Every true car person has had a life-changing moment, where a car they’ve idolized from a far is put through its paces and revealed to be a steaming pile of dogcrap. The Japan-only R32 Nissan Skyline GTR may have single-handedly carried you to 100% completion in Gran Turismo, but drive one and you’ll see that the real reason it was never imported here is because the 300ZX was just better. The Ford Shelby GT500 was actually a great car, but visions of nubile females throwing themselves at its bright red paintwork, like a 21st century Whitesnake video were dashed when a cute blonde friend of mine cried out “Oh my god, that’s so ugly!” when she saw it parked outside.
| 1. The Rossion Q1 has been in production since 2008 when Rossion Automotive bought the rights for the chassis from British automaker Noble. |
2. 450-hp from a twin-turbo 3.0-liter V6 might not sound incredible by modern standards, but the 3.1-second 0-60 time and 189-mph top speed certainly are.
3. As somewhat of a kit-car, the chassis and body are manufactured in South Africa and the engine is contracted out to an independent builder.
4. Customers do, however, purchase a complete car, which starts at around $100,000.
BRITISH ORIGINS, EXOTIC DESIGN
Managing expectations is a big part of enjoying cars, and going in to my test drive with the Rossion Q1, mine were set firmly at zero. Based off the Noble M400, a kit car for enthusiasts with hirsute posteriors and disabled survival instincts, the Rossion has been substantially altered to make it more compact. The difference is magnified when placed next to a Noble M12 (which sits inside Rossion’s showroom). While the Noble is broad-shouldered and macho, the Rossion is proportioned like a car drawn in the margins of a teenage boy’s notebook – a long wheelbase with a long front overhang and the rear wheels pushed out to the corners, the roofline impossibly low and an abundance of scoops to cool the car’s ancillaries. The Rossion’s minimalist styling could almost make it a generic supercar used in an insurance commercial, but it’s also much more restrained than the very 1990s styling of the Noble, with its bulbous haunches and the aluminum wing that is biased towards form rather than function.
Nevertheless, the Rossion’s design is restrained and handsome, even if it’s not too distinctive. The most striking thing about the Q1 is its compact dimensions – with only a 96-inch wheelbase and a 162-inch overall length, the Rossion is about 8-inches shorter than the original Porsche Boxster. In an era where our supercars are constantly growing larger, the Rossion’s tiny footprint is a welcome change.
PURE YET VISCERAL SPORTS CAR EXPERIENCE
Volume supercars like the Audi R8 let you slip into the driver’s seat like a warm bath. The Rossion, with its fixed bucket seats, low roofline and thick rimmed steering wheel, makes you adopt a position that could be used as Guantanamo Bay “enhanced technique” before you can get behind the wheel.
Once you’re in, the driving position is like being inside a machine-gun pillbox – you sit low inside the one-piece bucket seats, and the padding is removable if you want some more tactile feedback. The pedal box is quite narrow, and with size 12 loafers on, modulating them took some precision. The throttle is hinged from the top in a way and has very little resistance.
Starting the Rossion requires you to turn the ignition key, disarm the immobilizer and hit the faux-aluminum “Engine Start” button mounted above the LCD stereo head unit. Fire up the Q1 and the turbocharged Ford V6 settles into a rumbling idle with the occasional popping and burbling, just to let blind bystanders know that this isn’t just a Ford Fusion with an AutoZone fartcan.
Those expecting an 80’s supercar-like driving experience will be pleasantly surprised to know that the clutch is almost Miata-like in its ease of operation. The throttle, hinged at the firewall, takes a little getting used to – it too feels very light and free of an artificial weight (thanks to a cable throttle rather than an electronic unit) and you can easily mash it at an inopportune time. The biggest obstacle to pulling away is finding 1st gear, which can easily be mistaken for 3rd. Rossion’s PR rep confirmed that many people make this mistake, but never notice until they inadvertently downshift to second.
450-HP OF TURBOCHARGED EXCITEMENT
As we roll away from Rossion’s headquarters, we’re on I-95, stuck behind a pack of slow-moving snowbirds in late model sedans. A Hino cube truck with two flat-brim wearing bros pulls up alongside and gives us a thumbs-up, and some kind of arcane hand signal that means “gun it”. The Rossion obliges, with the 450 horsepower V6 growling through the rev range, and the car shoots forward, the crisp pshhhhtt of the blow-off valve punctuating the up shift to 4th gear. Peak power is made from 3600 rpm until just below 5200 rpm, a fairly broad range that allows for more sedate driving in slow moving traffic, but giving you easy access to the fierce acceleration that can be tapped when the road is straight and the local law enforcement is nowhere to be seen.
There are varying degrees of fast – cars like the Honda S2000 or Lotus Elise make you giggle as they slice through the turns, screaming at the top of their lungs as you use momentum to go fast. Others, like the Nissan GT-R, induce a hearty belly laugh as you marvel at how such large, lumbering creatures can defy physics with every move. At the top of the food chain are the cars so inconceivably fast that they force even the most pious to unleash a string of expletives that would make George Carlin’s “7 words” sound like a nursery rhyme. The Q1 is more than qualified for membership into this club.
Rossion claims that the Q1 will hit 60 mph in 3.1 seconds. We were unable to independently verify these claims, but we can tell you that this car is brutally fast. The car’s 450 horsepower only has to contend with about 2,600 lbs, roughly what a new Mazda MX-5 weighs. Drop it down a gear while cruising and the car will explode forward like a Nolan Ryan fastball.
The view out the cockpit is sublime (for that very moment, at least) with the low seating position and narrow windscreen giving you the impression that you’re piloting something with a jet engine, and even the somewhat vague shifter becomes an afterthought as the V6 builds to a snarling crescendo, only to be broken up by the of the blow-off valve, which sounds like a bull exhaling through its snout.
NEAR-PERFECT STEERING, LIVABLE RIDE QUALITY
More impressive than the Rossion’s acceleration is the steering, which is remarkably quick, and almost Lotus-like in how little effort it takes for the car to change direction. We weren’t able to fully push the car’s chassis to its limits – we saw maybe four turns in 2.5 hours of driving throughout Boca Raton – but one back road, filled with gentle, sweeping turns, saw the car perform admirably at fairly high speeds, with the smallest movements of the steering wheel allowing the car to change course and tuck in while the engine barked with every heel-toe downshift.
If it weren’t for the usual supercar visibility issues (i.e. non-existent in terms of what you can see out the rear), the Rossion wouldn’t be terrible to live with every day. The easy-to-use pedals and well-weighed steering make driving the Q1 in traffic not as much of a chore as one would expect. It will never be a grocery getter, but going for a joyride, or even a multi-hour commute to your local track day is entirely conceivable. The one big flaw is the suspension, which crashes quite hard over bumps. Otherwise, the ride quality is quite smooth, and does a good job of not transmitting every grain of sand or discarded gum wrapper into your spine.
Unfortunately, the worst parts of the Q1 literally stare you right in the face, on account of them all being located in the interior. Rossion is remarkably forthright about addressing concerns regarding the quality of the interior bits, stating outright that they can’t compete with the “beautiful cars” made by Porsche and Ferrari.
While the build quality is better than the exposed wires and hardware of a Tesla roadster, the Q1’s interior just looks plain cheap. The Steering wheel, which is apparently a MOMO unit, could have been lifted from a “Cruisin USA” arcade unit circa 1993, while the HVAC controls were apparently sourced from a “Little Tykes My First Air Conditioner” set. There are also some build quality issues – what appeared to be exposed adhesive on the side windows, plus a gaping hole that left the steering column exposed right below the gauge cluster.
At just over $100,000, the Q1 is certainly a performance bargain, giving you the speed of a Carrera GT for the price of a pretty well-equipped 911. Of course, that’s not exactly an apt comparison, as the Q1 lives in a strange vacuum, where the driving experience is privileged above all else.
Automotive journalists live for the purest driving experience possible, and the Q1’s outrageous speed, striking design and the unique nature (only 80 exist worldwide) make it an appealing package. And yet so many customers buy high performance cars for the image, and expect to be swaddled in premium animal hides, Bluetooth connectivity and the prestige of a European brand.
Try telling fellow party-goers that you drive a Rossion. If they can even pronounce the name, chances are they’ll have no idea what it is. Their loss.
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