Car reviews - Elfin - Type 5 Clubman - roadster
Smooth and potent engine, foolproof handling, relatively comfortable ride, extreme acceleration
Room for improvement
No anti-lock brakes or electronic stability control, buffeting tests occupant endurance, hardly any storage, exhaust is hardly audible
8 Dec 2008
THE Type 5 Elfin is a very different kind of car to its V8-powered siblings. Both the MS8 Clubman and Streamliner and thrilling to drive, but they are brutes.
That's no surprise. When you drop a big V8 engine in a superlight body with a relatively short wheelbase the result is always going to be eye-opening.
When you push one of the V8 Elfins on the track you are always waiting for it to bite. It almost always does. The tail steps out very easily and it can do so at quite high speeds.
The new Type 5 is a completely different kind of car. It is still very, very fast, but is easy to drive.
Elfin has engineered the Type 5 so it can be pushed very fast without biting and it has done so successfully.
A few laps of the tight and twisty Broadford track reveal just how stubbornly the Type 5 refuses to snap sideways.
Elfin had set up some witches hats on the straights, which allowed us to try and flick the Type 5 at speed. Doing this in another car would trigger a big scary moment, but the Type 5 changes direction without fuss.
But the Type 5 Elfin still takes a bit of getting used to.
The clutch take-up point is very close to the firewall and it is pretty much on or off. It is a standard clutch, but in reality feels more like a racing button clutch with its lack of progression.
The steering reacts to the smallest inputs too. It's initially quite off-putting and you find yourself having a few bites at each corner, but you do get used to it.
The upside is that this set-up allows you to change direction or correct a slide very quickly.
The new Elfin is set-up a lot softer than you might think and there is more bodyroll than you would expect, so if you wanted to take the Type 5 racing you would have to drop it down to stop it from moving around.
Of course, this might make it a little sharper and less forgiving, but that's acceptable on the track.
We took an engineering prototype for a road loop just out of Broadford on roads that certainly have their fair share of lumps and bumps. Most other clubman cars would rattle your bones and knock out your fillings on these kinds of surfaces, but the Type 5 is remarkably gentle.
It is soft enough to absorb some of the more brutal ruts without passing them on. The softness is welcome, but the suspension is not perfect with the body chopping around on the really bumpy stuff, especially the corners.
Of course, the Elfin's body feels quite rigid. Usually, when running over these types of surfaces a roadster that is not all that stiff will show some evidence of wobbling. A sure sign of this is the A-pillar vibrating, but there was no such thing in the Elfin.
The Type 5's powerplant is a nice unit. There is no doubt some purists will not be pleased with a turbocharged engine as a high-revving naturally-aspirated engine is more in keeping with the clubman tradition.
That said, the boosted engine provides mountains of torque. Thanks to the turbo working overtime, the smooth engine is strongest from around about 2500rpm through to 4800rpm.
You can rev it all the way out if you want, but you would be better served shifting up and let the engine pull away. It has enough punch to sling the Type 5 forward with supercar strength.
The acceleration is so impressive that you wonder why anyone would bother with a V8 Elfin. The boosted four is an incredibly smooth engine and a pleasure to play with.
After a few kilomtres, you wonder why it is not used in any other General Motors product sold here, although perhaps it is a bit too spicy for front-drive cars.
The only disappointing thing about the engine is the lack of noise. Crack open the throttle and you will hear a fair amount of induction rush and sometimes the whoosh of turbo dump, but that is about it.
There is almost no exhaust note detectable from within the cabin.
Of course, a roadster like this creates a lot of wind-noise which may drown out some of the aural elements, but you should be able to hear a meaty exhaust note.
The Elfin's brakes are very good, but they require a firm press to get them to bite. This has no doubt been done to prevent accidental lock-ups, but takes some time to get used to.
That brings us to anti-skid brakes, which are very handy indeed, so it's a real shame the Type 5 has to make do without them. We wouldn't want ABS on the racetrack, but we hate being without it on the road.
While it is not a feature that clubman customers expect it is likely the lack of this feature could turn off some potential buyers used to driving cars with a lot of background assistance.
It is much the same case with traction control and electronic stability control, which are both missing, but at least Elfin has made the Type 5 a benign handler which means you are less likely to get into trouble.
The Type 5's cabin may be larger than before but it is still quite snug. There isn't much room for your right hand, but it can rest on the door.
The seats are very comfortable and as mentioned earlier the suspension won't tire you out, but it is still not a car you would want to use for long drives - simply because of the wind factor.
Even with the full windscreen (you can get a short racing one as an option) the buffeting means that only the truly crazy would venture out without glasses. In fact, I would be tempted to wear a helmet, not for crash protection, but just to get some respite from the wind.
We were thankful that the weather stayed nice and we didn't get cold, but part of my face had gone numb after the short country drive.
The prototype Elfin had an interior that was not quite finished, but finished variants should look quite decent and the yellow Elfin instruments look good.
There is no storage room behind the seats and boot space consists of no more than a narrow strip behind the exposed fuel tank under a fabric bootlid. It all looks a bit unfinished under there and hopefully the customer cars will look a lot better.
Just like its Elfin siblings, the Type 5 cuts a dashing outline. It stands out as expected on the road, but the front-end is particularly sharp.
For customers looking at a car that they could drive to the track and go for an almighty blast, the Type 5 is quite a convincing car.
It is still hard to live with despite its forgiving handling and soft suspension, but it is such a treat when you get to the track or very twisty piece of road that driving enthusiasts are likely to still love it.
There is little doubt Elfin can sell its 25 road-going Type 5s and a few racetrack-only cars, but the real question will be whether the English enthusiasts welcome the new car.
Given its extreme cornering capability and its small but potent engine, the Type 5 is far more likely than the hairy-chested V8 Elfins to succeed there.
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