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When a Sprint Is about More than Speed

How the famed Lotus design philosophy captures the fundamentals of driving.

I have always loved cars.

My first sports car was a 1997 Mazda Miata NA8, and it could turn a frown upside down with the twist of a key. It was twenty years old when I bought it, and I participated in track days, performance driving lessons, and car control clinics with it. Most importantly, though, it served to prepare me for what was to come: The Lotus Elise Sprint 220.

Meeting the Lotus

In February of 2017, Lotus was at the Great British Festival, and they had all their models on display. I approached slowly, intrigued by the racecar-like vehicles. I knew of the brand and its heritage, but I had never been that close to one before.

I approached a “toxic green” Exige 350S. With its aggressive curves, wide stance, and mid-engined layout, just standing next to it was exciting. I couldn’t really hide my enthusiasm, and finally they offered me a test drive.

It was a revelation. Yes, it was incredibly fast, and yes, it handled exceptionally well. But what truly struck me was the level of balance, of connectedness to the road, and communication from the unassisted steering rack. It was as if the car filtered the information coming from the road surface, distilled it into a pure and concentrated shot, and injected it straight into your arms via the steering wheel, giving the driver an exceptional level of confidence.

From that moment on, I was hooked.

Making a choice

On the morning of my birthday this year, I was invited to the Lotus showroom and shown a white Elise Sprint 220. It was fitted with every carbon fiber option the company could offer, including a pair of Alcantara-wrapped carbon fiber seats. The Sprint had a benchmark dry weight of only 845kg. It also had an open gate aluminum six-speed shifter, which by itself was a work of art.

For the next two weeks, in the spirit of due diligence, I set out to inspect and test drive other sports cars within the same price range: the Porsche 718, the BMW M2, and even the Audi TT. But really, I was just going through the motions. In the back of my mind, the decision had been made.

I went back to Lotus. I wanted a pure and undiluted driving experience, and that was what I was getting.

Discovering the Sprint

Walking up to the car for my first drive filled me with an incredible sense of occasion. Opening the door wide and folding myself inside gave me a few moments to prepare for the experience to come.

I noted how aggressive the driver’s position was. My legs pointed almost straight out towards the pedals, and my legs were angled slightly towards the middle of the car because I had to conform to the hand-built bonded aluminum chassis that was wider in the rear and tapered in the front. My angled position reminded me that I was in a chassis built for racing.

When the engine rumbled to life, I delighted in the sounds coming from the mid-mounted 1.8L Toyota producing 217hp and 250Nm of torque, idling behind my head. The titanium exhaust optioned with the car added its own notes to the aural symphony. Lotus declares it to be the best sounding 4-cylinder engine in the market today, and after hearing it, I was inclined to agree.

I took hold of the round aluminum shift knob and placed the car into first gear. In doing so I realized that the shift action was short and deliberate, and I remembered that the Sprint had sports gearing. I prepared myself for some quick shift work.

When I found a length of road to stretch its legs, I was blown away by how smoothly and quickly the car picked up speed. I realized rather abruptly that an 845kg vehicle with 217hp is capable of monumental acceleration (0-60mph in 4.1 seconds).

Honestly, no amount of mental preparation had readied me for that moment, and the acceleration caught me by surprise. Before I knew it, my tachometer needle was bouncing off the redline, and I had to let off the gas. Thankfully, its brakes were extremely effective and easy to modulate, and capable of stopping it in a hurry. The Sprint was optioned with lightweight two-piece brake disks matched to AP Racing twin-piston front calipers and Brembo single-piston rear-calipers.

Looking ahead

Every time I get in it, the Sprint seems to encourage me to become a better driver. It is a scalpel, extremely sharp and focused, but also gratifying when one drives with finesse, smooth pedal work and steering inputs.

Other than the understandably minimal trunk space and occasional parking issues because of its low height and wide door swing, the Sprint is a perfectly usable car and I happily drive it around town several times a week. During the weekends, on a twisty road up in the mountains or with its engine screaming on the track: those are the times when the Sprint really shines. I look forward to those moments, and I also look forward to unlocking more of the Sprint’s capabilities as my own skills and experience grow. It’s a car I plan to own for a very long time.

Who needs to fit a golf bag in a car anyway? I don’t.