The Auto Trader expert verdict: ★★★★★ ★★★★★ 4.0
Available new from £60,450
Expensive, noisy, cramped and with little in the way of creature comforts, the Lotus Elise would seem a difficult car to recommend by any rational assessment. On paper it’s not even that fast or powerful when compared against alternatives like the Porsche 718 Boxster or Alpine A110. Even a Mazda MX-5 looks luxurious in comparison. But the Elise is a truly unique car, and strips driving back to the absolute pure basics. The lack of weight means it punches way above its size in performance but it’s the connection with the road that makes it really special – if you love driving for driving’s sake there really is little that comes close. And after 25 years in production the Elise is going out with a bang in special ‘Final Edition’ trim – catch it while you can!
Reasons to buy
- The purest driving experience around
- Strong residual values
- Makes all other cars feel flabby
At a glance
Running costs for a Lotus Elise
A rich motorsport heritage informs the way Lotus builds its cars, especially when it comes to weight saving. While it may mean holding back on some of the luxuries this does bring other benefits, such as only needing a small and relatively frugal engine to deliver performance that outclasses much bigger, thirstier performance cars. True sports car performance with hot hatch mpg is your reward, the CO2 emissions also pretty good for the performance. Less weight also means less strain on tyres, brakes and other components so maintenance will be reasonable for such a focused sports car. True, the asking price is pretty steep and the Alpine A110 and Porsche 718 Boxster offer comparable thrills with much more in the way of usability and equipment. But the Elise holds its value well so your money will be reasonably safe, especially in the case of this Final Edition version.
Reliability of a Lotus Elise
The tired clichés about flaky Lotus reliability linger on but its modern products are better built than ever, and the Elise is a mechanically simple car compared with most modern rivals so there’s a lot less to go wrong. The fact Lotus uses Toyota engines in all its models is another confidence inspiring attribute, given that brand’s deserved reputation for solid engineering and excellent reliability.
Safety for a Lotus Elise
The score in this section looks harsh but there is no escaping the fact the Elise is seriously lacking in the kind of safety kit most modern drivers take for granted. You get a driver’s airbag, anti-lock brakes and switchable stability control but that’s pretty much your lot and there are none of the driver assistance features like lane-keeping, automatic emergency braking or blind spot buzzers. For heaven’s sake, there isn’t even power assistance for the steering! But for buyers that’s exactly the point, the fact you can instinctively feel any loss of grip through your fingertips rather than from a flashing yellow light on the dashboard proof of how vivid your connection with the car really is. You can also take heart in the fact the box-section aluminium structure is very strong, should the worst actually happen.
How comfortable is the Lotus Elise
Another apparently harsh score but, again, only half the story. The wide, boxy sills key to the Elise’s clever construction mean it’s very hard to get in and out gracefully, especially with the roof in place. And there is no escaping the fact those of a fuller frame are going to find it a bit of a squeeze, while you’ll find yourself on unavoidably intimate terms with your passenger given how close the seats are to each other. The obsession with weight saving means lots of bare metal, to the point where scraps of carpet trim on the sills seem almost decadent. The minimal seats meanwhile look about as comfortable as the scalpel-like saddles seen on racing bicycles and the non-assisted steering is pretty heavy at parking speeds. The boot is accessed via the engine cover and its shape demands you pack in smaller, squashy bags rather than expect to carry big suitcases. It also gets pretty hot in there, so watch out if you’re carrying perishables. Pack light and there’s room for a weekend away, though.
Assuming you fit in it, though, the Elise is actually a pretty comfortable place to spend time. There might not be much padding but the seats are incredibly supportive, the low-slung driving position is perfect and the sensation of the car being shrink-wrapped around you is what makes the driving experience such a thrill. Forward visibility is excellent, too, giving you confidence to place the car precisely on the road and helping your spatial awareness no end. Most impressive, though, is the way the suspension seems to glide over even seriously bumpy backroads, while also feeling incredibly precise, accurate and tied down. This has long been a unique Lotus selling point and is another virtue of the lack of weight – the only other car that manages the same trick is the Alpine A110, which has a similar obsession with weight saving but is a much more modern design and manages to keep a lot of the creature comforts the Lotus does without. Even the Alpine can’t quite match the Elise’s unique sense of agility, though.
Features of the Lotus Elise
Forget dreams of massage seats, touch-screens or the latest onboard tech. Indeed, you have to pay extra for a basic stereo system but, frankly, your chances of hearing it at motorway speeds are pretty marginal and you will have to rely on a phone mount or portable unit for navigation. The Final Edition Elise does at least get a digital instrument display, which switches from a traditional dial format to a more stripped back digital presentation if you select Sport mode for even sharper throttle response. Such is the obsession with weight saving even air-conditioning is optional, Lotus purists probably preferring to save a few more kilos and use the removable roof to keep cool instead. The Final Edition car does get different (and lighter) wheels, its own graphics, leather trim on the sill covers and there are plenty of options for further weight saving through carbon fibre body panels, a titanium exhaust and more. Some of these are included on the more expensive and track oriented Cup 250 model.
Power for a Lotus Elise
On the face of it 240 horsepower doesn’t sound like much more than a typical hot hatch, but in a car as light as the Elise it’s plenty, Lotus having found a little extra power for the Final Edition compared with the previous Sport 220. 0-62mph takes just 4.5 seconds but a Lotus is more about speed through the corners than straight-line heroics and here the engine feels perfectly matched with the fantastic handling. The manual gearbox with its nifty exposed linkage snicks through its six ratios with delightful precision, to the point you often change gear simply for the pleasure of doing so. The 1.8-litre Toyota engine has a supercharger for extra boost, and you can feel this as soon as you get on the throttle with none of the hesitation found in the turbocharged engines in the Alpine or Porsche you might be considering as an alternative. The Elise may not have much in the way of bells and whistles but the way the driver feels hard-wired into the car more than compensates.