Lotus Elise has never been about practicality. It’s all about the experience; pure, raw, edgy and hugely entertaining. But the problem is the amount Lotus charges for a ticket to the Elise funpark, which has predominantly teetered on the wrong side of $100,000. Big bucks for a two-seater of modest power output.
This review was originally published in MOTOR’s April 2007 issue
Now, however, there is an alternative. And it’s one that brings a surprising amount of sense, logic and pragmatism to a purchase that has always been up there with ultralight planes, racing skiffs and five-figure watches – a pure, unadulterated indulgence.
The Elise S retails for $69,990, including a decent four-speaker stereo, air-con, central locking and electric windows. Add another $8000 for the Touring Plus Pack and there’s a few more niceties like the excellent Probax seats, plusher interior treatment, more sound deadening and an upgraded Alpine head unit with an external iPod connector.
For the money you still get a sublimely balanced aluminium-honeycomb chassis, double-wishbone suspension with the same damper/spring spec as the more expensive Elise R, and a stripped out (well, relatively speaking) interior.
You no longer get the capable but ancient Rover K-series engine. Instead, it’s Toyota’s 1ZZ-FE VVTi four-potter, good for 100kW and 172Nm – yep, it’s the Corolla motor. The ‘i’ designates variable valve timing, but the iron-sleeved 1ZZ misses out on variable lift adjustment.
No matter; the 1.8-litre engine is well-matched to the Elise’s fizzy bunger of a chassis. In fact, it’s uncanny how much it sounds and feels like the motor it’s replacing, with an unfussed, linear power and torque curve that calmly punches through to its 6900rpm redline.
It’s not a matter of wringing it out and waiting for that change of cam timing, like the Elise R, because it doesn’t happen. Max torque is reached at a middling 4200rpm; just right for keeping the longer-legged five-speed ’box gainfully employed.
It’d be easy to say that the S is underpowered, but it’s not. It’ll carry enough speed up to, into and through a corner to make your passenger barf should you require it, and its lack of mass (830kg) means it gets up and parties to the hundred in a nick over six seconds.
After the fireworks of the supercharged Exige, you could mistake the Elise S for feeling a bit flat. It’s a furphy, trust me. Snick the delightfully ratchety five-speed into first, engage the feelsome clutch and revel in the almost telepathic sensations coursing through your fingers and feet.
Light from takeoff, the gossipy, quick-racked steering loads up progressively and meaningfully, and it’s absolutely possible to feel the Yokohama Advans’ grip levels improving as the heat gets into them.
Elise’s primary ride is exceptional for a car of its weight and low ride height; it feels like it’s got three times the travel it actually has over Sydney’s worsening roads. There’s some pitch present if you’re a brute on the brilliant brakes, but it doesn’t result in the rear becoming unwieldy.
Its surfeit of raw grunt translates into a rear-end that’s hard to unstick, even with the stock open diff, and its front-to-rear balance at the limit tips into shallow, controllable understeer. You can even tune the suspension to your preference, with adjustability in most planes available via a twist of a spanner.
The Elise is one of the most malleable, transparently surefooted playthings on the road today, mollycoddling and encouraging the novice while delighting and rewarding the more experienced.
How does it fare today?: Elise Sprint 220 review
Despite wails from the purists, Lotus has equipped its latest crop of cars with the day-to-day basics, making them easier to live with. It hasn’t dulled the rush, and if it means you can use the car more often, what’s wrong with that? The air-con can be turned off, the traction control can be disabled, and the ABS is so unobtrusive you have to deliberately test the brakes to see if it’s there. And it still weighs less than 850kg.
To me, it feels like a perfect project car; it’d be easy to free up a smidge more power and torque from the robust little motor, you could play with the suspension a little, improve the brakes… and you’d never spoil the intrinsic pleasure the Lotus gives its driver.
There’s no other car out there this side of six figures that involves you in the driving experience as much as a Lotus, and the Elise S, by bringing the price of ownership down to realistic levels, is a real-world, sportscar bargain.
When old is gold on classic MOTOR
2007 Lotus Elise S
Engine: 1794cc 4cyl, DOHC, 16v
Power: 100kW @ 6200rpm
Torque: 172Nm @ 4200rpm
0-100km/h: 6.1sec (claimed)
Top speed: 205km/h (claimed)
Price: $69,990 ($77,990 as tested with Touring Plus pack)
Likes: Looks a million bucks, such a sweet handler
Dislikes: Can the mortgage survive a $70k overdraft?
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars