The Elise was probably Lotus’s last exceptionally good idea.
Since 1994, it has had some highly commendable follow-ups – the Evora, the Exige S, the 2-Eleven – but the Elise, a tiny opus of angular glassfibre and aluminium, was surely its most recent, most unadulterated and unarguable light-bulb moment.
That is reflected in the split of the manufacturer’s sales volume, in the public perception of the car (for most, it simply is Lotus in the way a Seven is Caterham) and in the model’s fundamentally unchanged nature in 20 years of production.
Some would argue that last point is a product of the firm’s permanently tight budget. Lotus, in turn, would remind us that the Elise has been altered significantly in that time.
Both, of course, are partly true. The Series 1, powered by a Rover K-series engine, was soufflé light and endearing to the point of cute.
The Series 2, reputedly the first Lotus to be designed on a computer, was part-funded on GM’s dollar to grow the necessary crash structures. It spawned a sister car – the well-regarded Vauxhall VX220 – and received Toyota engines for the first time.
This was also the first Elise to be sold in the US and the first to get a supercharged version. Which brings us neatly to the Series 3 and the subject of this road test: the Cup 250.
Built to replace the Cup 220, the 250 is claimed by Lotus to be the fastest production Elise yet. The extra speed comes courtesy of a 26bhp gain, as well as a Lotus-appropriate tightening of the kerb weight belt.
The car generates real downforce and is reportedly four seconds quicker around the Hethel test track than the model it supersedes.