The fastest, most track-focused and most expensive Elise ever made. It's simple, raw and immersive

What is it?

Just how track-optimised is the new Lotus Elise Cup 250? Consider this for an opener: beyond the dramatic new aero and gorgeous forged wheels, you don’t even get a roof as standard. Sure, it can be optioned in at no extra cost, but it shows most clearly Lotus’s intent with this car. If you want an Elise to drive hard on road and track, this is the car you need.

Beyond the obvious changes, there are myriad detail tweaks to make the Cup 250 a significantly faster car than the Cup 220 that it replaces. Perhaps most notable are the new, wider front tyres, the super-sticky Yokohama A048s measuring 195/50 now, as opposed to 175/55 before. That’s a substantial amount more rubber on a small car. Further dynamic optimisation comes courtesy of Bilstein dampers, Eibach springs, AP Racing front brake calipers and an adjustable front anti-roll bar.

With Lotus CEO Jean-Marc Gales’ unflinching focus on making new Lotus products as slender as possible, this Elise has also been through Hethel’s Lightweight Laboratory to save kilos. To that end, the new lithium-ion battery sheds 10kg, the carbon seats 6kg and those wheels another 1.5kg. Best wear your thin jumper when driving, then, just to make the best of it. For the full 250 Cup experience – and to mirror the car seen here – the Carbon Aero pack must also be optioned. It replaces the standard front splitter, rear wing, diffuser and floor extensions with the black stuff, saving another 10kg.

In its leanest form the Elise Cup 250 weighs 921kg, which isn't a great deal for 243bhp to motivate along a B-road. Lotus claims a 0-60mph time of 3.9sec – easily believable given the superb traction – and a top speed of 154mph. More tellingly, it’s 4.0sec quicker than the already very rapid Cup 220 around the Lotus test track. In fact, at 1min 32sec, this little Elise laps as fast as the much more powerful Lotus Exige V6 S. 

What's it like?

This is a very serious little Lotus, make no mistake. This car even does without a radio, so you're faced with a wheel, some dials, the ventilation controls and not a great deal else once you’ve clambered into the (surprisingly comfortable) seat. Even for a prospective customer coming from an Alfa 4C, this interior will seem incredibly bare.

Should that matter? If you care about driving, not a jot. Because, while the Elise may have been terrorising B-roads and tracks for 20 years now, it still does both better than pretty much anything else for the same money. The steering, while hard work at manoeuvring speeds, is glorious above walking pace; those new tyres have added some weight, but there’s still that beautiful unfiltered feedback from the road surface to work with.

The supercharged four-cylinder engine may lack the high-rev fireworks of the old units, but don’t mistake it for a dull engine. The supercharger means instant response and strong torque – its 184lb ft peak is available between 3,500 and 5,500rpm – but it’s eager and willing, too. Peak power is made at 7,200rpm, and it really feels worth chasing that last shift light for every bit of performance. Fortunately, the uprated brakes are more than a match for the Cup 250’s speed, although some may wish for a slightly firmer initial pedal response.

Despite the Cup 250’s circuit focus, it retains the legendary Lotus fluidity on the road. In places where other cars fluster, the Elise glides, seemingly able to deal with any imperfection thrown at it while telling the driver exactly what is going on.

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We all knew an Elise would be good on the road, though; the question facing this car is whether it can compare on track against a wealth of very talented rivals also available this car's £45,600 price tag. It is expensive for an Elise, but the track driving experience more than matches that price.

This Cup 250 produces genuine downforce, with 66kg claimed at 100mph and 155kg at its top speed. On faster parts of the Lotus test circuit that can be felt, the Elise is hugely stable for such a small car and extremely confidence-inspiring as a result. Below those speeds the Yokohama tyres provide extraordinary composure, the car changing direction with barely believable swiftness and huge grip.

It’s the involvement that leaves the lasting impression, though. The manual gearbox clicks through its detents, the brakes are simply tremendous and the steering – yes, the steering again – is an absolute masterpiece at all commitment levels. Lotus’s Sport mode is great here, the slackening of the traction control ideally judged for circuit driving.

Such is its poise, the Elise doesn’t intimidate with the traction control off either. It will understeer at the limit, but this is easily addressed with a lift of the throttle; accelerate from here and you can feel through the seat and through the wheel the car straightening out under power. It’s not one for indulgent oversteer like a Seven, but the combination of ability with total immersion is beguiling. 

Should I buy one?

Certainly. Although it’s worth pointing out this car’s less endearing aspects, too. The roof, if you choose it, is still fiddly; the gear shifts still lack the crispness of a Caterham's, and it seems unlikely many will be sold without a radio. For some, this may be a little too intense and raw for an Elise.

That said, it’s difficult to criticise the Elise Cup 250. As more and more cars continue to distance the driver from what’s going on, something this invigorating is a real treat. It’s Lotus doing what it does best, and on this evidence it deserves to carry on doing it for a very long time.

Lotus Elise Cup 250

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Location Norfolk; On sale Now; Price £45,600; Engine 4 cyls, 1798cc, supercharged, petrol; Power 243bhp at 7200rpm; Torque 184lb ft at 3500-5000rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual; Kerb weight 921kg (unladen, with Carbon Aero pack)Top speed 154mph ; 0-60mph 3.9sec; Economy 37.7mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 175g/km, 32%

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bowsersheepdog 1 May 2016

Shining light

Sounds like a little bundle of fun.
russ13b 29 April 2016

many reasons

the s1 was 725kg, slightly shorter, 266mm narrower suspension, lighter engine, no passenger airbag, no diff lock, chassis didn't meet european yr2000+ crash test requirements
jason_recliner 29 April 2016

Who so much heaver now?

The Elise was something like 670 kg when released.