A generous salesman by the name of Matt at the New England Aston Martin-Lotus dealer volunteered to teach me how to drive a manual. Thanks for making my summer complete!
After arriving at the dealer, we took this beautiful white Lotus Elise to a nearby parking lot. Matt pushed the car quite hard to show me how nimble it was -- very! It showcased the car's favorable power-to-weight ratio.
A bit more about the Elise: it's a sub-2000lb roadster powered by a 180hp Toyota engine. The car is very stripped, whose interior consists of…almost nothing. The mirrors are manually adjusted. The seats don't have a backrest adjustment. The passenger seat is bolted to the chassis. As in, it doesn't move back and forth. And that's why I can't believe this car has power windows.
Now onto the fun part. I've watched several videos of people driving a stick, heel-to-toeing (an advanced technique), and such, but they don't reveal the subtleties. In particular, the clutch behaves more like a sigmoid than a digital function, to my surprise:
We started off by starting the car, shifting into first, driving in a large circle, shifting into neutral, and stopping. This took a few tries to get, and even then, I sometimes still had trouble because I was releasing the clutch too quickly after it engaged with the engine.
Next up was shifting into 2nd, which was fairly easy. I pushed the car a little harder by going faster (about 20mph) and making tighter turns while doing figure eights.
Impressed by how quickly I have progressed, Matt let me shift into third, which went smoothly, although an ominous smell emanated from the clutch. Oops!
I then tried starting the car on a 5* hill. The process was more or less the same, but I had to give the car a little more gas to counteract gravity. I took a few tries to get it since I wasn't stepping on the throttle enough.
Finally was reverse. I found this the trickiest, mainly because I suffered from some cognitive dissonance -- I illogically thought that reverse was so different from the forward gears. I got it after a few tries, but wasn't as good was shifting into first, etc.
As for the ride experience, the car is very loud. The engine drones, since it cruises around 3000-3500rpm; if you've sat in the godawful Smart ForTwo, it's a comparable experience. You feel every single imperfection in the road, and know which tires ran over the bump. An accurate description is a box on wheels, or a street legal go-kart. But it's so undeniably lovable, and I think that makes me sad if I were to turn it down.
So here comes the really heartbreaking part: I have to make a choice between the Elise and the 981 Boxster before the end of the year, since the lead time for order a bespoke Porsche is 6 months. (Porsche essentially shuts down the factory to handle all of the special orders at the end of a model year.) I'm not sure if I'll be able to live with the Lotus and its dearth of practicalities, such as next-to-nothing sound deadening, track seats, briefcase-sized trunk, and possibly awkward blind spots.
But for now, I'll live and dream as if I had both.