Naturally I was looking forward to testing the XTR2, but I didn't really anticipate it as being the car for me. The idea of a racing/track car that is road worthy has never struck me as a particularly good compromise. The reality of such a car is that it will still be a second car for most people and an expensive one at that. If it's not a racing car and it's not a road car then it must be a compromise of the two right? And who likes compromises?
The XTR2 has no doors so entry is achieved by climbing over the wide side pods, standing on the seat and then sliding down into the compact cockpit. It's a tight fit but not an uncomfortable one. The seats are supportive yet lightly padded and once you've secured yourself in the four point harness you feel at one with the chassis in a manner that's never achieved with a road-type 3-point belt. It would seem my legs are a lot shorter than the engineers at Westfield. Although my knuckles don't quite drag along the ground I did need to pull the seat a long way forwards before I could reach the offset pedals. That resulted in my right arm being awkardly pressed against the bulkhead as I gripped the wheel - an irritation that did hamper my ability to steer. Personally I'd need the pedal box shifted closer.
Trying my best to ignore the ergonomic challenge, I flicked the ignition switch, depressed the light clutch and hit the starter button. There's something magical about starting a car with a button rather than a key and I'd have loved to see a big fat red starter button on the dash and to yell "Ignition!" as I fired the beast up. Instead I had to make do with the non-descript little black push-button, a mild cough and a nod to the Westfield crew.
Unlike some bike engined cars, the XTR2 sports an intoxicating exhaust note from the off. It sounds like a motorbike obviously, but the rorty pitch of the exhaust is quite unique and is a major contributor to the character of the car.
Giving it a few revs I pushed the gearlever forwards into first and eased away at walking pace. I pressed my foot on the fun pedal and the engine burst into song and we rocketed forwards. The throttle's got plenty of travel and it was easy enough to rack it up into third gear and cruise around getting used to the car and the track. The same is true of the brake pedal. Its got plenty of scope - a quick dab and the car will slow gently but give it a very firm push and you'll get a hint of the stopping power provided by the large discs front and rear.
My first session was in the rain and provided an interesting environment in which to test the mid-engined chassis. Grip levels are very high thanks to the sorted chassis and at higher speeds thanks to the downforce package. One greasy corner did have the rear end sliding but despite the engine being behind me it didn't snatch away. Gentle balance on the throttle was all that was needed to keep it on the black stuff.
Later - in the dry - the true potential of the chassis became more obvious. The belief to capability ratio was firmly in the Westfield's favour. Diving into a corner quicker than I intended, I fully expected to get things seriously out of shape but the XTR2 simply grips like the proverbial blanket clingers. Turning hard on the steering - right arm still obstructed by the edge of the cockpit - and the car turned in and sailed round like a go-kart with wide tyres.
Putting my foot down as I joined the home straight and it was time to give it some welly. Foot down and screaming up to around 9,000 rpm the engine did its thing and did it in style. Surging forwards the 180bhp felt like twice that in the lightweight car and the noise was pure race car.
Pulling back on the sequential box you can notch up gear changes in a racing car style, contributing to the delusions your having that you're a great driver. As I mentally patted myself on the back, it dawned on me just how engrossed I was in this car. I was totally absorbed by the handling, the noise and the power.
The driving experience really is second to none. Despite being a bike engine, it's got plenty of grunt. The handling flatters the driver yet is compliant enough to give a decent ride and there is so much more to explore before you get anywhere near the edge of the envelope. It's a toy that you wouldn't get bored of by Boxing Day.
I've driven road cars. I've driven race cars. I've driven track day cars but to my surprise this really does prove itself as the ultimate track day toy and for once 'compromise' can be described as an attribute. The XTR2 is a racing car that's civilised. Not overweight civilised, but no-rattles, great-ride civilised. Westfield have definitely created a new niche and they deserve to dominate it with this fine creation. Prices start at around £24,000. Expensive? Beware of cheap imitations.
Links: [links]Westfield|westfield[/links], [owners]Westfield[/owners]