2005 Lotus Elise
<table border=1><tr><td align=center colspan=2>2005 Lotus Elise
</td></tr><tr><td>Engine</td><td>1.8 liter 4-cylinder</td></tr><tr><td>Horsepower</td><td>190</td></tr><tr><td>Torque</td><td>138 lb feet</td></tr><tr><td>0-60 mph</td><td>4.8 seconds</td></tr></table>
Say the name Lotus and automotive purists think of simple, lightweight sports cars, cars that over the years have evolved into true exotics, like this Esprit S4, complicated in style and substance. That is until 1996 when Lotus introduced the Elise, a sports car that harkens back to founder Colin Chapman's seminal ideas of simplicity and light weight. And now that the Elise is finally available in America, it's time to find out if those values still hold true.
We spent our time doing preliminary testing on the 2005 Lotus Elise at Birmingham, Alabama's Barber Vintage Motorsports Park. And while it has taken Lotus over eight years to bring an Elise to our shores, the wait appears to be well worth it.
The basic shape of Elise hasn't changed since MotorWeek drove a European spec car back in 1997.With its short 90.5 inch wheel base, the distinctively styled Elise is an extremely compact, clean, and sexy package. Out back the US spec Elise is discernable by its closely grouped, twin exhaust pipes, centered between aero diffusers.
And those pipes expel gas from what proves to be the biggest change since we tested the first Elise. Gone is the weak-kneed Rover powerplant, replaced by the strong and reliable Yamaha engineered 1.8 liter Toyota 4-cylinder derived from the Celica. With its twin cams, variable valve and lift control, it delivers 190 horsepower and 138 pound-feet of torque with a Lotus designed engine management system. The Toyota sourced 6-speed transaxle has well placed gearing, perfectly matched to the torque curve. Our one complaint is that the shifter, while improved over the first Elise, is still vague and notchy.
And since the featherweight Elise tips the scales at under 2,000 pounds, the high revving powertrain makes for one rapid takeoff. One reason for the light weight of the Elise is its extruded and bonded chassis tube which weighs in at only 150 pounds. Combined with a body constructed with a closed mold composite material and you have more real weight savings than a room full of Jenny Craig clients.
Interior ergonomics are well, what can we say? it's a pretty tiny sports car. The Elise sits low, very low. A Miata feels like a 4x4 compared to the Elise. With the top off, one doesn't so much get in as insert one's self into the seat. Once in, the seat is surprisingly comfortable even with minimal adjustments. And while this is a purist sports car, it is a pleasant environment as well. Standard air conditioning makes for a very modern driving experience. The extruded aluminum clutch, brake and gas pedals are not designed for big feet, but the standard 4-wheel disc brakes with ABS will help keep even the most ''clod-footed'' driver out of trouble. Our test vehicle came with the optional ''Touring'' pack which includes a Blaupunkt CD/MP3 player with equalizer. But, true enthusiasts will simply enjoy the sound of the internal combustion symphony playing only inches behind their head.
Of course, as expected out on the track Elise returns a stellar performance. Barber Motorsports Park has many tight, low-speed turns. Elise's broad power band mated with the well-spaced six-speed transaxle makes this an enthusiast playground. Lotus claims this power propels Elise from 0 to 60 in 4.8-seconds, with a top speed of almost 150 miles-per-hour. The Elise, with 16-inch rims in the front and 17-inchers in the back, is also very stable at high speeds. The non-power steering is light and delicate.
Now if high-speed stability is excellent then low-speed agility must suffer, right? Well, no. The precise low-speed steering response and low polar movement of this low weight mid engine design make Elise razor sharp. Even on a tight autocross, we found Elise a blast to drive. Simply point the Elise, grab a gear, and pull the trigger. It's very forgiving. Elise is a shifter cart on steroids.
But with all this on track prowess, how does the Elise work on real world roads? The answer is surprisingly well. Even with its short wheelbase, the ride quality is as comfortable as most small commuter cars. With the top off and the hypnotic sound of the mid-engine at full howl, the Elise is a true reminder of the sheer joy of owning a sports car.
Base price for all this joy, however, is not cheap: $39,985. With the optional Touring Pack, which includes power windows and an upgraded stereo, add $1,350 more. Enthusiasts will likely spend another $2,480 to get the sport pack which includes a track tuned suspension, lightweight wheels, and stickier Yokohama tires.
So, has Lotus managed to take a lightweight British sports car and successfully Americanize it with a dose of Japanese power? You bet! Despite federalization, it retains the nimbleness and response that one expects from a car that has its heritage rooted to the race track. The simple, lightweight 2005 Elise is a car that begs to be driven fast, but does not demand speed to show off its best values. In short, for this Lotus, it's mission accomplished!