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.
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.