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Road and Track Road Test: Rossion Q1

A cool breeze blows in off the Atlantic and rustles palm fronds lining Ocean Boulevard. It’s a red light. I’d take this moment to look out at the ocean, but I can’t see over the low wall that holds back the dunes of Pompano Beach. That’s fine; I only need to see the road ahead. A black SUV pulls to a stop on my right. Looking up, I see the driver’s tinted window buzz down. A pretty Floridian is smiling at me. I don’t know her, but I think I might like to. She blows me a kiss, the light turns green and I let the clutch out — never to see her again. Such is life with a Rossion Q1, a car I sampled for two hot and humid days near the company’s headquarters in southern Florida.

It’s fair to say the Rossion Q1 is firmly in the supercar category. Its weight-to-power ratio of 6.3:1 (450 bhp; 2675 lb.) compares favorably with the Ferrari F430′s 7.0:1. There are faster cars, but nothing is as light with this much power. It’s a quick one for sure, and thus its designation Q1 (quick1), but it really shines in the corners.

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The overall dimensions and fiberglass composite body are reminiscent of a Lotus Esprit (a car last sold in the U.S. a half-decade ago). According to our September 1997 road test of the twin-turbo V-8 Esprit, that car weighed 3045 lb. and made 350 bhp from its 3.5-liter V-8. That’s a 9.2:1 weight-to-power ratio. And back when we tested the Esprit, it was faster to 60 mph than every Ferrari but the F50! It’s a car we wish Lotus had continued to develop. If the company had, it would likely resemble the Rossion.

The Rossion Q1 may look familiar to some, because it’s descended directly from Noble cars. From 2002–2007, 1g Racing distributed the Noble M12 and M400 in the U.S. The 1g Racing owners, Ian Grunes and Dean Rosen, then purchased production rights of the cars and began development of the Q1 as an iteration of the design. Noble Automotive has kept the rights to the Noble name and so Rossion Automotive was created, the name being an amalgam of Dean’s last name, “Ross,” and the South African-accented pronunciation of Ian as “Ion.” Of note, founder Lee Noble left the company bearing his name shortly after Rossion came into existence.

Not only is South Africa the owners’ homeland, but also the location of Hi Tech Automotive — the factory where chassis are handbuilt. Although the Noble and Rossion can be sold around the world as turn-key cars, the U.S. is not friendly to small boutique car manufacturers, so Q1s are sold sans drivetrain and classified as kit cars. Yes, you can buy a Q1 without an engine and go about installing your own. This is discouraged, though, as the car has an optimized engine/transaxle package, best installed by a professional so as to ensure reliability. How many kit cars have you heard of that come with a warranty?

The engine is a 3.0-liter Ford Duratec V-6 built and blueprinted by AER, the same company that builds engines for Ford Racing. To make 450 bhp with a 3.0-liter requires the addition of twin Garrett T25R turbochargers and a properly mapped ECU. Part of the $26,000 engine package is a Getrag 6-speed transaxle that spins a Quaife torque-sensing limited-slip differential. It’s all mounted inside a steel space frame that has an integrated tubular rollcage for race-car-like safety. One might consider the Q1 to be a race car for the street. The Nobles were that, for sure, but Rossion has taken the car to the next level. With the experience of importing the Nobles, the Rossion team knows the changes that current owners want, such as the addition of power windows and mirrors. Noble had done 90 percent of the work, but as we all know the last 10 percent takes just as long to complete. Rossion has done it, and the result is the $108,151 Q1, one of the world’s least expensive exotic cars.

specs

Click here to Download Spec Sheet

When the rubber hits the road, though, all specifications, numbers and changes are forgotten. Instead, I’m focused on what the Q1 is like to drive. First observation: The air conditioning works. The ride is far less stiff than one might expect, on par with that of the Porsche Cayman S. The steering feel on the freeway is relaxed, the car tracking straight. Throttle response is smooth, and there are no hiccups in the power curve. There’s little to comment about the shift mechanism, other than that the Ford-sourced shift knob is a little out of place. My one complaint: All your stuff must be kept in the passenger space or glovebox as there is no trunk. But if you’re in a Rossion, you have a purpose.

That purpose is to hunt down twisty roads and find a nearby racetrack. Palm Beach International Raceway, previously known as Moroso Motorsports Park, worked perfectly. Under new ownership, the private track has been refurbished and paved glassy smooth. We were welcomed with member privileges during a track day for some hot lapping. (Membership, of note, is a bargain compared to some other private tracks, with the $6000 annual dues for a Founding Member costing considerably less than what many track rats spend already.)

The Rossion crew has been here before, but for me it is all new. Our first reconnaissance lap discovered an alligator — not those gator strips at corner exit, mind you — sunning himself in the middle of the track. The reptile, clearly more intelligent than he looked, split before our second lap.

Our test car was equipped with the optional Michelin Pilot Sport Cup tires, although for our street drive we opted for the standard less-aggressive Goodyear Eagle F1s. The extra grip was much appreciated as the Q1 is not for the timid driver. There isn’t a single electronic nanny. Only one’s sense of self preservation, proper driving technique and the Q1′s friendly demeanor keep it going where it’s pointed. Set up to handle like a well-sorted race car, the Q1 laps as fast as Porsche Cup cars running race slicks, quite an achievement. It does this mostly through massive amounts of acceleration at corner exit. Braking without ABS is a tough skill to master, but the Q1 is rewarding to drive hard. Most notable around the track are its linear acceleration and slight push at corner entry. Trail braking into a corner sets the Q1 on balance easily, allowing the car to maintain incredible levels of cornering speed. The throttle isn’t jumpy when applied at the apex, allowing for smooth power application that doesn’t disrupt the balance. Getting on the gas early in a corner isn’t a problem, and you’ll soon be hurtling down the long back straight at a staggering 150 mph!

Aside from the complication of registering the Rossion Q1 for road use, which is state-dependent, it’s an easy purchase decision for those who demand the exotic and extraordinary at a relatively reasonable price. I’ve driven a lot of exotic cars, and this is the first one in which I’ve been blown a kiss! With that type of endorsement it’s hard to go wrong.