A Lotus Esprit S4, an Acura NSX and a grin half way across Canada!

written by Mark Clear

Owning a Lotus as been an ambition of mine for a number of years now. I turned 25 this year, the magical age when car rental companies actually let you touch their cars without laughing you out of their office. It is also the minimum age requirement for a little outfit up in Vancouver, Canada called Exotic Car Rentals. Their stable includes cars such as an Acura NSX, Dodge Viper, Ferrari 348 Spyder, Porsche 911 Carrera 4, many BMW's, Mercedes, Harley's and the like. However, what I came for was their '95 Lotus Esprit S4.

Here's the plan. Rent the Lotus for a day. Tour the southern part of Vancouver Island, and stay the night in Victoria. What better way to treat myself to a 25th birthday present? So reservation were made for Monday, Februrary 21st. My cousin, Jim, took no convincing to join me for the trip.

Ten minutes before leaving for Canada, I call the rental office to confirm reservations. "Well Mr. Clear we have some bad news." The weather was looking beautiful, so I knew my luck was going to run out sooner or later. As my heart sinks, I learn the driver's side window in the Esprit was broken about ten days prior and parts were stuck in Canadian customs. What looked like a bad situation actually turned for the good. In exchange for the Esprit we rented an Acura NSX on Monday. Meanwhile, thanks to the generosity of shop owner Raymond Bernard, the Esprit was made available for my use on Tuesday, minus one window. Double the fun.

The cars come equipped with black boxes that record vehicle information such as speed, rpm, wheel spin, acceleration and deceleration. They do impose limits on the cars that can equate into extra charges if exceeded. However, the limits act as a deterrent that protects both you and the car from your potentially overconfident ego, yet still give you plenty of room to play and have loads of fun. Simply put, don't lay rubber, drive it at redline or exceed 130mph. The boxes and limits may sound a bit disturbing at first, but I had no problem pushing the car hard and enjoying the drive. Once back in the shop they plug a laptop computer into the car that downloads the data and compiles the information. According to owner Raymond Bernard, the data boxes have reduced annual maintenance cost by almost 60 percent. Although not fully functional, the cars are also equipped with GPS navigation that allows the shop to locate them at any given time.

After driving to and staying in Vancouver on Sunday night, we were up bright and early on Monday morning to pick up our first car. The Acura NSX came in the traditional red on black with a rare body colored roof. Sign your life away on paper, exchanging the briefcase full of money, a quick run down on the features and we are on the road. Anticipating no luggage space, we packed extremely light. The trunk easily absorbed our duffel and camera bags with room to spare. Like most exotic sports cars, the first thing we must adjust to is the unique driving position with low, reclined seats and offset pedals. The grin is already starting to hurt. North across the Burrard St bridge into downtown Vancouver, left on Georgia St. toward the Lions Gate bridge and we are on our way. The car is very smooth and balanced. Power comes on strong, but not abusive. Take a corner... damn it's incredibly agile and visibility isn't too bad either. We proceed up to Horseshoe Bay where we catch the ferry over to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. The mountains in BC are magnificant and breathtaking. I'm going to have to come back to see the mountains someday. In Nanaimo the effects of driving an expensive car settle in. A gang of teenage boys crowd the car at a gas station and ask how much drugs I had to sell. On the road, an old beat up truck nearly takes off my left front fender as I swerve two lanes to avoid her. So that's why they make these cars handle so well...to get out of the way! From Nanaimo we head northwest to Sproat Lake for about a 2 hour drive of open freeway and semi-windy roads.

The NSX is extremely well balanced and neutral. Around corners, the car gives incredible grip. Driving through S-curves defines the term rails. The back end did break away from me once unannounced, but a little correction and it was quick to snap back on the rails. Plant the pedal to the floor and the engine responds with smooth, steady power that launches you past slower traffic. The car is very easy to drive, my mother would enjoy this! Sproat Lake is home of the last two remaining Martin Mars water bombers. The largest flying float planes in the world. From there we turned around and backtracked down to Nanaimo and then headed South for an hour and a half to Victoria. The brakes are perfect. The pedal has just the right feel to it that stops the vehicle with superb confidence. The interior is quite livable. Such features as cruise control, tilt steering wheel, and magazine pockets behind the seats make long distance driving comfortable. The fit and finish is what can be expected from Honda's luxury line. Lodging was planned at the Laural Point Inn which overlooks the beautiful Victoria waterfront. We arrived shortly after dusk, but night is just as gorgeous with the Government building all lit up. After dinner, a couple beers with some local friends, and a joy ride in the car, it was time we got some shuteye for the next morning.

Now for the Lotus! Bernard gives us a quick shuttle(Land Rover Discovery) over to the repair shop where the car is. Same as before, paperwork, money, and lessons how to operate the car. Wow, the seats are even lower than the NSX. First task, back the car out of the garage with a truck blocking half the driveway. Man, visibility really does suck. Mission accomplished (slowly), I am now parked in the middle of a street. Put the shifter in first, release the clutch and cough, chug, chug. Clutch in, whew didn't stall it. Let's try this again. Little more revs, clutch out (slower this time), and the car rolls much better!! Shift into second, press down on the accelerator, and my butt gets firmly impaled into the seat as the revs pass 3000rpm. Clutch in, whoa, where did that come from!! Turn the corner, let's do that again! Same route as before, we make our way through downtown Vancouver and up to Horseshoe Bay. However this time, we continue north along the Bay on route 99 to Whistler/Blackcomb ski resort, about 2 hours. Now this is the road I've been looking for. Twists, turns, and lots of passing lanes to blow by the slower common folk. If you're looking for a windy road in Vancouver, this is it.

The Lotus comfort level and build quality isn't quite as nice as the Acura, but man is it fun to drive! Acceleration is incredible and like all turbos, power comes on all at once in the upper revs. Once you feel the car under full acceleration, you have to punch it again! Passing cars is a blast. Turbo lag seems moderate, but who cares. Gear changes were clumsy and I often found myself searching for first gear at lights. Handling is much like the NSX, sticky in every regard. In hard corners, the back end of the Lotus would occasionally roll a little as if it were about to slide, however the tires never gave in. Like most Lotus cars, this one needed some work too. The engine was a little out of tune and coughs at 4500rpm under full acceleration. Clogged fuel filter, or weak fuel pump perhaps? Brakes were not up to my taste, requiring too much pedal effort to stop the car. At initial application, they have a mushy feeling. City driving is not easy either, however the convenience of two fuel fillers is nice at the gas station. Last but not least, the looks. Everywhere you went, you get comments and looks. I guess one gets used to the attention. Lucky the car wasn't red.

After the dust settled, we had driven 800km in 36 hours in two amazing supercars and spent nearly $1000 CN in doing so. By comparison, the Lotus is much more brutish and aggressive than the NSX. For the serious car enthusiasts, the Lotus is quite enjoyable and likes to be driven hard. The NSX gives comparable performance in a much more balanced and civilized package. The NSX is also better suited for long road trips and daily city driving. For $80,000, take your pick. As for me, I'll take both! Meanwhile, it's back to reality and my Volvo. Anybody taking a trip to the Vancouver area should check out Exotic Car Rentals and live a day in your own dream car.