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The Top Gear car review:Lotus Elise
For:Chassis good enough to offset the droning engines...
Against:Awkward access, impracticality
1.8 SC Sport 2dr
The Elise is an immature scamp: an entertaining thing in passing, but over prolonged exposure its noisy and panting nature can get pretty tiresome...
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As green as an eco-freak’s pea soup. And just as much fun as a regular Elise. The future should be like this.
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What we say:
In a world where cars are more and more divorced from both driver and road, the lightweight Elise is a sports car that still delivers the best seat-of-the-pants feel this side of a Caterham.
What is it?
Still around after all this time because no other car epitomises the spirit and ethos of Lotus. Its chassis is brilliant, thanks to continual subtle evolution of its nuances - good enough to offset the droning engines, awkward access, impracticality…
The Elise makes even a trip to the shops an adventure, with steering so feelsome it’s like running the palm of your hand down the tarmac itself. You can feel road cambers that you won’t have a clue about from the helm of any sports saloon, and when the car starts to reach the limits of its considerable grip, your bum will telegraph the situation to you well in advance.
The Elise isn’t actually that shattering when it comes to out-and-out shove - it’s more to do with the purity of the driving experience. That said, it’s not slow; the 1.6-litre engine doesn’t sound much but it’s got plenty of punch. It produces 134bhp in the standard offering, meaning a 0-62mph time of 6.5 seconds. In the 220 Sport, the Elise gets a 1.8-litre four-pot with 217bhp: that 0-62mph drops to 4.6 seconds. Then there’s the 250, which has a mighty 243bhp. It’s the most hardcore road-going Elise, and that’s reflected in the 0-60 time: 3.9 seconds.
On the inside
Just getting into the thing is a hilarious business, and once inside the ergonomics are terrible - the Elise is very focussed, so heaters and radios are added in later. Much easier entry and egress with the roof off, but it’s a pain to replace quickly if there’s a snap rain shower.
If there was a sliding scale of practicality with 1 being the worst and 10 being the best, the Elise would be somewhere around -2 with the Lamborghini Diablo SV and the TukTuk motor tricycle. There is a boot behind the engine, but it tends to cook whatever is stored there. Squashy bags are OK, but space everywhere else is at a premium. And don’t expect to arrive and be able to emerge gracefully - unless you’re 5ft tall, the Elise will strip your ego bare.
Modern Elises feel like they could be taken to a track and abused without falling to bits, but then there’s not that much inside to break. Don’t be worried if the aluminium tub creaks and rattles a bit - there’s little sound deadening and most of the interior is bare metal. The pop-in-pop-out roof bars sometimes have dodgy seals too - but that’s not a big worry.
Not a bad choice if you want a tidy driving experience and you still want to be able to use your face and heart afterwards. The engines are clean and economy is also pretty reasonable given the Elise’s performance potential - the 1.8 S will get 37.5mpg and the 1.6 an even better 45mpg.