First DriveThe latest incarnation of the Elise may be out of its depth on track, but on the public road it is probably the purest version since the original
First DriveSupercharged Elise delivers serious pace and spellbinding handling. For this money, no other roadster is as special to drive
What is it?
The fastest Elise ever. It costs £32,550 and offers 217bhp at 8000rpm and 156lb ft of torque at 5000rpm, courtesy of the supercharged 1.8-litre engine.
Kerb weight is a touch over 900kg and apart from a slab of rear spoiler and a bespoke set of alloy wheels, the rears of which are half an inch wider than standard, it looks identical to every other Elise.
What’s it like?
Effortless in its ability to cover ground quickly. This isn’t the same motor as the one used in the Exige - that uses a socking great big supercharger which wouldn’t have fitted in the Elise’s smaller engine bay.
This car uses a Lotus designed installation that does without the intercooler, saving 8kg, allowing it to fit in the weeny engine compartment. The variable valve timing has been altered too, it can now switch between 4000rpm and 6200rpm, depending on throttle position and engine load.
This gives the Elise a fascinating spread of performance. It pulls from idle and feels accelerative from a crawl in the way only truly light machines can. But just as the torque disappears, power takes over and it wangs through to the limiter with appreciable zip and smoothness.
Because the delivery is so progressive, it doesn’t feel as fast as the claimed 4.4sec 0-60mph time, nor perhaps the 10.7sec 0-100mph, but one look at the new speedometer confirms the magnitude of the performance.
Chassis wise, it’s much the same as before. Elise-specific Yokohamas, and the car feels suspended on its dampers rather than its springs. Once a year, everyone interested in the subject of fast cars should drive an Elise over a bumpy road. It floats and compensates where anything else crashes and compromises.
The controls are a joy, and it’s good to see that the engine calibration on this car is far better that the last Exige I drove –where that car suffered an irritating lag, you can roll onto the throttle from the brake pedal and it responds immediately. Likewise the brake pedal that used to have an irritating inch of dead travel at the top has now been fixed.
And despite initially being uncomfortable with Lotus’s expansion into chassis electronics, I’m now a convert. On dry-damp surfaces the ABS is superb and the traction control as un-intrusive as you could hope for.
Cabin-wise, there are numerous tweeks, none of which make this an MX-5 rival. The dash has some rubbery covering that feels, erm, rubbery. All cars get front and passenger airbags as standard and there’s a new instrument pack with three shift lights that light sequentially and then all flash in a quaint quasi-motorsport wink.
If it works well in practice, then the low-mass principles behind this car are further proof that the Lotus theory of sports car design is the future. Despite being able to hit 150mph and run sub-11sec to 100mph, it emits just 202 g/km of CO2 and averages 33mpg over the combined cycle.
Should I buy one?
Perhaps the biggest threat comes form the standard Elise. It may not have the punch, but the chassis sophistication is all there and it costs £10k less. But the extra power and torque place this car into a different performance category. For many, me included, it will be worth the premium over lesser models.