S2000 vs. Elise: An Ownership Comparison
I had been obsessed with the Lotus Elise since I first drove one in 2006. In 2011, I needed a new car, and being in grad school at the time, couldn't afford an Elise. I ended up buying a 2005 S2K, almost as a concession. I got a phenomenal deal on the car it quickly and COMPLETELY won me over. I was living in Atlanta at the time, and I soon came to appreciate what an incredible car the S2K is. The finest shifter I have every used. Ever. And I have driven a gated Ferrari. The build quality was SO impressive. Comfortable seats, nice interior ergonomics, cold A/C, the electric roof up/down mechanism was simple and worked well. The paint quality. The mechanical reliability. The overall ownership experience...just a wonderful car to own and drive.
In 2013, I moved to Chicago and no longer needing a car, I sold the S2K. Looking back, I wish I would have kept it, and just stored it and used it as a weekend car. I almost bought another one in the Spring of 2015, and drove to Kentucky to do the deal, but at the last minute, I decided to turn around. It was a very tough call. I think in the back of my mind, I knew that if I bought another S2K, it would be very unlikely that I would ever own an Elise. In October of that year, I pulled the trigger on the dream car (well, technically, my dream car would be a Mclaren F1, but having a set of tires put on an F1 costs as much as a new Elise, so...to say my obtainable dream car would be more accurate). I wanted something I could use on nice days and take to the track occasionally.
The two cars truly are worlds apart. The Elise is an incredible piece of engineering and the ownership has been lots of fun. And part of me certainly misses the S2K. It has the finest manual transmission I have ever used, the top doesn't leak, you can actually hear the stereo, the HVAC works all the time, the seats are comfortable for long trips and it delivers a metric ton of fun per dollar spent, all in a package you could legitimately use every day.
I never did take the S2K on track and never found it limits on the street. There were several times where I took highway off ramps way faster than what I thought would be possible, and the car didn't make a peep. It was my first RWD car, so I was pretty conservative as I got comfortable with it. Unfortunately I sold it before I ever had a chance to really explore it's limits in a safe environment. I remain a HUGE fan of the S2000. The handling of the Lotus almost defies the laws of physics, and yet it is those very laws which make it possible; lightness! The steering feel is the greatest of any car I have ever driven, and the steering wheel itself is nothing short of perfect, in terms of size and shape, for my hands. I don't know if there is a better car for the track. I'm not aware of anything that offers a more pure or dynamic driving experience for the money spent. An MX-5 is a great value, and a lot of fun, but it's not a Lotus. A Porsche Cayman offers comparable balance with even more refinement, but the cost of consumables is significantly higher. It's been said before, but it's true: there is simply nothing else on the road like the Elise/Exige for the money.
In terms of the ownership experience, the S2K is a real car. I never had any concerns about using it, driving it in any weather, on any road, leaving it parked places. I always thought the styling was a bit understated, but the car was so solidly built, so reliable, so enjoyable to drive, comfortable, everything worked. It was just a total joy to own and drive. The Lotus is a very special, very different animal. As many owners are no doubt aware, you have to be very selective with where you drive it, where you park it, where you have it serviced. You need people who know these cars. You can't just pull into Jiffy Lube.
There are many other considerations as well. The car gets so much attention. People are always taking your picture and looking at you, it's a bit much if you're not into being the center of attention. Even a low speed collision in a parking lot means expensive damage to the clam. The car rides very low and the suspension is very stiff, so care must be taken on any bumps or road imperfections. The AC doesn't work too well, the top leaks in heavy rain, anything you put in the trunk risks smashing into the fiberglass from the inside and on anything but the smoothest pavement, it beats you up pretty good. The seats have very minimal padding and are not adjustable.
But holy $#!% does it feel special. The difficulty of ingress and egress is oft-mentioned but honestly, this is one of my favorite things about the car. When you climb over that sill and drop down into the seat, you know you are in something special. When I was 25 and first drove an Elise, I would have taken one as my daily driver in a nanosecond. But having owned one, I now see how unrealistic that is for most people. It's just too extreme, gets too much attention, is too susceptible to damage, and too special to be treated like a Honda Civic. It's more like owning a motorcycle. You have to consider weather, traffic, route, and parking before you take it out. But it makes just about any other car feel like a 1978 Cadillac Seville. It ruined all other sports cars for me.
It's all relative, I guess.
That fact that a car like the Elise is even obtainable for mere mortals (and in the US no less!) is one of the most impressive things about it. I have a special relationship with the Elise. I knew it the first time I dropped down into one and put my hands on that little Momo steering wheel. As good as the S2000 is, if you love driving, if you're a purist, if you value simplicity and rawness, and you find yourself in a Lotus Elise on the right road, in the right weather...you just might agree that they are the most perfect form of four-wheel conveyance yet devised by human beings.