2006 Ferrari F430 and Lotus Exige Face Off

Tom Salt

The Ferrari's heavily bolstered seats initially can feel too restraining, but they get more comfortable over time, and the seat bottoms are especially supportive. The instruments are laid out logically, and the bright yellow face of the centrally located tachometer is overlaid by an elegantly simple typeface. Centered in the tach of our F1 gearbox-equipped test car was a digital display of the selected gear. The bright red start button is located on the lower left arm of the steering wheel. On the opposite side, you'll find the manettino switch, which selects one of five operational modes for the gearbox, the dampers, the stability and traction control (CST), and the "E-Diff" electronic limited-slip differential: Ice mode limits engine revs to 3500 rpm; low-grip mode provides maximum stability intervention; sport mode reduces traction and stability control by about twenty percent; race mode quickens gearshifts, stiffens the dampers, and reduces traction and stability by about 80 percent; and CST-off mode leaves control of the car to the skill of the driver, with ABS as the only active electronic assist.

Summon all your skills before you switch off CST entirely, because the redheaded 4.3-liter DOHC V-8 residing under glass behind your head mercilessly sends 483 hp to the rear axle as you rip through the six forward gears, and an inexperienced driver easily could lose control of the F430 without the electronic helpers. On the track, normal and sport modes are too intrusive, but race mode is simply fantastic, allowing you to slide around corners progressively, predictably, and quickly, while keeping the yaw and wheel-speed sensors on alert to step in and save your bacon if you underestimate your exit speed out of a corner or overshoot an apex.

Sixteen years ago, the Ferrari 348 was a bit of a sad case, the product of a company that had relied on its racing heritage for too long, and just ten years ago, Lotus was barely functioning as an independent automobile manufacturer. Both firms now have their respective acts together and deliver cars that brilliantly meet the needs and desires of a new generation of enthusiasts. Everyone wants to own a Ferrari, and the F430 is the one that we really, really want to own. But since that's not possible for most of us, the Lotus might be just the thing to fill the spot in your garage reserved for a sports car.

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