January 25, 2017 @ 06:48 PM

Sportscar Shootout: Lotus Elise 220 Sport vs. Porsche 911 Carrera S - Size doesn't matter

Not quite the biblical battle of David and Goliath but you can’t help and make the comparison as the sports car-benchmark-of-a-Porsche swings it gaze towards the barely stocky Lotus

“So we make a U-turn at the traffic lights over there and shoot along the long straight for the roundabout that leads to the LCCT. Then we head into the road that circles the runway for some tracking shots,” explained managing editor Chris Ng.

All I got from that was “shoot along the long straight.”

Snugly, but hardly comfortably, cocooned in the fixed buckets of the thinly padded Lotus Elise Sport 220, it was hard to ignore the ominous suspicion that Chris in the turbocharged Porsche Carrera S 991.2 was going to cut a gap wider than that of Madonna’s two front teeth.

We approach the lights, they’re red. So I get in line behind the Carrera S and its supposedly muted boxer burble that was suppressed by turbocharging, or so accused the Porsche crusaders. Truth be told, the hushed engine note is barely discernible to the average petrolhead.

Nonetheless, there wasn’t any time to dwell on the dampened peals echoing off the church of Porsche. The lights had turned green and the instructions were to “shoot along the long straight.”

So David and Goliath both make the turn and instinctively gun it. The 911 strides ahead by about half a car’s length; which taking into account the vast difference between the duo, could be interpreted either way.

Just as the feeling that the premonition was about to come true, the Eaton supercharger brings the 1.8-litre four-banger in the Elise to life and it immediately bites onto the bum of the Carrera to nullify any further gap.

Now there’s pretty much nothing between the two as the speedo climbs to well above the century mark. The Carrera is still ahead by barely a half car’s length and the Elise is hot on its heels, refusing to surrender further ground. This amusingly keeps up right to the 200kph mark before the extra displacement and forward ratio in the German start to justify its price.

However, any fool can tell this isn't even scratching the surface of these two’s capabilities and purpose. No, the Carrera S and Elise Sport 220 are so much more than straight line shootouts.

The times, they are a changin’, as Bob Dylan sang and turbocharging is the new world order. Porsche isn't one to fall behind and the new range of engines for the 991.2 sees even the base Carrera and Carrera S lose displacement and gain a snail in the name of efficiency.

Housed behind the rear axle is a 3.0-litre boxer six good for 414bhp and 499Nm of torque, the bulk of the latter spread over a tabletop-of-a-torque curve from 1700-5000rpm. With a century sprint time of 3.9-seconds with the PDK, this would have been the business end of the supercar spectrum a few years ago.

Porsche went full nerd-mode with the facelift and beefed up the dynamics. Four-wheel steering has trickled further down the line and work well with the sticky Pirelli rubbers that measure about a continent’s width across. Active suspension is now standard across the range as well.

And that PDK that is rapidly spreading like wildfire across the sales charts. Gripe all you want about the demise of the manual but the percentage of buyers opting for the dual-clutch box is growing as fast as it swaps cogs; that is to say lightning quick.

The PDK has matured into one of the best dual-clutch boxes on the market and much like the new 911.2, astounds with the breadth of its abilities, proving to be a jack of all trades and mastering most of them too.

Track days, highway cruising, spirited drives along your favourite trunk roads and the school run with the kids, there’s nothing the Carrera S can’t do and that PDK marches along right without skipping a beat. It’s more grand tourer than outright sports cars but the magic lies within its ability to wear anyone of the hats required and not lose the plot.

Swing to the other side of the ring and you’re met with the Elise Sport 220 that couldn’t be more single-minded in its purpose and execution. Strip down everything and toss out anything else, the Elise is the purest embodiment of a sports car and nothing else could even hold a candle to it.

The 1.8-litre four-pot from Toyota gets an Magnusson supercharger fitted on top, coaxing out 214bhp and 250Nm of torque. Laughable figures against the Carrera S but given its 914kg mass, works out to a potent 233bhp/ton power-to-weight ratio. The Porsche still leads at 284bhp/ton but it peppers quite a helping of perspective on things now though.

Hitting the century mark in the quoted 4.6-seconds requires a little more skill from the driver’s end in the Elise. A proper six-speed manual with sports (read: shorter) ratios and symbiotic pedals keeps you on your feet.

Sticking with the less is more philosophy, the suspension department is devoid of fancy active electronics. Instead, double wishbones, Bilstein dampers, Eibach springs and a Bosch electronic diff lock work with comparatively anorexic tyres (175 section up front) to anchor the Elise to terra firma.

The Elise has gained a number of electronics to stay relevant but those mostly function to keep you from parking up a tree rather than actually turning a fast lap; that last bit’s still completely dependent on your skills.

It’s not as simple as contorting yourself in and driving fast. The Elise demands focus and implores dedication to wring the most out of, anything less and you’ll be completely missing the point.

Leaving the long straights of KLIA-country behind, we head for the sharp, off-camber and sweeping corners of the Kuala Kubu Bharu dam.

The Carrera S is easily guided up here with the four-wheel steering reducing the turning radius at slow speeds and swapping that for directional stability at higher speeds. Even with the mass of the boxer six hanging behind the rear axle, the weight is never bothersome and always in check. Deactivate the electronics and that tale might have a different ending.

Fresh to the 991.2 is the rotary selector for the drive modes on the steering wheel. Nicked from its 918 Spyder cousin, you have access to Normal, Sport, Sports Plus and Individual. That impromptu rolling drag race in the beginning? The Porsche was only in Normal. Still plenty more where that came from.

Unsurprisingly, Sport Plus is best left for the circuit with Normal handling the bulk of driving conditions with an eye closed. Sport though is where you’ll find yourself in anytime some corners need to be carved or ground covered in haste.

Fortunately, Kuala Kubu Bharu asked for both of those traits. Stepping into the 911 was akin to boarding business class. Wide opening doors, plush yet supportive seats that were adjustable to more positions than the Kama Sutra and a generally luxurious setting.

It’s hardly the mannerisms of a sports car we’d focus on but at about triple the price of the Elise, the Porsche better be packing some creature comforts in addition to its blistering pace.

Forced induction has done the 911 well. Response might have been toned down a pinch but you’ll barely be able to tell and the broader powerband more than makes up for it. Revs climb with purpose and intent to the lower redline, almost as if the engine knows the immense responsibility of its predecessors it’s shouldering.

The ancestors can rest in peace. You won’t be missing the higher rev cut as it accomplished so much more with forced induction.

Making our way up, the Carrera S dances and shimmies to our tune. It’s unbelievable how quick it is, even to an average Joe having a go for the first time. In more experienced hands, the German blitzes the route up. The switch to electric power steering hasn’t numbed the input at all, purists might accuse it of lacking feedback over the hydraulic setup of earlier models but they’d be hard pressed to actually differentiate the two blindfolded.

That PDK chants a concerto on downshifts, Porsche realising the importance of throttle blipping as well as pops and crackles accompanying it for the full effect.

You step out of the Porsche trying to imagine how the Elise could be even more intimate. But alas, how wrong you would be.

Chris, leaning towards the Porsche all day long, ends his stint with the Englishman wishing he could take this home instead.

The Lotus is a different beast altogether. It’s flawless focus on an unalloyed connection between man and machine starts with the default contorting to get in. Fixed back seats, only slide adjustable and less padding than a prison bunk links your butt dyno to the bonded aluminium chassis firmly.

Start it and the engine right behind your shoots vibrations through the bulkhead and right into your spine. Much of the interior fittings wouldn’t look out of place in a Daiso store and we wouldn’t have it any other way. Carpets are optional; if that doesn’t spell hardcore we’re afraid to discover your definition of it.

Surprisingly, the Elise doesn’t feel as quick as it is. Perhaps your body is too busy processing the terabytes of data and feedback through all senses to realise but if rear visibility wasn’t as pathetic, you’d see all traffic shrinking into the horizon.

Non-power assisted steering is the way to go. A pain only in standstills and parking lots, the feedback is utterly phenomenal. It honestly makes you laugh at the Porsche’s steering. Such is the connection to the road that you could probably tell what the road kill you just ran over had for its last meal. Point-and-shoot was never more evident.

Each and every tread block on the tyre gathers around the fireplace and shares their most intimate feelings with you. It’s a dying tradition but understandably so although we’re not quite ready to call it quits.

For as long as I breathe, manuals will be my way of life and the Elise is a reminder I chose the right book to preach with. It isn’t gated but each gear slots into its place with a solid mechanical clunk. Every aspect of changing a gear works like a well-oiled machine. It might sound superfluous but it’s the little analogue touches that define a sports car.

Considering the merits of supercharging and its instantaneous response, the 1.8-litre mill in the Elise behaves like a large, naturally-aspirated mill. You’ll need to put in some sweat to get the most out of this and revving it is the only way we can vouch for.

Before hitting the road, we both knew the Porsche was going to be the winner. It has two boots, all the amenities expected of a modern motorcar and blurs the line between grand tourer and sports car. The Carrera has a bag of tricks that few can match and be as quick; there isn't any other sports car that requires so little compromise.

Compromise; heaps of it, is what you’ll need to live with the Elise daily. Some would be surprised that it comes with power windows. It’s so pared down that the roll-on soft top begins to lift apart at high speeds, allowing in rain if the clouds are out.

But every single one that got into the Elise immediately became a convert. So what if you’re effectively sitting in a composite woven basket held together by glue? It works and that’s precisely what Lotus is all about.

Essentially, the Lotus is the most complete driver’s car out there. Unfortunately, the Porsche is the most complete sports car. Whichever your poison, we won’t judge.

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