I’ve come to the realization that the pace in which days fly by when you spend time with a car, is directly proportional to how good it is. If this is the case then the Lotus Elise S I had the pleasure of driving recently must be a very good car because it seemed to have come and gone in the blink of an eye. In the process, this little red car has cemented itself high in my personal ranks of top driver’s cars. Lotus has refreshed the old recipe that made the previous iterations of the Elise phenomenal machines…
…and created a superb evolution from every single angle. They have even made it an easier machine to live with believe it or not, but in a way that its fundamental dynamics aren’t hampered in any way. So if you do have the chance to jump in one of these cars, what you will discover is a precise and engaging handling mated to a surprisingly potent engine…
…all wrapped up in what is a rather pleasant shape. The new design has an unmistakable continuity, which makes the Elise as recognizable as ever on the street.
There’s a great mix of soft curves and more angular lines…
…and the new single headlight set-up works wonders at uncluttering the front end. The Elise still has that evident functionality about it; it’s a car that has been crafted for the sole purpose of driving and every detail, both visual and mechanical…
…hints at this underlying purpose.
The little “S” next to the Elise badge on the rear bumper, as well as the small lip spoiler draped over the rear end, distinguishes this top of the line version from the base model car (which is powered by a 1.6L engine). Under the lightweight FRP hood sits a 1.8L Toyota 2ZR-FE…
…supercharged thanks to the addition of a Magnuson R900 Eaton-type blower, boosting power to 217 HP and giving a decent 250 Nm (184 lb/ft) of torque at 4,600 rpm. Now, compared to the cars we usually get to drive, this might not sound like anything too special but like all cars that come out Hethel, lack of weight is on the Elise S’s side.
It might not be as featherweight as those MKIs that hit the scales at well under 800 Kg, but for today’s standards the S’s 924 kg curb weight remains impressive.
Not wanting to waste any time on driving pointless miles in the city I took the little Lotus to my favorite driving spot, Hakone. With hundreds of miles of twisty, semi-deserted mountain roads, I had the chance to spend some quality one-on-one time with it. But before we get to the driving side of things…
…let’s continue taking in all the details of this Elise S. The aluminum chassis is suspended by a double wishbone layout at all four corners with damping taken care of by Bilstein shocks, mated to Eibach springs. By following the old “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it formula,” the handling and suspension geometry hasn’t really changed much compared to the previous car. Same with the brakes; the familiar AP Racing 2-pot front calipers remain and are paired with 288 mm drilled rotors. Same diameter discs are also fitted at the back but with smaller Brembo 1-pot slide-type calipers. This brake set up has been deemed more than enough for the car and I found absolutely no evidence that this isn’t the case. As with older cars the middle pedal is reassuringly firm, beautifully progressive and easily gauged right up to the limits of grip.
And when I say grip, I mean serious levels of grip. A great deal of this is mostly do to the Advan Neova AD07 tires the car comes with as standard, 175/55 sizes wrapping the front 16-inch rims and slightly wider 225/45 on the 17-inch rears. The wheel themselves are lightweight forged items, part of the sports pack, and as you can see having very nicely matched offsets front and back. The satin black is a superb contrast to the body’s deep red, but that’s just my opinion.
Aside from the exposed aluminum in the interior there is another hint at the Elise’s lightweight construction, the door hinges. I thought this was a beautiful detail and something I had a good look at every time I got in and out of the car.
I’ll get the negative aspects of the Elise out of the way now, before I go any further. I’m not going to lie; if you are over 6 ft the entrance and exit procedure will require some contortionism and if you happen to be a little on the stocky side be prepared to end up in some embarrassing positions as you attempt to not only get your frame though the door opening, but get your lower limbs up and over the chunky sills. By the time I returned the car to Lotus I had literally ripped the rubber seal off the driver’s side roof section by rubbing my left shoulder against it every time I got in and out.
Oh and meet this little guy. He may seem like a harmless latch-point for the door, but if you don’t give him the respect he deserves he will, and I speak from experience, impale you.
Aside from this however, I have absolutely no other issue with the Elise. Once you get into position you are presented with this thick-rimmed Momo steering wheel (yes there is an airbag in there – and on the passenger side too)…
…and a refreshingly simple instrument binnacle, which kind of reminded me of a bike’s instrument panel.
The supportive bucket seats accommodate a wide range of frames and are bolted beautifully low onto the already low floor, the first ingredient for a great driving position.
On the right sort of road your feet will become dancing partners with these three alumiunm pedals, so it’s a very good thing that they are perfectly spaced for proper heel-and-toeing antics – except if I really had to be picky I would have preferred if the accelerator pedal had a wider lower section.
The 6-speed transmission is the final piece of the puzzle, a superb little gearbox with a short and precise stroke.
The Elise comes with stability control, or Dynamic Performance Management in Lotus-speak. This has two functions; the regular setting that is on all the time or the “Sport” mode which is selectable via this little button next to the shifter. This allows the car to move around more when you are pushing over the limit – and if you prefer you can turn it completely off with the button on the right side.
The Elise S is of course a civilized car so it comes with air conditioning controlled by these three billet aluminum knobs.
The Alpine headunit the test car was fitted with even had iPod/iPhone connectivity, which is nice I guess, but I personally only used it to charge my phone. At any speeds above 60 mph you won’t be doing any music listening that’s for sure – things get pretty noisy in the cabin as, despite the addition of a few gadgets, it’s still a pretty crude car.
Oh and get this, they even put a cup holder in there! When not in use the aluminum ring retracts behind the main dashboard…
…and can be easily slid out when you need its assistance in holding your can of canned coffee. The carbon leather used to hold the can/bottle/cup is the same as used for the door trim and a very nice tough. Mind you, if you have long legs your left knee is going to continuously be hitting it when it’s pulled out…space is at a premium in the cabin after all.
The Elise’s soft-top can be removed and stored away in a matter of minutes. You will have to first undo the latches on each end of the two roof structures and then roll it up…
…leaving these admittedly flimsy plastic springy bits that you have to remove and store away with the roof. Pretty simple though.
However, as pretty and appealing as the design may be, and how spartan yet adequately accessorized the interior is now…it’s the driving that defines the Elise S. Up and down the Hakone Turnpike this car proved to be one of the most focused and fun cars I’ve driven there, not so much as say a car like the new-gen 911 was when I drove it on the same road, but more so on a basic man-machine level. The Elise is a big go-kart; every command channels a constant stream of information, it’s instant, surgically precise in every way, from its steering to how the chassis copes with whatever is thrown at it. There is so much mechanical grip you have to sort of reset your mental limits, and as you push more and more you continuously surprise yourself at how far you can really go. There aren’t that many mid-engined cars that you can throw around so aggressively, and if you do overdo it, it doesn’t bite back at all, it’s all composed and adjustable to the point that you being to get in sync with its unrelenting pace. Then there’s the engine. 217 HP don’t sound like much, but in a car that weights well less than a ton they are more than enough. The fact that the mid-range is so punchy makes the Elise S explosive out of any corner and if you really do want to abuse you can rev the little Toyota 4-pot all the way to 8,000 rpm – in no way a futile exercise, because the engine keeps on delivering all the way to its fuel cut out. The secret to driving the Elise fast is corner speed – bring a ton more into a turn that your brain will think feasible, and get back on the power far earlier than you could ever expect. The resulting grin will mean you have understood what this car is all about.
I wasn’t the only one enjoying Hakone that early Sunday morning a few months back. The parking lot at the top of the pass was filled with quite a few British sports cars…
…so many that I was beginning to think this excursion of mine coincided with a meeting of some sort.
But that wasn’t the case, it was jut a regular weekend at what is an escape for car enthusiast living in or around the capital.
The vintage cars were joined more modern machinery, Italian exotics from the 80′s, contemporary American sports cars…
…and the odd German legend.
I even came across a little cute Baby Cobra on its way down the mountain.
Since those first and affordable guises back in the late 90′s the Elise may have become a little expensive, but in no way has it ever failed to deliver what it has always promised. If you put driving satisfaction above anything else the Elise, and especially the “S” version, is without a doubt a car you should definitely consider.
-Dino Dalle Carbonare
No wonder japanese people buy's Lotus. I allways wanted an Elise, but with my 191cm.....I drive a Soarer instead! :)
Cool car though.
speedhunters_dino Yes, but with my head out on the windshield? I would love to see a picture with an Elise with someone tall like I am, driven hard :) hahaha
Great article. LOL at the door latch comment, I can see that little bugger earning an unpleasant name after some time living with the car. The mountain top car park looks amazing, the Caterham/Lotus 7 guys look like they are having a blast. Love the goggles on the green cars' driver. Can you speak to the smoothness of the engine and the power curve at all? In past cars some of Lotus ECU tuning has been a little suspect, while unlocking power and providing more edge it hasn't been able to replicate the Toyota ECU's everyday/allday smoothness. Is there an IC on that thing somewhere? Any issues with heatsoak or was it fairly cool? Keep the great drive and "everyday" perspectives coming. Thanks.
A common misconception regarding the weight differential between the s1 and the latest cars is that the s1s were dry weighted whereas the latest cars are weight fully loaded. Fuel, fluids, the 75kilo man, the lot. Add the 75 kilo guy in a s1, and you've already got a 800kilo car minus vital fluids. Do the math and the weight difference between the two narrows within less than 60kg.
ghepardo Wrong, sadly. Given we've weighed earlier S1s with full fluids and fuel at under 715kg on our corner scales, whereas the later Toyota-engined cars struggle to sneak in under 900kg in similar guise. The S3 Elise you see here are heavier again.
It' not surprising when you drive them back to back though, the earlier cars feel tinny and rattly, whereas the newer ones have a lot more civility built in.
I love these cars so much.
I've never even sat in one, so not even sure I'd fit - but I do love them. I like everything these cars are about.
I wish the Elise S didn't have that ugly little spoiler though.
RdS2 Sure it wouldn't be so hard to remove. Heck Lotus will probably not fit one for you if you ordered that way...
Would be great weekend car, used they absolute blast, would never buy one brand new. Would def get more stares than FR-S, but the FR-S has a lot more practicality and can be used as a daily driver
dareupgang Different cars IMO, the Elise is far more focused and has ton more pace
Curlytop Yup, hence my hint there at the bottom. Back in the day the Elise used to start at UKP 20,000!
If you think that's fun, try one with a K20A from a DC5 Type R ;) Nice article Dino. I wonder how improved the shifter is between the earlier 2ZZ powered cars and this revised one. You seem pleased with it but earlier shifters were known to be the one weak point in the driving experience. Hopefully its not as loose and flimsy as before!
Chris Nuggets Not at all, it was very nice. As for the K20...there are a few Exiges I see at tracks that have them fitted
andrewhake roeby The new Exige has a supercharged V6. Quite a wild machine...can't wait to drive it!
watching drive yesterday discuss should you buy a new toyaburu or a low mileage e46 m3, easy answer for me, but another car they brought up is the elise, which used you can get for much cheaper than a toyaburu, and is a much better handling/looking car with a better power to weight ratio, and the motor is built like a tank and cheap to fix.
CarpeDeez 86/FR-S/BRZ are good if you want to tune them, the M3 and Elise too but they are ready to go from stock
speedhunters_dino CarpeDeez Not to mention the C5 Z06s Dino, they are faster than every car you listed and are selling now for around $17,000. IMO thats the best car you can buy if you want an out of the box performer for under 20k. Throw $10k in the right places into a C5 Z06 and (assuming you can drive well) you have a car that will do things on track that none of the aforementioned cars will for $30,000 (including price of car and tuning).
Good call on the Z06 but its a bit like comparing a meat cleaver and a scalpel.@Phantom @speedhunters_dino @CarpeDeez
same place it's been sat since 2008 when lotus first started offering supercharged elises... still well ahead of the rest of them thanks to everything else it has which elises still haven't
ComJive As comjive mentioned even the previous gen car, the "SC' had a blower but that was the 2ZZ
Great Article. and loved the baby cobra.. those things make me lol. did it have a v8 swapped in or did it have the little turbo (3cyl?) that they come with?