Eleven. Image by Kyle Fortune.2008 Lotus 2-Eleven. Image by Kyle Fortune.2008 Lotus 2-Eleven. Image by Kyle Fortune.2008 Lotus 2-Eleven. Image by Kyle Fortune.

2008 Lotus 2-Eleven. Image by Kyle Fortune.2008 Lotus 2-Eleven. Image by Kyle Fortune.2008 Lotus 2-Eleven. Image by Kyle Fortune.2008 Lotus 2-Eleven. Image by Kyle Fortune.2008 Lotus 2-Eleven. Image by Kyle Fortune.



2008 Lotus 2-Eleven. Image by Kyle Fortune.
 

2008 Lotus 2-Eleven. Image by Kyle Fortune.
 

2008 Lotus 2-Eleven. Image by Kyle Fortune.
 

2008 Lotus 2-Eleven. Image by Kyle Fortune.
 

2008 Lotus 2-Eleven. Image by Kyle Fortune.
 

2008 Lotus 2-Eleven. Image by Kyle Fortune.
 

2008 Lotus 2-Eleven. Image by Kyle Fortune.
 

2008 Lotus 2-Eleven. Image by Kyle Fortune.
 

2008 Lotus 2-Eleven. Image by Kyle Fortune.
 






 

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