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Lotus Elise SC Car Review | January 25, 2008

Driven January 2008

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Nice thought, but because the engine zips round to the 8,500rpm redline so quickly, you've barely time to react and grab the next gear. And, to be honest, for the most part you just listen for when the exhaust gets manic and don't bother watching the lights. Certainly, in all but first and second, you'll be breaking the speed limit anyway. And travelling at that sort of speed, I'm personally concentrating a lot more on the road, and a lot less on the dash.

The genius of the Elise, though, remains the chassis. The engine is quick, but you can pick faults (yes, it needs a sports exhaust to stop it sounding like a thrashy four-cylinder). But the chassis remains near-as-damnit perfect.

It's testament to the Elise that you finish driving it and can't quite put your finger on what makes it so good to drive - the whole package gels so well that you're just aware of driving and having great fun, but not quite sure why.

If I had to describe it in one word it would be feel. Or maybe excitement. Or maybe comfort, because the ride is still surprisingly compliant. Oh, I don't know - the whole thing's great.

There's a balance and poise here that you rarely find - we are driving over some reasonably slippery roads and every once in a while the back end will step out slightly if I get on the power too early. But there is never any need for opposite lock, because you can feel the Elise almost catching itself.

And besides, there's so much feel built into the chassis that you can sense the slide coming, sense that it isn't going to be that major, dismiss it and get on with planning the next corner. Don't bother with a diary, your Elise can probably tell you what you're doing next week.

And despite the Elise SC having an extra 28bhp over the R, you never feel that things are getting too much for the chassis. Apart from anything else, this basic platform serves Lotus perfectly well for its GT3 car, which makes 350bhp. So we should be OK.

Elsewhere, other changes to the Elise for 2008 include a new soft-touch dash, and the SC gets a different rear spoiler and alloy wheel design. But none of these stand out - what does is the build quality on this car. It's seriously impressive, with no rattles and no feeling that in 100 miles some bit of trim will fall off. Certainly it knocks our long term Europa into a cocked hat from that point of view.

Drawing comparisons with that car is perhaps unfair, but if you worry about Lotus fitting a cupholder as a leap too far, then you should drive a Europa. Reassuringly, this Elise SC has been kept simpler, so the Lotus DNA feels much stronger and, as a result, feels much happier in itself.

Yes, a basic Elise might feel closer to Chapman's roots, but he died 25 years ago and things have to move on. Lotus needs to expand, needs to offer its customers more than the basic package which got it through the last 10 years. This Elise has done that, without trying to be something it's not or losing too much focus. The cupholder we'll allow. Just this once.

Piers Ward

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