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Lotus Elise

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Lotus Elise
8/10

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Road Test

Lotus Elise 1.6 driven

Driven June 2010

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Committed to sustainable living and Doing Your Bit for the environment? The solution is simple. You must buy an Elise post-haste.

Lotus claims the new Elise provides ‘the most performance per gram of CO2 of any sports car in the world'. We may go further. This could be the greenest car on sale in the UK today.

See more pics of the 2011 Elise

The new entry-level Elise emits just 149g/km of CO2 while returning 45mpg. A teensy bit more than a Prius or Polo Bluemotion, true, but are they built in Britain? No. The Elise is. Whatever the car equivalent of food miles are, the Elise is right up there. Down there.

Even the engine. Like the 1.8-litre engine that remains in the higher-powered variants, the new 134bhp 1.6-litre naturally aspirated four-pot is sourced from Toyota and built in Wales. It gets all of Toyota's clever fuel-saving tech, including variable-valve lift and timing, but fettled by Lotus for a more Elise-ish feel.

In short, the new engine is a Good Thing. The entry-level Elise isn't mad-quick - 0-60 takes six seconds, top speed is 127mph - but it never has been: instead, the engine does the worthy job of playing support actor to the Elise's still-brilliant handling.

Matt Becker, Lotus's chief engineer, admits that it spent a month trying out thousands of different steering and chassis settings for the new Elise. Eventually, it decided to stick with its existing set-up, because "it's as good as it gets - why change it?"

We've spent a decade marvelling at the Elise's responses, and we're not about to stop now. Steering, feedback, balance: they're all... right. Taut. Lithe. Little good words.

As, now, is the gearbox. The Elise gets a new six-speed 'box, that - though not quite as sharp as the Mazda MX-5's - is far slicker-shifting than the old five-speed. The long-geared top ratio makes motorways more relaxing - and economical, of course. More good eco-news.

When you briefly remove your green hat (shame on you), this still revs like an Elise. Maximum power arrives at 6,800rpm, and though this engine doesn't sound great (what Elise does?), there's a pleasing little fizzle over 4,500rpm. Committed drivers will still yearn for a bit of extra pace - check out the Elises SC and R - but, in truth, there's enough here for all your clear-conscienced entertainment.

With its sharp new face-lift, a bunch of suspiciously modern tech on board (cruise control and LED running lights on a Lotus? What next? Night-vision cameras?) and the eco-footprint of a tiptoeing field mouse, the Elise is, surely, the only responsible choice for the eco-aware modern motorist. Get one. Do it for the children.

Sam Philip

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