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My wife Jill and I spent the week between Christmas and New Years in London this year. As part of my Christmas present we rented an Elise for a weekend. After a lot of research, I arranged the rental through a very helpful guy named Ian Highland at City Inter-Rent, a company that specializes in renting high-end cars. (his email address is [email protected]) Their office is in London, but they arranged for us to pick up the car at Heathrow airport as we were arriving too late to get to their office in the city before closing. We picked up the car from Europcar’s offices at the airport on the Saturday we arrived. I think the folks at Europcar were as excited about having the Laser Blue 111s there as we were. Luggage can be a bit of a problem with the Elise. The trunk can hold a couple of medium sized duffel bags, but that’s about it. I anticipated this and sent ahead our big suitcase with the other couple we were traveling with. The first time you climb into the Elise is also a bit of an adventure. I’d driven the demo car at my dealer, but this was going to be very different. Never in my life have I been so excited about driving a rental car. After a bit of gratuitous ooh-ing and awe-ing, we folded ourselves into the car, and finally sorted out the disabler button on the key so that we could pull out of the rental lot.

I was pleasantly surprised to find the right hand drive Elise even more comfortable to drive than the demo model I’d driven at Newport Beach Lotus. My biggest complaint with the demo was the lack of room for my big feet, and the tight fit of my knee between steering wheel and shift knob. (For reference, I’m 6’-2”, 220 lbs, 36” waist, 34” inseam, size 13+ shoes) These issues are totally absent for me on the right hand drive car. This has everything to do with the fact that 5th gear is the only time the shift knob gets close to the wheel, and your left leg isn’t used a lot when you’re cruising on the freeway. I quickly figured out the position my feet needed to be in to hit one pedal at a time, and to rest my left foot on the dead pedal. The first time I hit the brakes I also brushed the throttle, but a quick repositioning of the heel sorted that out.

Pulling out of the rental agency lot didn’t require the attendant to lift the security gate, as the Elise can easily drive right underneath it. Out of the lot and onto the street I eased into the throttle and quickly lit up both rear tires. Uh-oh. Just think folks, this is a base model 111s with two adults and some luggage. On the other hand, temps were in the low 30’s. Can you say cold tires? Care would be required. I’ve driven in the UK and New Zealand several times, including a college semester spent at Cambridge, so I’m quite comfortable driving on the wrong side of the road. Moreover, I felt instantly at home in the Elise. It’s just that kind of car. I had a ’65 Elan, and I never thought I’d experience a car that felt more like an extension of your will than that classic sports car. But somehow, Lotus has done it again. If anything, the Elise is better than everything you’ve heard. Every superlative in every automotive journalist’s vocabulary is inadequate. Driving the Elise is like having a sixth sense. The chassis is so communicative, and the controls are such a pleasure to use that you find yourself being a bit of a hooligan without thinking. You’re always driving a bit too fast because the car sucks you into a sense of confidence, and rewards you for exploiting its potential. It gives you plenty of warning when things start getting out of hand, and its small size and light weight mean it reacts instantly to the finest input. I really can’t convey to you in words how good this car is. Ok, there’s a little more wind noise than my M3, and it’s a bit awkward to get in and out with the top on, but once in, it’s quite roomy with the wide sills giving the feeling of a large open cockpit. This means that the seats are closer together of course, and while this is fine with my wife sitting beside me, it might be tiresome if I was driving around with a NFL linebacker in the passenger seat. The driving position is perfect for me. The steering wheel is well placed, the shifter falls nicely to hand, even the wrong hand, the pedals are well placed for heel & toe shifting, and the seats are very comfortable even for hours at a time. I have no trouble imagining this as my daily driver, and the US cars should be even easier to live with as they’ll have better stereos and a/c. The heater and defroster were up to the task, even with temps in the 30’s, so that’s not a concern for this Californian.

We drove from the airport to the city through lots of traffic. This was quite interesting in the Elise. You’ll all be thrilled to know that the new MINI is HUGE compared to an Elise. Parked in traffic next to one is like being parked next to a SUV in my ’95 M3. Jill would like to add that at one point she found herself looking up at the door handle of an original Mini… cool.

The Elise is a head-turner even in London, causing people on the street to stop and take our picture. Jill did her best to hide the map whenever she saw cameras pointed our way. People in other cars were constantly sneaking peeks, and at one point we had a teenage boy hanging out the window of a car to stare and take photos.

The next morning, we drove about 45 minutes south of the city to a little town called Okham and met up with about 35 SELOC members. SELOC has quickly become the premier Elise club in the UK, with a great web presence, terrific forums, and a truly wonderful group of people. Most in attendance were driving Elises with an old Europa and a new Esprit thrown in for variety. They were genuinely nice people, very welcoming and enthusiastic, and seemed almost as excited to have a couple of Yanks along as we were to be there. Jill and I can’t say enough about how thrilled we were to get to know some of these folks and experience their hospitality first hand.

Did you know that it's standard for rental agencies in England to give you the car almost empty? Me neither. But it was, and the Elise doesn't have a normal gas gauge, it has a digital readout telling you how many liters of fuel are remaining. This is a minor detail that’s slightly obscured by your enthusiasm the first time you drive the car. So I had 8L left when I arrived at the meeting point, and thankfully someone asked if everyone had a full tank. They were kind enough to point out how I could tell, and then to send me straight to the nearest petrol station. Beau, the organizer looked at the route map and told us where to rejoin the group a few miles into the drive. After a quick drivers meeting in which Beau asked everyone to be careful as the nice weather (high 30’s but sunny) meant there would be a lot of people out and about. Then everyone jumped in their cars and headed off down the road, Jill and I to find petrol, and everyone else the other direction following the course notes.

Here’s a quick sample:

Continue up the hill.

At the top turn LEFT at the signpost for Peaslake, Ewhurst, you'll see a red letter box at this junction.

Continue along this road for about a mile. At a ‘Give Way’ sign, turn RIGHT and head over the railway bridge.

Do not take the left fork that is immediately after the bridge.
Continue along the road for about 7km to Ewhurst, watching out for the section midway that turns into a narrow 'mini gorge' as it travels through the woods. In the summer this road turns into a green tunnel - but in the winter, you'll observe that it is a distinct 'muddy brown' in colour.
At Ewhurst, you arrive at a mini roundabout. Turn LEFT onto the Ockley Road.(it's the B2127, but I don't think it's signposted)
Follow this lovely road East for 4km to Forest Green.


Anyway, about 20 minutes later we’re blasting down tiny country roads, some just one lane wide with pull-outs for passing on-coming cars. Jill is doing her best to scream the course notes at me with her post-holiday laryngitis, and I'm thinking to myself that we should pull over and wait because we must be in front of them. There’s no way all those cars could have gotten this far along so quickly… So I pull over at a little red phone booth and call Beau’s mobile phone. Sure enough, they’re about five minutes ahead. I blast off, sure I’ll catch them up soon. About ten minutes later I spot a group of five Elises pulled over to the side of the road and I tuck in behind. Apparently someone else made a wrong turn and they were kind enough to stop and wait for us. Everyone piled back into their cars and set off again, but this was no cruise through the country, these guys were hauling serious ass, and I was working hard to keep on their tails. They're passing slower cars on small country roads, and twice we came around a bend to find a horse and rider on the road. Holy ****! Compounding problems is the fact that I'm in a base model S2 and the group in front of me were in modified S1's all experienced drivers in cars they know on a route they've driven before. I loved every minute of it, enjoying the car, the beautiful scenery, and the speed. Jill was less thrilled with the speed and would have preferred more time looking at the scenery than the crazy course notes, but she knew I was having the time of my life. We got stuck behind some strange cars, (remember the Nissan Figaro?) drove through some great little towns, and down some amazing roads, finally arriving at the sea shore at Hayling Island two hours later. A small resort town near Portsmouth, Hayling Island has a sea-side carnival type atmosphere with a rollercoaster, arcade and games. We enjoyed a full English breakfast at the suddenly crowded snack bar and spent an hour or more bench-racing with our new friends. Once everyone had filled their bellies we climbed the stairs to the second floor above the arcade where wonder of wonders we found a go-kart track. Tim Baker, owner of Lakeside Engineering and a very fast Yellow S1 was kind enough to treat us all to a round of kart racing. These guys take this stuff very seriously and the no-bumping rule was the first thing thrown out the window. It was all in good fun, and I promise to be more competitive next time! The drive back home to London was spent mostly on the motorway and so pretty uneventful, but the car was comfortable at freeway speeds for over an hour. It’s just as composed in that environment as it is blasting along country roads, and bumping along in city traffic.

Great people, great car, great fun.

Honestly, it was one of the best automotive experiences of my life, and one I hope we can duplicate once this terrific little car reaches the states.

Robert Puertas
SELOC Member #2548
& future Elise owner
 

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Excellent report Robert. Glad you both had a blast.

It was great to meet you and Jill and hopefully any other US friends who are this side of the water will take the chance to pop along to a SELOC meet if it fits in.

As for sterotypes the only one you reinforced is that Americans who know there is life outside the US are fun, friendly people ;) :)
 

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Robert -

If you don't mind me asking - how much did it cost to rent the Elise.

My wife and I are thinking about going to England this summer to celebrate our 25th anniversary - and renting an Elise to tour around in would be a nice enhancement!
 
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