Today’s Elise is still a truly wonderful thing. It steers magnificently, rides astonishingly well and offers mid-engined handling with balance to spare.
But if it does have a problem, it’s that today’s Elise does what it always did.
There’s nothing wrong with that in itself. What it does is great. I love the bare interior and adore a steering rack that allows messages about front wheel grip to filter through but not messages you don’t want to hear.
The balance is as it should be: a touch of understeer after turning in, which you can quell with a lift of the throttle or a trailed brake. Although the Elise is not a drift machine, it is delicately balanced and adjustable.
What’s bad? Well, not a lot.
The gearshift has never been great. The hood I don’t mind, but I know people who do. The wide sills make getting in and out a pain — which means it can take some convincing to get your significant other to agree to you having one — and it seats the two of you shoulder-nudgingly close to each other.
But they’re mere quibbles in the face of such purity.
The issue for me is that, if someone suggested that I recommend an Elise today, I probably wouldn’t point them towards a new one.
There have been so many wonderful variants, produced in decent numbers and cherished by owners, that the greatest Elise experience is a click away on Pistonheads’ classifieds.
Lotus isn’t alone here. Like Caterham, it relies on reinvention to keep what is, in effect, the same experience going, and the level of personalisation — and self-build — available on Caterhams means there will always be a market for new ones, even if they’re ostensibly similar to old ones. And that’ll be the key to the next Elise.
Yes, it should still steer, ride and handle like nothing else, but it should also offer something Elises of the past do not.
The Elise that Lotus needs — like the car Porsche needed 15 years ago — is not necessarily a car that’s purest to the brand, but a car people will buy.