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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
on line site has most of the text but lacks the overview of the elise that is in print

what is online:
Driving heaven, commuting hell Yowza, what fun to pilot, but impossible to live with

By James R. Healey
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Blinding rain swept the racetrack, wiping out all but a suggestion of taillights on the car ahead, driven hard by a pro showing the proper path.
Faster and faster the lead car went, pushing 100 mph on the soaked straightaway of the Barber Motorsports track here. Keeping up was beyond exciting.
But the tiny Lotus Elise test car inspired confidence, feeling at home lapping faster and faster as the track got wetter and slicker, the car's Yokohama tires squeeging water to provide a contact patch for the rubber.
It was an impressive first date with Elise.
Routine driving around home in Virginia in a different Elise showed that, even in regular traffic, the car's a gas. But just getting behind the wheel is, itself, an absurd challenge. And putting up with the other privations is beyond consideration for the sane.
The tall, wide side sills that help keep the low-slung two-seater rigid mean that only gymnasts from former Soviet republics can get into and out of the Elise when the cloth patch that passes for a top is on. When the top's off, normal people can enter by stepping over the sill, standing on the seat and sliding into place. The top and supporting bows remove, rather than fold, and stow in the trunk.
Getting out when the top's removed involves grabbing the top of the windshield and hoisting yourself up, then stepping onto or over the wide door sill. Getting out when the top is on resembles the way NASCAR drivers exit their race cars through the windows, only it's not that easy or graceful.
The office's automotively savvy Car Babes (their self-chosen moniker) found Elise ridiculous and unlikely to appeal to women, especially those who favor skirts.
Inside the tight cockpit, you're confronted with a steering column and pedals that don't adjust. The driver's seat slides back and forth; everything else is fixed in place.
Legroom is long, but narrow. People with wide feet or big shoes might have to drive in their socks to avoid slamming two pedals simultaneously.
Noise is pervasive. Some is good, such as the lusty engine shooting to 8,500 rpm. But much is bad. The howl from the engine's cooling system up front is especially odious.
But what fun awaits.
Elise, first new Lotus model sold in the USA since 1991, is true to the company's mantra of ''performance through light weight.''
A midsize car weighs about 3,300 pounds. Elise is less than a ton.
It shoots to 60 miles an hour from standstill in less than 5 seconds -- Ferrari and Porsche territory -- propelled by nothing more exotic than a Toyota 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine driving the rear wheels through a Toyota six-speed manual transmission.
The engine, properly warm, loves life above 6,000 rpm, where it slams you back in the seat as if a second engine just kicked in. Until warmed up, the engine-control nanny cuts fuel at about 6,000 rpm, to prevent abuse.
Manual steering -- no power assist is available -- feels a little heavy at low speed, but just about perfect underway. It communicates the link between the car and the road splendidly. Even the steering in other sports cars feels artificial and sloppy after a couple of days driving the Elise, alas.
The gearshift moves almost automatically among the gears, as if it's reading your mind. The brake, clutch and gas pedals are properly arrayed for graceful moves.
Marring the effect:
* Phony ''backbone.'' What looks like a structural metal spine bisecting the interior, front-to-back, is cosmetic, to enhance the race-car look and feel.
* Flimsy pieces. What you expect to be a robust housing surrounding the shifter wiggles and moves. The lid that covers the engine compartment and trunk flops and twists when you raise it to check the oil or stow the fabric top. The prop rod that holds the lid erect bends with slight pressure.
* Quality issues. A plastic cover on the floor popped off. A screw-hole cover was misshapen. Plastic was discolored at an air intake.
Elise is for the driver who has access to racetracks now and then, or is nimble of body, youthful of spirit and mindless of inconvenience. Putting up with Elise's edgy, demanding persona is a way to declare that you're still a rough and ready road rogue.
You're not, of course, but when Elise is running hard, you'd swear you broke the reality barrier.
Where Lotus has been, and where it's going
Lotus is a small-volume, English car company respected for its emphasis on purist-level sports cars and admired -- even hired by other automakers -- for its engineering acumen, especially regarding suspensions.
Little known in the USA outside the auto-enthusiast community, Lotus has been selling just one model here, the $95,000 Esprit, at a rate of about 100 a year. Esprit production was discontinued in February, but some remain at U.S. dealerships.
The $40,000 Elise will be the company's only U.S. model for a while. Others are under consideration, but Lotus is mum on details.
Founded by Anthony Colin Bruce Chapman in 1952 as Lotus Engineering, the company produced lively road cars and, starting in the 1960s at the hands of drivers Sterling Moss, Jim Clark and Graham Hill, winning race cars.
After Chapman died in 1982, Lotus attracted a series of owners. General Motors bought Lotus in 1986 for $32 million, kept a piece and sold the main automaking unit in 1993 to a holding company controlled by Italian businessman Romano Artioli, who also owned the Bugatti car company.
Malaysian automaker Proton, part-owned by the Malaysian government, acquired 80% of Lotus in 1998 and is the current owner. Proton is an acronym for Perusahaan Otomobil Nasional.[
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