Lotus Elise is a small two-door sportscar best known for its telepathic handling, nimble moves and astounding speed. It is what Ferrari owners buy when they want to go to amateur track days, and win. Less known, or perhaps less appreciated, is how it achieves its performance. Elise's small size, combined with its remarkably light weight, result in astounding quickness derived more from sheer efficiency than outright power. What other fast cars do with 400 or more horsepower Elise does with around 200. Elise is likely the best driving production car in the world. It offers one of the most exhilarating driving experiences in the world. It is also the world's most efficient production supercar, which in itself is meaningful in an era of rapidly rising fuel prices and increased green consciousness. Elise's small and powerful engine also delivers reasonable fuel economy and commendably low CO2 emissions. Elise used to be the lightest weight production car offered in the U.S.; now that honor goes to the Smart car, though by only a small margin.
The Elise is aging, but you might not know it. Launched in original Series 1 form in late-1996, it has been continually modified and upgraded to meet evolving regulations and market requirements. The current model is a Series 2, released in the UK for 2001 and in the U.S. for 2005. Interestingly, in the process of aging and adapting, Elise has put on some 400 pounds since initial launch. Don't be discouraged, though, as it's still remarkably light weight at just under 2000 pounds.
Elise's almost unparalleled agility and speed make it tantalizingly seductive. But, as is so often the case, seduction comes at a cost. For street use, the Elise is less practical than, say, the Corvette or any Aston Martin. It is less usable than a Ferrari F430 or Lamborghini Gallardo. To put its day-to-day utility in context, think of it as a (much) smaller and lighter Lamborghini LP640. Prospective buyers should be careful and mindful of Elise's undeniable seduction and marginal utility, as many who have been seduced and bought Elises have subsequently had second thoughts. A quick web search reveals many low-mileage Elises for sale, their once bedazzled owners now discouraged with the harsher realities of trying to use Elise on the street. Don't forget, Elise is a marvelous car for those seeking fair-weather weekend thrill rides and occasional track time. For the commute, use the Camry.
Taken in sum, the Lotus Elise is a fantastic car for a comparatively limited audience that gets it and can actually use it. For everyone else, including those specifically interested in high-performance sports cars bordering on supercars, there are other choices in the market likely to be more useful, accommodating and appealing. Keep in mind many of these alternatives are likely to cost more, or perhaps a multiple more. As a normal sports car, the tiny Elise looks a stretch at $50,000. As a supercar, it's an absolute bargain.
Lotus Elise is available in three versions: base Elise, supercharged Elise SC and Elise California Limited Edition available only for 2008.
Lotus also offers two companion models called Exige S and Exige S 240. These are based on Elise, but have fixed composite roof panels and offer more horsepower through supercharged, intercooled engines.
Elise comes standard with a naturally aspirated 1.8L dohc I4 engine rated at 189 horsepower, six-speed close-ratio manual transmission, manual steering, power four-wheel disc brakes, ABS, Yokohama Advan Neova AD07 LTS tires, air conditioning, power windows, remote power door locks, anti-theft alarm, engine immobilizer and cloth seats. Peak torque is 133 pound-feet at 6800 rpm.
Elise California is a trim package added to the normally aspirated Elise. Fifty California models are being imported for 2008, 25 in Saffron Yellow and 25 in Ardent Red. Interiors are two-toned to coordinate with the exterior color.
Elise SC adds a non-intercooled Magnuson supercharger with Eaton M45 rotor pack rated at 218 hp and 156 pound-feet of torque at 5000 rpm.
Elise options include a Touring Pack ($1,600) with padded and insulated black removable soft top, full leather seats and door trim, leather-trimmed center console, audio iPod connector, interior stowage net behind passenger seat, alloy under-dash package tray divider, slide-out extruded alloy cupholder and full black carpet set; Sport Pack ($2,600) with lighter-weight forged (vs. cast) alloy wheels, 6.0J x 16 (vs. 5.5J x 16) front wheel size, Yokohama Advan AD07 LTS tires, Lotus Sport tuned suspension, twin oil coolers, electronic traction control, and black ProBax Sport seats; body-color Hardtop ($1,475); limited-slip differential ($1,790); traction control ($495); Metallic paint ($590), Lifestyle paint ($1,200), Limited paint ($3,300), Exclusive paint ($5,100); Starshield clear front-end and rocker area protection film ($995).
Safety features include mandated dual front airbags (passenger side cannot be deactivated), seatbelt pre-tensioners, integral steel seatbelt support structure, ABS and epoxy-bonded perimeter aluminum chassis subframe. Electronic traction control is optional as a stand-alone or within the Sport Pack).