You can get a new Lotus Exige 260 and used Ferrari F355 for around £45,000 - but which closed, two-seat, mid-engined, out-and-out sports car should you spend your money on?
Autocar asked Andrew Frankel to test both the £45,950 Lotus Exige 260 Cup and a 1999 Ferrari F355GTB, on sale at Foskers Engineering for £42,995, to get an answer.
It's worth noting now, though, that this F355 is a very good car - with 28,000 miles on the clock, the bodywork is unblemished, the interior no more than lived in, and the extras such as the Fiorano handling kit all in place. Sound cars can cost £10k less.
On the road
Frankel explains that the Lotus stuns at first, then inspires. The supercharged 1.8-litre motor delivers 257bhp with the subtlety of an axe in the back. But if you are in the mood, its tiny dimensions, sub-900kg weight and sublime chassis make it possibly the most thrilling means of getting across a British public road.
Yet the Exige makes the ageing Ferrari feel as sumptuous and comfortable as a suite in the Dorchester. The F355 was based on the old 348, albeit evolved beyond recognition, and has a 380bhp, 3.5-litre V8. It's easy to place on the road and blessed with body control.
On race or track the Exige would romp away. It may be 100bhp shy of the Ferrari, but the F355 weighs half as much again. Their power-to-weight ratios aren't far off, though, and while the Exige will pop 4sec 0-60mph runs all day, the Ferrari needs just 0.6sec more.
The Ferrari is more practical, too. Having someone in the passenger seat is fun, whereas the Lotus is best savoured alone, as a selfish pleasure. The Ferrari loves wide, open spaces, the Lotus small, confined circuits.
The ownership proposition
Foskers will service a F355 for £550 a year, but every three years or 15,000 miles there's an engine out cambelt change that will cost £1500. Earlier cars are inclined to blow their exhaust manifolds, at £1000 per side. F1 gearshifts are largely trouble-free, but reduce clutch life 20 per cent - and a clutch change costs £2000.
By contrast, an annual service costs around £450.
However, F355 prices are rising, whereas the Exige's value will drop, especially if used regularly.
Frankel concludes that the Exige is Lotus's most exciting car, if you discount the lunatic 2-Eleven, but says he'd still pick the Ferrari.
He says: "Albeit for rather different reasons, the Ferrari is just as pleasurable to drive, a whole lot more useable and, well, a Ferrari. The F355 is simply one of the greatest cars ever produced by the most coveted supercar manufacturer on earth."
For the full Lotus Exige 260 versus Ferrari F355 comparison test read this week's Autocar magazine, on sale now.