It's a bit of a cliché but the Leading Edge 240RT could just be the mostfamous car you've never heard of. It was originally designed back in the earlynineties by Kikuo Kaira, who teamed up with well-known Japanese tuners Tomita tocreate the Tommy Kaira ZZ1. Over 200 were sold until the Japanese economyplunged into recession in 1997, stopping the car in its tracks almost overnight.
The car had always been produced in Norfolk by Breckland Technology who aremade up of former Lotus people; Mark Easton, Mike Rawlings & OliverWinterbottom, due to the respect that the Japanese have for British specialistcar knowledge. Easton could see real European sales potential for the prettylittle ZZ1 and so came to an arrangement with Tomita to enable him to sell ithere. At this stage enter Paul Mickleburgh, a man who for many years has beenexporting British specialist cars such as Minis & Ginetta G4's to Japan. Hisknowledge of retailing low volume vehicles sees him responsible for selling therenamed 190RT & 240RT in Europe through his newly created Leading EdgeSports Car Company.
Meanwhile, the Japanese economy has recovered, although Tomita were takenover by the massive car accessory corporation Autobacs in May 2001, and havecommissioned Breckland to make them a new car called the Garaiya, which I had asneak preview of and have to say looks fantastic - but that's another story.
Back to the Leading Edge 240RT, and I was really interested to see how thecar drove because I've read other reports that commented on its keenness to hangits tail out at the slightest opportunity. Apparently the car they tested wasset up for Japanese tastes and this calls for tail-out antics apparently, andthey have re-set the car for our more conservative Euro tastes. It does beg thequestion as to why they let the car out for road test if they knew about thisbut mainstream press coverage for micro-manufacturers is few and far between andI guess it was an opportunity they couldn't turn down. I hope though that ithasn't falsely clouded potential buyers judgement. Ultimately only time willdecide of course.
The car is certainly very pretty and its diminutive size belies an interiorof Tardis like proportions. There's plenty of cockpit space for two sizeableadults and the seats are angled towards the centre of the car, making thedriving position ideal in my view, giving good access to the controls and goodall-round visibility. I particularly like the fact that you sit in the carrather than on it, and this makes a big difference when drivingenthusiastically, making road placement a hell of a lot easier.
Cabin trim immediately reminds me of Lotus Elise and is similarly spartan,but the RT 240 has a nicely styled aluminium dash with gauges all groupedconveniently together. The dials are still marked up as Tommy Kaira and they area little hard to read in certain light due to faint red-on-black markings. Thisis an area that the company plans to address soon though. There are two rubbertoggle buttons for horn and indicators meaning the dash is nicely uncluttered,with all the non-essential switches grouped together in a panel to the driver'sright.
The seats are manufactured and trimmed in house and are made of a compositematerial and I have to say are very comfortable, not showing any signs of flex,offering good comfort and support. One gripe I have is that when the three-pointharnesses are done up the driver can't reach the handbrake although againLeading Edge are going to re-position it.
The 240 RT isn't really a serious proposition if you intend traversingcontinents and doing the weekly Tesco shop, as luggage space is a little on thelimited side. There is a small compartment in the front bonnet area suitable fora couple of squashy holdalls and two very deep and useful cubby-holes set intothe sill area on each side of the car.
The engine is the Nissan 2-litre twin-cam 4-cylinder unit courtesy of thePrimera, and is available in two 'strengths' from Leading Edge. There's the190bhp version and this 240bhp unit with the extra 50bhp being gained via hottercamshafts and a revised cylinder head. It's mounted transversely behind the maintub, which is made of extruded aluminium, with steel subframes front and rearsupporting all-round double wishbone suspension, steering, un-servo assisteddisc brakes. The engine barks eagerly into life and settles down to a lively1500rpm tickover. Throttle blips produce a menacing metallic rasp. Bodes wellthen!
The gearchange is possibly one of the sweetest I have ever sampled and thelever snicks reassuringly into each ratio. I love the exposed linkage and alsothe placing of the lever, which falls to hand nicely. From second gear theengine pulls entertainingly and accelerates right through to the 8,500rpmredline, releasing an additional burst of acceleration at 5,500rpm. I wouldquestion however whether there was 240bhp in this car although it is plentyquick enough for British roads and certainly 'downtown' Dereham.
Around the town, the engine is very tractable, especially if revs are keptbusy and when the roads open out there's a lovely symphony coming from theNissan 4-pot. Leading Edge claim a 0-60 time of 4.4 seconds which seems a littleambitious, but make no mistake - this is a very quick car weighing in at just705kg.
We took some lovely twisty and quiet lanes to check out the understeerclaims. I found the car to be pretty surefooted with a 'planted' feel. Thenon-power assisted steering is excellent with a precise go-where-it's-pointedfeel and it turns in well. Despite asking some serious questions of the 240RT Ifound it to be very well behaved. I managed to flick the tail out a couple oftimes but there's no fuss and a little dab of throttle gathers everything upagain. The brakes are very good despite an initial dead pedal feel and the rideis very pliable, soaking up the worst of the Norfolk potholes. This car wearspurposeful 17" wheels, which fill the arches nicely, with Pirelli P ZeroNero tyres providing nice grip and minimal road noise.
I found the 240RT to be immensely entertaining and rewarding and would loveto really exploit it to the full on a track, which is where Leading Edge seesits true sales potential. I think it will find certain favour with the trackdayfraternity although it's a highly competitive marketplace with Westfield's XTR2,Caterham's R300, R400 and its obvious rival, the Lotus Elise all undercutting iton price (as tested was £29,375). Of course the aforementioned rivals also havethe advantage of a known pedigree too. However, compare it to its lesser poweredstable mate, the 190RT and it's just £1750 more expensive for a hefty 50bhpmore, and thus begins to make more sense.
If you like the Lotus Elise then you will like the Leading Edge RT240 I haveno doubt, It packs a more powerful punch with better braking ability and is agreat contender in this segment.
Link : www.lescc.com
© Copyright Steve Hole 2002