As performance cars get heavier, require stiffer springs, more rubber, more power and more electronics to make the heaving mass all work, those who love driving can take solace in the fact you can still buy modern sports cars that gun for more of a classic driving experience.
And it’s interesting that many are forgetting as much. Lots of people are losing their minds over the new Alpine A110 and so they should be, it’s a delightful driver’s car. However, its lightweight feeling and softer suspension set-up – one that breathes with the road – won’t be the slightest bit novel to anyone who regularly drives a Lotus Elise.
Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the development driver for the A110, Rudy Thomann, worked in Lotus’s ride and handling department during the inception of the original baby modern Lotus. Released in 1996, there have now been three series of the cult classic Elise which offers a raw driving experience low on power, but crucially, also weight.
For those who might find an entry-level Elise a little bit too ‘nice’ to drive, there is now this: the Sprint 220. Reviving a classic Lotus nameplate seen on models like the Elan, the Sprint channels an even more focused lightweight philosophy and thins further again from the Sport 220 donor Elise – a car that itself boasted a 40kg weight saving over its previous model.
Thanks to a lithium-ion battery (9kg), carbon seats (6kg), forged wheels (5kg), carbon-fibre panels and polycarbonate rear screen (6kg), the Sprint cuts another 26kg over the Sport 220 for an incredibly lithe 878kg kerb weight.
In the back there’s the rorty, energetic Toyota-supplied 2ZR-FE supercharged 1.8-litre four-cylinder, its 162kW giving the Sprint 220 a power-to-weight ratio better than a Mercedes-AMG A45 – and reflected as much by its claimed 4.5sec 0-100km/h time. Power is sent to the rear wheels via a Toyota-derived six-speed manual and an electronically locking diff.
Basic is the word that comes to mind as you clamber into the tight Sprint 220, your heels resting on the exposed metal floor, not far from the passenger’s, two bulges over the front wheels visible through the windscreen over the top of the relatively small steering wheel.
Compact also describes the 220’s interior. A highlight is the skeletal, exposed linkage of the manual transmission proving fantastic function can absolutely also make for great form.
There is the sense that there is not much between the engine’s sound and your ears and that’s because it’s true. The supercharged four-cylinder idles loudly and crisply and when unleashed has very much a bit of angry wasp about it. Acceleration is surprisingly brisk, power delivery linear.
Through corners, the Sprint 220’s unassisted steering and all-round double wishbone suspension deliver raw, joyfully classic handling. However, as you start to ramp things up, you notice that the Sprint 220 asks something specific of you as its driver and until you figure out what exactly, you might find the true Elise magic eluding you.
What the Sprint 220 wants is to be flowed a bit like a momentum car, with thoughtful inputs given the gentle bodyroll that moves through lovely arcs. However, with its sticky Yokohama Advan Neova AD07 tyres you will be flowing quite a lot of speed through corners indeed.
Driving the Sprint 220 becomes a game of minimising inputs and maximising entry speed – get it right, and it’s incredibly satisfying. While the 175-section front tyres offer great grip, with the 225-section rears, the balance is also the driver’s to manage – and carefully, as classic mid-engine dynamics do lurk.
It’s during this process you realise that the Elise magic is revealing itself. In the universe of driving there’s no experience that satisfies as uniquely. The Alpine A110 is making what is old, new again – ask anyone who drives an Elise.
Where driving only matters on Celebrating Driver's Cars
2018 Lotus Elise Sprint 220
BODY: 2-door, 2-seat coupe
ENGINE: 1798cc inline-4, DOHC, 16v, supercharged
BORE/STROKE: 80.5mm x 88.3mm
POWER: 162kW @ 6800rpm
TORQUE: 250Nm @ 4600rpm
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed manual
SUSPENSION: double wishbone, coil springs, anti-roll bar (f); double wishbone, coil springs, anti-roll bar (r)
TRACKS: 1457/1506mm (f/r)
STEERING: unassisted rack-and-pinion
BRAKES: 288mm ventilated/drilled discs, twin-piston calipers (f); 288mm ventilated/drilled discs, single-piston calipers (r)
WHEELS: 16.0 x 5.5-inch (f); 17.0 x 7.5-inch (r)
TYRES: Yokohama Advan Neova AD07; 175/55 ZR16 (f), 225/45 ZR17 (r)
PROS: Surprising acceleration; raw driving experience
CONS: You gotta be in the mood; not the most practical car
RATING: 4 out of 5 stars