The news Toyota and Lotus are planning to take their relationship to a new level called to mind a fabulous drive I had in a Lotus Elise S/C. As if he weren’t fortunate enough to be born into one of (if not the) most powerful automotive families in the world, Toyota Motor Company president Akio Toyoda was presented the Lotus Elise housing the last Toyota 2ZZ-GE VVTL-i engine.
Toyota engines have powered the Lotus Elise since the car made its debut in the U.S. back in 2004 as a 2005 model. And while Toyoda-san and I have vastly different day-to-day realities, we do have one thing in common. We have both been behind the wheel of one of the most exciting sports cars money can buy.
The Lotus experience is derived primarily from its light weight and brilliant chassis engineering. Elise is a textbook example. The supercharged model I drove produces 220 horsepower and weighs a mere 2000 pounds. With that stellar horsepower to weight ratio, quickness is simply a matter of course. I timed the Lotus to 60 in just over four seconds. Even though the Elise is only running a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine, with the supercharger, the mid-engine Lotus pulls like it’s packing a V8. This, in combination with the exceedingly low center of gravity, brilliantly sorted suspension system, amazingly responsive steering, telepathic throttle response, and low-profile Yokohama Advans so sticky you could use them to remove lint from your trousers, produce a driving experience unlike any other.
Accelerating hard from a dead stop, the Lotus spit glorious backfires on overrun every time the throttle snapped shut for the shift from first to second. As the revs swept past 4500 RPM and the variable cam timing switched over to deep breathing, the engine note took on an intensely determined snarl and the little car rocketed even more urgently forward, gathering great heaping gobs of velocity.
At the braking point for the first corner, I discovered the relationship of the pedals to be absolutely perfect. Blipping the throttle for the heel and toe downshift felt so natural, it could be sold in the organic section of Whole Foods. And the brakes—with so little weight to arrest, the Elise greedily retakes speed like the U.S Government eyeing an Indian treaty on land found to be rich in petroleum, gold, diamonds, AND uranium.
Thus settled, the little car screamed through the curve. Fat stupid grin on my mug, I got back on the throttle early to bring the rear end around. The revs started climbing again. That insouciantly determined snarl asserted itself again. Speed began to logarithmically accrue again. My heart began to race again. And it all happened together in a way that would make even the most pious among us scream multiple expletives again and again.
That Toyota plans to strengthen its relationship with Lotus says Mr. Toyoda obviously had a similar experience. One can only dream of what’s coming next, a Lotus supercar with the engine from the LFA perhaps?
Stranger things have happened.