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July 2004 edition.

Wheels: Fun in the sun.
Five new convertibles to heat up your summer.
By Lawrence Ulrich.

Lotus Elise

In a world of overweight, overstuffed sports cars, the Elise is a revelation.

England's Lotus is importing its first new model to the U.S. since 1990, and a bamboo raft would suffice to carry this exotic beauty ashore. The tiny Elise gets only 190 horsepower from its 1.8-liter Toyota engine mounted behind the driver but weighs just 1,975 pounds, thanks to its ultralight yet strong aluminum structure. How light is that? A little Mazda Miata roadster weighs over 2,400 pounds, roughly two NFL linebackers more than the Lotus. Such a power-to-weight ratio lets the Elise run from 0 to 60 mph in a fiery 4.9 seconds (while managing 37 highway mpg). More important than pure speed, Lotus' renowned racing and engineering skills produce a car with balance and reflexes akin to a $200,000 Ferrari's. During my testing at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama, the Elise outran a 315-horsepower Porsche 911 around the challenging circuit. It's the rare production car that's truly at home on both street and track.

Yet the question persists: Is the Elise a bargain at $39,995 or an overpriced bauble? Certainly, there are several better-established players around the same price. All are more suited to everyday use, with more accomodations to comfort than the Lotus - a bare-bones go-cart for the street. Lotus is gearing up its 39 U.S. dealers to support the Elise, but it's hard to imagine service as convenient as oil changes for your Civic. Finally, only about 2,200 Elises will reach our shores this initial year. So expect the usual price premium in the giddy early stages.

Bottom line, only fervent, hard-core drivers will want an Elise. After one drive, they'll want it desperately.


LOTUS ELISE
$39,985/$42,130 (BASE PRICE/AS TESTED)

Bragging points: Euphoric performance, exotic styline, purity of purpose.
Nagging points: Rough riding, noisy inside, not for the faint-of-heart.


Article accompanied by photo of yellow Elise.



They also reviewed the PT Cruiser Convertible, Audi S4 Cabriolet, BMW 645Ci Convertible and Mercedes SL600.
 
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