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Very cool.

Cheap thrills


By Dan Scanlan
Times-Union staff writer
The lithe little roadster dove into the corkscrew at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala., an arcing right-hander that looped into a left followed by another right onto a short climbing straight. Is there a flat piece of track anywhere here?

Edgy composite bodywork ahead, 1.8-liter Toyota engine behind and stiff aluminum platform underneath, the 2005 Lotus Elise is the British car company's first new product in the United States since the front-wheel-drive, Isuzu-engined Elan Roadster of the early 1990s. It is also the most unique sports roadster in the United States, a 190-horsepower, 1,980-pound two-seater that made easy work of a challenging 16-turn, 2.3-mile-long race track in the rain months before June deliveries start at the country's 39 Lotus dealers, including Matheny Imports in Jacksonville.

Colin Chapman, the late founder of Lotus Cars in England, would have been proud of the lithe little car, said Roger Becker. He started at the Hethel-based company with him 39 years ago and is now a senior engineering consultant.
 

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"We had to look at things completely differently -- how to turn a simple piece of engineering into a work of art, and make something do two jobs instead of one. Simplicity and light weight are a product of what Chapman invented, and what we carried through to today," he said. "It's not just about performance though light weight. It is the way the car fits you, the way the pedals operate so you feel totally at one with the car. You don't just sit in a Lotus -- you wear it."

Veteran road racer Doc Bundy, who worked with Brumos Racing in Jacksonville and raced Lotuses for years, agreed. It is small, in a world full of big trucks, but has active safety -- "more maneuverability than probably anything else on the road today."

"I love it because it is such a pure little car, like a race car is a pure car," he said. "It is good for the street, but you have to have the right attitude with it. It is a very small car. I drove it here to Birmingham and back and around my part of North Georgia for a few days and I loved it. But it is somewhat intimidating on the interstate next to three 18-wheelers."
 

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Despite pouring rain, the new Lotus Elise threaded exact paths through the autocross with communicative steering and minimal body lean.
DAN SCANLAN/The Times-Union
 

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Chapman began building cars 55 years ago, stuffing Ford four-cylinder engines into lightweight chassis. More lithe sports cars followed, as did open-wheel race cars that won the Indy 500 and Formula One. After his death in 1982, the wedge-shaped Esprit with four-cylinder engine, and now with a 350-hp turbocharged V-8, were joined by the poorly built but superb-handling front-wheel-drive Elan in the early 1990s. Then engineers tucked a four-cylinder Rover engine into a stiff, 150-pound spaceframe of bonded, extruded aluminum with a steel rear sub-frame bonded together without welding, and the 1997 Elise roadster was born.

The 1,500-pound sports car had razor-sharp handling and just enough power to be fun and a sweet body design with a hint of 1970s Lotus Europa in the nose when WHEELS got an exclusive test in 1998. It was like a road-going go-kart. In April 2002, we drove a sharper-edged Elise Mk.II, with incredibly direct steering that let me point and shoot the car fluidly around curves, its 122-hp Rover engine launching it to 60 mph in 5.5 seconds. But the Rover engine wasn't certified for U.S. use, and that is where the 1.8-liter Toyota Celica GT-S engine came in. Approved in November 2002, the U.S.-bound car was code-named Croft for a small UK race track.

"We were looking for a new powertrain for the U.S. market, and there were some safety systems in the car we had to modify, plus a whole series of product improvement we wanted to put in place," said Lotus Engineering Director Clive Dobson. "The car and the engine go together very well. We had the first prototypes running in April 2003. And since then, we have been running one of the most detailed development programs we have done on our own product."

The final look is Mark II with some differences. The nose's big center air intake has integrated fog lamps. A deep vent exhausts heat from the radiator between fenders housing almond-shaped headlights that carry the fender's crease. The tiny side engine air inlets of the Mk. I grow into C-shaped slashes, while the B-pillar sweeps onto the rear deck and larger spoiler flowing off the flared rear fenders. A more dramatic twin chrome exhaust pops out of an underbody diffuser. The base car's wheels are stunning eight-spoke cast alloys, 15.4 pounds each up front, and under 20 in back, with 16-inch Yokohama Neovas up front, and meatier 17-inchers in back. The Sport Pack adds stickier Yokohama A048 radials on lighter 14-spoke alloys.
 

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With damp weather, we drove with the folding cloth top in place, squeezing in and out between high door sill and top. The base version gets some carpeting on the floor, ribbed alloy panels under the driver and passenger thighs, and a lightweight alloy brace holding the six-speed manual transmission framed by a flimsy plastic molding with a power door lock button. The hard plastic dashboard is a fresh design, with tiny 10,000-rpm tach and 160-mph speedometer with digital trip meter/odometer/gas gauge/temperature display. Four vents are fed from a simple rotary dial a/c unit under the great-sounding four-speaker AM-FM-CD/MP3 Blaupunkt stereo.

The non-adjustable three-spoke steering wheel is a minimalist masterpiece with small air bag and grippy stitched leather rim. Elegant aluminum cranks roll up windows, the bucket seats hard but gripping like Velcro, and comfortable during track and autocross sessions. The Elise has a driver's air bag, but received a waiver for the passenger side. Dobson called the structure "pretty strong."


The standard interior of the Lotus Elis shows off the aluminum platform that makes the little car so stiff and light, with more alloy visible in the dash and floor supports between the cloth and leather bucket seats.
DAN SCANLAN/The Times-Union

Lotus claims 0-60 mph in 4.9 seconds and 13 seconds to 100 mph with the Toyota. Despite our rainy test track day on what Bundy called "a most technically challenging track," it felt comfortably cozy and almost telepathic in control.

"This car couldn't care less. It is wonderful at trail braking, and doesn't upset the car whatsoever," Bundy said. "If you have any problems today, it will be from over-grinning."
 

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Clutch and shifter action were precise and light, the gas and brake pedal so close I could rotate my right foot at the heel to activate either. Push the engine above 6,200 rpm, where the VVTL-i system opens up, and the exhaust note deepens accompanied with more juice as the car rockets forward, reaching 90 mph in the short straights in third gear, and much more on tap.Suspension -- independent upper and lower wishbones -- is firm but buffered more than the British version, with no lean and superb control.


The Sport Pack suspension was very firm on the smooth race track, with a slight jiggliness on rougher surfaces -- not something we'd want to live with daily. In the soaked autocross, we could get the tail to swing out under throttle in some turns, but a flick of the wheel, a tad less throttle and the rear end tucked in without drama. The non-power steering was direct, the small steering wheel easy to shuffle, requiring a bit of muscle in tight turns, but rewarding me with feel and quick centering action.

"If you are a driver of normal skills, you can have an awful lot of fun. If you are very well trained and familiar with taking a car around a high-performance race track, it is also very, very rewarding," said Lotus U.S. sales and marketing manager Mark O'Shaughnessy.

The base Lotus Elise is $39,985, with AM-FM-CD stereo, a/c, cloth and leather bucket seats, ABS and manual windows. About 85 percent of buyers are opting for the $1,350 Touring Pack, with full leather seats, power windows, better AM-FM-CD/MP3 player, double-insulated soft top, more sound deadening and full carpet. The $2,480 Sport Pack adds lightweight forged alloy wheels, sticky tires and track-tuned suspension. A removable hardtop adds $1,475.
 

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The 1.8-liter Toyota Celica GT-S engine fits like a glove behind the driver and passenger compartment of the Lotus Elise, with 187-hp.
DAN SCANLAN/The Times-Union
 

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Bottom line -- the car was an absolute delight to drive on the track, safe and predictable in the rain, with many grins per lap, perfect power (1 hp per 10 pounds) to weight ratio, and an exotic look and feel that belies its reasonable price. There is comfortable room for one on board, cozy for two, and I can't wait to drive one in the Florida sun.
 

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Deeply inset side air intakes feed fresh air into the mid-mounted 1.8-liter Toyota engine in the 2005 Lotus Elise. by Scanlan
 

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The standard interior of the Lotus Elis shows off the aluminum platform that makes the little car so stiff and light, with more alloy visible in the dash and floor supports between the cloth and leather bucket seats.
 

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The article states - The Elise has a driver's air bag, but received a waiver for the passenger side.

I thought the car came with dual airbags?
 

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FACT BOX:
2004 LOTUS ELISE

Specifications:

Vehicle type 2-seat, rear-wheel-drive, mid-engined British roadster

Base price $39,985 (as-tested -- $41,335)

Engine type DOHC, 16-valve

aluminum block in-line four w/VVTL-i

(Variable Valve Timing and Lift intelligence)

Horsepower (net) 190 hp at 7,800 rpm

Torque (lb-ft) 138 at 6,800 rpm

Transmission 6-speed manual

Wheelbase 90.5 in.

Overall length 149 in.

Height 43.9 in.

Front headroom 34.7 in.

Front legroom 43 in.

Trunk capacity 4 cubic feet

behind the engine

Curb weight 1,975 pounds

Fuel capacity 10.6 gallons

Mileage rating 26 mpg city, 33 mpg highway (est.)

Last word This IS my favorite car.
 

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nxm150 said:
The article states - The Elise has a driver's air bag, but received a waiver for the passenger side.

I thought the car came with dual airbags?
I think you can see it in the interior shot above.
 

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That's a great shot of the side vents on the CO car.
 

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i thought the car would sit lower with LSS. how much adjustment do we have with the suspension? Looks like there is an inch or two between the tire and the body.

<img src="http://www.elisetalk.com/forums/attachment.php?s=&postid=54683">
 

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Keep in mind that the Elise is design to have a bit of travel in the suspension and lowering it more will adversely affect that, specially if you start hitting the bump stops under load.
 

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Also, the show cars were lowered as far as they would go merely for looks and were never intended to be driven that way. It's okay Shay, you won't care once you have your car.

One of the great advantages I think the Elise has, is that because of the lightweight, you can run somewhat of a softer setup compared to a 911 GT3. Lotus tests their cars on bumpy roads as part of their road testing. On your favorite B-road, where a GT3 might be bouncing for joy, the Elise may still be handling the bumps and sticking to the road. I might be way out of line in saying this, but it appears this way to me...though I still have no idea how the sport pack will be compared to the standard car.

Do you plan on tracking your car a lot Shay?
 

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shay2nak said:
i thought the car would sit lower with LSS. how much adjustment do we have with the suspension? Looks like there is an inch or two between the tire and the body.

<img src="http://www.elisetalk.com/forums/attachment.php?s=&postid=54683">
adding 175 pounds in the form of a driver (not to mention another 100+ pounds passenger) should drop the car an inch or two.

:D
 
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