Lotus Elise - gloriously unique classy sportscar

ELISE fans looking for more power and thrill will find both with the 1.8R. Jonathan Crouch straps up.

Wednesday, 19th January 2011, 10:19 am

IN restyled third generation guise, with a fast but frugal 1.6-litre engine now the ownership entry-point, Lotus’s little Elise remains a template for the modern sportscar in its purest form. Of course its sublime chassis can handle more power and, in 1.8 R form, it gets just that.

If you’ve never driven a proper sportscar, then slipping behind the wheel of an Elise might take a little adjustment, but it’ll be well worth the effort.

The low-set driving position, the minimalistic cockpit, the way the throttle buzzes with energy, the absence of any need for power steering - it all prepares you for something a little different.

Which is exactly what you get.

Steering input seems shockingly direct for the first mile and a half, after which you simply realise that this is how it should be.

At just under 900kg, this car isn’t quite as light as it used to be but it’s still a featherweight compared to most of its rivals and low mass spells fantastic agility, tuned by some of the best chassis engineers in the business.

The result is that with a mid-mounted engine for perfect balance and some fat rear tyres generating prodigious grip, you quickly feel more and more confident in exploring the car’s limits.

Especially as the ride is remains supple and calm at speed on a bumpy country road.

This mid-range 189bhp 1.8-litre Elise has more torque to play with than the entry-level 1.6-litre, so you won’t be shifting cogs quite as frequently - unless you simply want to indulge in the delightfully slick six-speed manual gearbox.

In a car as small and light as this, that’s enough to get you from standstill to 60mph in just 5.1 seconds on the way to a top speed of 138mph.

Today’s Elise has a cleaner, smoother look than its predecessors and acquired trendy LED daytime running lights.

The rear bumper gets a redesigned diffuser and there’s a restyled engine deck lid necessary to accommodate the Toyota’s taller Welsh-constructed 1.6-litre engine.

As before, the whole thing constructed around a bonded and extruded aluminum chassis of outstanding rigidity.

Anyone can create a supercar with a huge engine and an inflated price. All Lotus need is modest 1.8-litre petrol power and a simple aluminum chassis.

Even in its humblest form, their Elise is as magical as ever. On a twisting track or a curving country road, there’s little faster.

There are drawbacks of course. It still isn’t an everyday sportscar in the way that more compromised rivals can be. It could do with being a few thousand pounds less.

And the basic trim and fiddly roof won’t appeal if you like your creature comforts.

But all of this is to miss the point. An Elise is gloriously, uniquely like nothing else.

It’s fun in a way that modern cars have largely forgotten how to be. Britain once taught the world how to build sportscars. It still does.