Monday 25th June 2007


LOTUS 2-ELEVEN

The 2-Eleven is an attempt by Lotus to capture the track day market. Adam Towler drives it to see if it works on the track AND the road


Every lap, lining up the fast Windsock corner on the famous Lotus test track, I let the 2- Eleven float to the edge of the track; deftly lift the throttle at the top of fourth gear and then lightly clench my right hand – just enough pressure – to guide the car into the long right curve.

And every lap, I take a mental photograph at the same point: heading for the apex, with that big, very yellow, plastic cone slap-bang on the inside of the track. The human viewfinder framed by the sun-strip on my visor at the top; the transparent wind deflector at the bottom; the rushing green of the scenery on the left and the triangulation of the roll-over protection bordering the right side.

This is the view you get from the hot seat
This is the view you get from the hot seat
That’s the essence of the 2-Eleven: the feel of the car happily working away beneath you as you’re immersed in evocative sensations – imagining you’re Vic Elford perhaps, in an Alfa T33/3 on the tortuous Targa Florio of 1972 - grazing stone walls with the exhaust note bouncing off the hillsides. You can get a bit lost in a Lotus 2–Eleven.

You’d enjoy the Lotus Sport workshops. They’re clean, tidy and professional, but filled with a variety of machinery and intimacy of cars, tools and goings-on that differentiates a traditional British Sports car firm like Lotus from a faceless multinational manufacturing operation. That’s meant as a complement, because amongst the Exiges and Elises in for either service or something rather more secret lie a world-weary Excel in for a routine service, last season’s GT3 race cars and a near-completed restoration job on a gorgeous pearl white Esprit S4. Dotted around the shop reside a small number of early 2-Elevens in various states of build, ideal for taking a closer look under the skin.

Tiny mirrors look cool but don't show much
Tiny mirrors look cool but don't show much
The basis of a 2-Eleven is an Elise/Exige aluminium tub, with high side sills. In fact, as much as possible has been carried over from the regular production cars in the name of affordability and serviceability. Lotus are keen to stress that the 2-Eleven hasn’t been conceived as a race car – although they expect some may make their way onto the starting grid – but as a trackday car, which in SVA spec, can be driven to and from the circuit. As such, they’ve set the chassis up for progressive handling rather than outright lap times; are understandably confident in the long-term reliability of the Toyota engine, and highlight that a 2-Eleven can be serviced by any Lotus dealer, anywhere.

The 2-Eleven is one of those cars that as a motoring anorak, you’d park in your sitting room without its bodywork on just to appreciate the artistry of its construction and mechanics. Apart from the bonded aluminium tub itself, there’s the unique steering arms and bespoke front upper wishbones to cope with the lowered suspension set up; the lovely Ohlins adjustable suspension; the Accusump oil accumulator to maintain oil pressure under high cornering loads; the black lightweight forged wheels and the FIA compliant roll bar structure. You can stare at it for hours.

Toyota engine tweaked to 252bhp
Toyota engine tweaked to 252bhp
Behind the driver sits, as you’d expect, a Toyota 2ZZ-GE engine with a Roots-type Eaton M62 Supercharger complete with four larger fuel injectors and an uprated fuel pump. In this form it’s good for at least the 252bhp quoted, with 179lb ft of torque produced at a high 7,000rpm. Drive is fed through the usual six-speed gearbox, with the same ratios as the Exige S, an uprated clutch, and perhaps surprisingly, an open differential. Lotus will offer a slippy diff as an option, but aren’t fans of its effect on the high speed handling.

The bodywork itself utilises the minimum of fixings and is made with a new-to-Lotus core-mat technology that cuts the overall weight of the panels to 40kg. It’s bolted on in sections, with sacrificial elements, so any on-track misdemeanours don’t necessarily equal huge bills to replace the entire structure.

You can order your 2-Eleven in two forms: A ‘Track pack’ version or in ‘UK SVA’ spec. The former is for those owners who’ll only be using the car on track and gets the fitment (for the driver only) of a FIA Recaro race seat with six point harness along with a fire extinguisher in the cockpit. Outside, there’re rear indicators/brake lights/a rain lamp fitted at the rear and a bigger aero package: a larger front splitter and a genuine Lotus Sport carbon fibre rear wing that is simply gorgeous. The engine gets a de-cat pipe and a track ecu to make sense of it all.

The SVA 'road' interior
The SVA 'road' interior
The SVA version has two leather sports seats with four point harnesses, and obviously, a full set of lights and number plates. It has a catalytic converter and reprogrammed ecu, and a much smaller front splitter and rear wing too, although Lotus claims it works almost as well.

There’s no easy way of climbing onboard a 2-Eleven. The high sill means a ‘hop and hope for the best’ approach is the only way. Once inside, it’s all very familiar and yet very exciting at the same time. The knowledge that you’re wedged into a fully type approved ‘tub’ with crash structures, the harness, the meaty roll bars and padding all combine to promote a feeling of security alien to many lightweight sportscars, but the view out is pure sports prototype, and all the more exciting for it.

Ready to go: 2-Eleven always an event...
Ready to go: 2-Eleven always an event...
This is a car that’ll do 0-60mph in 3.8 secs; 0-100mph in 8.9secs; the standing quarter in 12.2secs and then top out at 150mph. In other words, it’s damn fast whichever way you look at it, and it feels it too. With a dry weight of 670kg and a kerb weight in SVA trim of 745kg, the 2-Eleven musters a power to weight ratio of around 380bhp per tonne – and that delicious feeling of low inertia and plentiful power.

It kicks out of tighter corners with ease and then races to the red line with enthusiasm, all the while emitting a biting scream from the supercharger and a proper bark from the exhaust – especially on this ‘Track Pack’ version.

...and huge fun on the track
...and huge fun on the track
Once you’ve built confidence in the chassis, you can exploit the 2-Eleven with ease. It turns in faithfully and briskly, and then finds superb grip through its Yokohama A048R tyres. As you push harder, you can really feel what is happening to the grip at the front and rear of the car, and there’s every opportunity to experiment with different lines and the throttle. In short, it provides exactly what it sets out to do: fast but benign track day enjoyment.

Look down to your right, and on a small panel inside the car there’s a traction control system. It’s a surprise at first to see it on the spec sheet, but this is a variable set up developed from the British GT3 Exige race cars, and allows either a completely on/off mode, or an intervention setting between 7 – 100%. Apparently, after initial grumbles, even the Lotus test drivers use it, and actually alter the settings between corners. That may just be the company line, but it’s interesting to play around with the system and highly effective too.

Serious pace - 0-60mph in 3.8sec
Serious pace - 0-60mph in 3.8sec
The only minor gripes we have concern the brakes and the gearshift. There’s nothing wrong at all with the stopping power of the 2-Eleven, but perhaps due to the fitment of ABS, the brake pedal isn’t as firm as it could be for easing heel and toe work – albeit much better than an early 111R. There’s nothing wrong with the speed of the gearchange either, but not only are the ratios close together, but the actual gate of the gearbox is tightly spaced, and it’s quite easy to get fourth instead of second when you’re coming down the box in a hurry.

Any open car without a windscreen is going to feel pretty exciting on the road – for good or for worse. But when it comes to ability, the 2-Eleven is actually more surprising in a road environment than out on the track.

Track version shown here has bigger wing
Track version shown here has bigger wing
Firstly, if you’re expecting a racing car refugee for the road, then you couldn’t be more wrong. The 2-Eleven is tractable, and almost weirdly easy to drive in normal traffic. The engine has ample torque to move such a light car, so progress on part throttle is effortless. But this remains an engine devoted to top end power, and that final 2000rpm feels even more ballistic when unleashed with a backdrop of trees and road furniture flashing past your visor.

It’s all too easy to ‘overdrive’ the 2-Eleven on the road. So light and quick is the steering at speed that a heavy turn of the wheel unsettles the car - and the driver. You need to relax and consider your choice of cornering line before turning the steering wheel with light and measured inputs - revelling in the immediacy of the car’s feedback and reactions. The 2 Eleven is a firm riding car, naturally, but not a wooden one. It almost floats over a road, parrying bumps and dancing from corner to corner with a classic Lotus-feel. It’s an experience that requires concentration rather than effort, and one which can easily drop you into a kind of trance: the blur of the hedge rows; the ability to overtake just about anything anywhere; the isolation within your crash helmet. It’s just you, the car, and the road, and I guess in that particular respect it’s more like riding a high performance motorbike than driving a normal car.

The 2-Eleven signals a new era at Lotus
The 2-Eleven signals a new era at Lotus
So, would you spend £39,995 (for road or track versions but with an extra £950 for the SVA test) on a car that doesn’t have any sort of roof or luggage space? Not an easy question to answer positively in general company it has to be said, but a no-brainer if you love cars.

It might not be cheap, or quite as brutal as some of the other trackday offerings on the market, but it’s a truly compelling blend of pace, driveability, durability, design and brand. Once you’ve seen, sat in and driven a 2-Eleven, it’s hard not to want one - badly.

 

Author: adam towler