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July 22, 2009 - Autos

Robert Eckaus
Driving the Aston Martin, Ferrari F355 & Lotus Elise: Part 2 of 3

Aston Martin DB9 Volante:

My first drive was in the Aston Martin DB9 Volante. This 450hp V-12 grand tourer is a wonderfully styled machine with effortless power and an elegant interior. The excuse for rear seats allows a small bag behind you. The lack of a gear shift selector is at first disconcerting, but once shown the push button start, park and drive buttons are easy to use. Gear selection for the 6-speed automatic is via paddle shifters on the steering column. This means they don't rotate with the steering wheel so you don't confuse your shifting. The V-12 starts with a brief bark and then settles into a smooth, quiet idle.

Interestingly, in the Drive mode, the upshifts are very smooth at full throttle. Also, at the speeds I was able to obtain, 6th had to be manually selected. I was a little surprised at the amount of wind noise, but it didn't have a wind blocker behind the seats. The ride was compliant but the weight was evident when turning and a slight amount of cowl shake which surprised me. However, the Aston Martin DB9 was definitely the comfortable cruiser of the group.

Ferrari F355:

Driving the Ferrari F355 was a treat. This low-slung, mid-engine V8 convertible has the slightly odd ergonomics of older Italian imports. It had a nice soundtrack behind my head singing a song you don't hear every day. The brake pedal is very close to the throttle to facilitate heel-toe shifting. However the throttle is far off to the right side, forcing a somewhat spread-leg driving position. It really is meant for someone who doesn't have wide feet.

Sitting very low was confident inspiring on the twisting roads and surprisingly, the ride felt quite compliant over the bumps. I did notice the engine was a bit peaky, not a lot of low-end torque. But once singing, it was exciting. It definitely required high revs to access the powerband. My co-driver was aware of this and informed me as such when I took the wheel to keep the rpms over 3,500rpm for acceleration. The gated shifter required some getting used to, but I wasn't complaining.

The Ferrari is a fun convertible that stays true to its roots. Easy clutch take-up, easy to drive, no electronic driving aids or nannys, it looks sexy and drives very nicely.

Lotus Elise:

The Go-Kart. This little car was surprisingly fun. Getting in and out required a special technique but once inside, I was so wrapped up in driving that I looked at the dashboard three times, period. First time was to notice how small the steering wheel was. Again, like a go-kart or a bumper car. Considering the car weighs less than a ton, it makes sense. The second time I looked down was to notice the shift light. Not something I paid attention to since it seemed so intuitive. The third time I looked down, I noticed the tachometer numbers 1 through 3, denoting 1,000 through 3,000 rpm, were so closely spaced together, they were useless. Talk about lack of torque! What a contrast to a car I have drag raced in the past on street tires had an optimal launch rpm in the 1,200 to 1,500 rpm range.

Driving it was superb, so balanced and communicative. The steering wheel tells your hands everything about the road; the slightest undulations, dips and bumps in the pavement. The power in the midrange was good, better than I expected and the extra kick from the Toyota/Yamaha 1.8 liter engine when the variable valve timing activates was pretty neat. But when you're not pushing it with all your attention on the road, it's ride is wiggly-jiggly over uneven pavement.

Even if you're a straight-line, big torque fan, but enjoy going to the go-kart track, you'll enjoy this car too. Just don't plan a weekend trip.

The mountain roads provided the perfect setting for these three open-top cars. But I was now ready for lunch amongst the trees, and the other Ferrari that was waiting for me...

More at cartruthblog.blogspot.com

Keywords: Club, Sportiva, Ferrari, F355, Aston, Martin, DB9, Lotus, Elise
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