The Lotus Elise is unlike any other car on the road. It's also better than any other car on the road in a lot of ways. One reason is that it weighs less than 2000 pounds, due to a unique construction of aluminum honeycomb panels and structural adhesive. Yes, glue, but don't worry, the Elise actually has one of the stiffest structures out there. The curb weight includes the optional 15-pound touring pack, which adds leather seats, power windows, interior carpet, stereo, and extra padding on the soft top. We could have saved that extra weight and more with the optional sport pack, which drops 20 pounds due to lighter wheels, but that would also mean kidney-crushing track-ready Bilstein shocks. Anyway, the Miata-sized Elise only has 10.5 pounds per horsepower, nearly the same as a 390-hp Jaguar XKR convertible.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves here, because there's a whole lot about the Elise that kicks ass. Start with the looks. Oh, God, the looks. Car/woman analogies may be clichés, but it's damn near impossible to look at the Elise and not compare the curves, the pinched waist, and the pert rear to, uh, curves, a pinched waist, and a pert rear. Even more like the fairer sex, there are things just below the surface that hint at the car's menace. Check out the giant scallops in the hood for the radiator and the bare aluminum throughout the interior. Okay, maybe bare aluminum can't be considered menacing-unless, of course, someone is about to hit you with a piece.
Don't just take our word for it-everyone else thinks the Elise looks good, too. Crowds gather around when you park it in the street. Sadly, the second-most frequent question (after "What is it?") is "Does it corner like it's on rails?" Yes, as a matter of fact, it does corner like it's on rails. Also it has pedals like a racecar-they're really close together. And too many people (especially men) associate the Lotus name with the movie Pretty Woman. James Bond, anyone? Formula 1? Please?
But we digress. The bottom of the Elise is covered with aluminum panels, except for a few holes below the engine compartment that help cool the transmission and engine. These holes are not, as some cynics might guess, for oil to drip out of. That's because the U.S.-spec Elise has the 1.8-liter inline-four and six-speed gearbox from Toyota's Celica GT-S. Lotus managed to boost the output 10 ponies up to 190 horsepower.
As you can imagine, the Elise does a lot of things associated with going very fast very well. But before you can drive it, you have to figure out how to get inside. It's not so hard with the top off-you just walk in and slide down into position. With the top on, entry turns into a contest to see if you can prevent pulling your groin without bashing your head on the roof. Getting out of the car is another adventure, so let's just say you'd probably rather stay in the car. Once inside, the giant doorsill that hinders entry turns into a nice armrest. There's nothing to rest your right hand on, except maybe your passenger's leg, which is almost as close as the shifter. The rest of the Elise's interior is a shining example of British craftsmanship. By that we mean it's both brilliant and shoddy, like the almost-perfect seats and a few plastic bits that would shame a car that costs half as much.
Cheap plastic, though, is about the last thing on your mind once you hit the start button and get moving. The throttle pedal seems like it's wired straight to your motor cortex. This may also be because the engine is so loud that it feels like it's between your ears, even though it's located a few inches aft. Driving the Elise is a unique experience. And that's in part because of the low weight, which, combined with the car's laser-like sporting focus, is much of the reason why we're willing to accept all the shoddiness and the relatively high price. It's not a lot of car for the money, and one reason the car is so light is because it's incredibly freaking small. Darting through traffic in the Elise makes the behemoth Hummers and Navigators that populate our freeways seem like lumbering dinosaurs. We'd like to see the looks on the faces of other drivers as we pass by, but the view from inside the Elise is a constant spectacle of door handles and license plates.
Another reason the Elise provides such an incredible driving experience is its unassisted steering, which reads the road well enough for Helen Keller to drive-if she weren't both blind and dead. That's not to say it's all easy. The engine needs to be kept revving to produce any real thrust, and things like matching revs on a downshift take some practice to get right. The Elise is also one of the few cars that will allow you to get into a lot of trouble if you don't drive it properly. There's no traction control or electronic stability system to save your stupid ass. Standard ABS at least prevents your numb foot and cloudy cortex from locking up the brakes. But the fact that the Elise actually demands something of the driver is a refreshing change from the point-and-shoot sports cars to which we've grown accustomed.
So yes, the Elise has some faults, but they're pretty irrelevant compared with driving (or heck, even looking at) this fine automobile. But, anybody who's going to complain about the Elise doesn't want one anyway. We'll tell you right now that, despite looking like a cheap Erector set, the top works fine and the trunk (behind the engine) holds more than you'd think-at least if you're thinking it won't fit much. Actually, the Elise's shortcomings, in some ways, make it a better car. The Elise is honest about what it is, and it's possibly the only pure sports car left in the world. And that's why we love it.
Pretty typical article on the Elise, very very few people have driven a car that handles and performs like the Elise. And, when they do it is a revelation. I have allowed a couple of friends to drive my car and they can't believe how direct it is. Of course once I let them drive the Elise I let them try the Seven which is even more basic and direct then the Elise. LOA should put me on commision.