- Amazing handling.
- Powerful Toyota inline-four.
- Light as a feather.
- Quick acceleration.
- Perfectly balanced chassis.
- Too cramped for long drives.
- High price for a Toyota-powered barebones car.
- One shunt from an Escalade can kill.
- Uncomfortable ride.
- Took ages to get to the States.
Press Coverage :
The Lotus Elise is an ultra-lightweight sports car. It adheres to company founder Colin Chapman's four basic automotive design philosophies: It is lightweight for better performance; it is fun to drive; it provides a comfortable ride and exceptional handling; it is innovative.
The first new Lotus for America since the ill-fated Elan debuted in 1990, the Elise first went on sale in Europe in 1996 becoming the best-selling car in company history and creating waiting lists of up to one year to buy what the European motoring press has labeled the best handling car in the world. Ever since, American Lotus fans have patiently awaited the car's availability in the U.S.
Weight saving is critical to the Lotus Elise's performance. The first car in history to employ a bonded and extruded aluminum chassis, the Lotus Elise's foundation weighs just 150 pounds. Covered with composite body panels and equipped with composite sport seats and extruded aluminum foot pedals, the U.S.-spec 2005 Lotus Elise weighs just 1,975 pounds.
Light weight makes it easy for the updated-for-2005 Lotus Elise's mid-mounted four-cylinder engine to rocket the car to 60 mph in less than five seconds on the way to a top speed that approaches 150 mph all the while achieving more than 30 mpg on the highway. Sourced from Toyota and tuned by Lotus, the 1.8-liter, 16-valve four-cylinder engine includes variable valve timing with lift intelligence and makes 190 horsepower at 7,800 rpm. Torque peaks at 138 lb.-ft. at 6,800 rpm, making the Lotus Elise a car that must be revved hard for maximum power. Good thing a three-year/36,000-mile warranty is included in the price.
Also sourced from Toyota is a six-speed manual transmission, equipped with a Lotus-designed shift linkage for improved shift speed and gear engagement. The four-wheel-independent suspension employs Eibach coil springs and Bilstein monotube gas shocks, while Yokohama clothes the standard alloy wheels in 175/55R16 front and 225/45R17 rear Advan Neova performance tires. Twin-piston AP Racing aluminum front and single-piston Brembo rear calipers squeeze large disc antilock brakes.
Standard equipment for the Lotus Elise's entry price includes air conditioning, power windows and dual front airbags. Two option packages are available. The Touring Pack includes perforated leather upholstery, an upgraded stereo with CD and MP3 players, an interior stowage net, a double-insulated soft top, more sound deadening and full carpet for $1,350. The Sports Pack is $2,480 and has larger forged aluminum alloy wheels, a track-tuned Lotus sports suspension, and special Yokohama A048LTS tires. A body-color hardtop is offered for $1,475.
Lists are long at the 38 dealers that sell the Lotus Elise because enthusiasts know pure bang-for-the-buck doesn't get much better than this.
A funny thing happened on the way to setting that slalom record: We found it pretty darn easy to do. The Elise communicates to the driver every nuance of tire grip, roll rate, yaw, and the necessary amount of countersteer required to enter the cone field at an indicated 80 mph and yet still exit in full control. Mind you, there's a $2480 Sport package available--which this test unit didn't have. It sharpens the Elise even further with lighter wheels, grippier tires, and track-tuned suspension. Oh, the possibilities.
On the 200-foot skidpad, the Elise posted over 1.0 g in the counterclockwise direction (driver inboard) and just under a full g in the opposite direction for an average of 0.99 g. Putting all this go, stop, and grip together, the Elise navigated our figure-eight course at 24.8 seconds, gathering a cumulative average 0.75g load. Anything under 25 seconds is spectacular. This performance exceeds the Porsche Boxster S, trails the Ferrari 360 Stradale, and is equal to that of a 405-hp Corvette Z06.
What all this means is that the purity of the Lotus Elise's no-compromise mission has survived U.S. certification. It is, indeed, the best-handling, most-dedicated, least-apologetic production sports car we've ever tested. Yet even the Elise has its foibles: a feminine name, a tight (size-10) driver's footwell, challenging ingress/egress (with the soft-top installed), and it clomps hard on broken concrete freeways. Still, the Elise can be driven comfortably on workdays as well as driven to autocross victories on weekends.
We have to evaluate the experience of driving an Elise from two perspectives: as sports car enthusiasts and as human beings.
From the latter perspective, we can't justify spending over $40,000 on a car that is this impractical and has such a primitive, almost punishing interior--especially considering that General Motors (nyse: GM - news - people ) sells the faster, more powerful and more comfortable Chevrolet Corvette for a few thousand dollars more.
One 6-foot-3-inch member of our editorial staff was excited to drive the Elise, but could not reasonably fit into the driver's seat in order to operate the vehicle. His knees were touching the steering wheel when he gave up and got out before ever putting the car in gear.
The cramped seats fit into a vehicle that has all the creature comforts of a shower at a truck stop. Electric windows are not standard, and electric mirrors are not available. The trunk barely holds a courier-style bag, and might not fit a backpack. The pedals sound and feel as if they're being held together with mousetrap springs.
Worst of all is the optional "performance suspension," which makes for smooth sailing on the track but makes the car ride like a buckboard in New York City.
2000-2004 Lotus Elise Mk2 / 111S
1,796 cc / 120-156 hp / 124-129 lb-ft / 1667-1777 lbs / 0-60 mph 5.0-5.5 sec.