Lotus Elise S – video review

Forget all the rest, if you really want to experience the art of driving, this is the one

By Shahzad Sheikh

Lotus Elise S – video review

The Lotus Elise is both the smallest of the three-car Lotus line-up and the oldest. Believe it or not, the original Elise came out in 1996, and whilst the body and drivetrain has changed, the extruded aluminium chassis remains pretty much the same. And as always it’s dressed in a fibreglass body (I accidently say ‘carbon fiber’ in the video review below) it makes for an extremely lightweight car – just 924kg.

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Yep, this car weighs less than a thousand kilograms! So if you think that a Toyota-sourced 1.8-litre engine (the 2ZZ-GE unit from the Corolla) is not the right ingredient to make a true driver’s car, you’re wrong. Mix in a supercharger and the 217bhp (20bhp more than a Toyota 86) is good enough to get the little Lotus from standstill to 100kph in 4.6 seconds, and onto a top speed of 234kph.

The motor is mid-mounted in this tiny two-seater (it’s about the footprint of a three-door Mini) feeding the rear wheels through a six-speed close ratio manual gearbox. It’s a targa top with a removable fabric roof (you also get a hardtop) – you unlatch the sides and remove the two supporting rods from in between, then roll it up and store it in the boot (behind the engine) which is big enough for a couple of squishy bags but is too hot to put your groceries in. Replacing the roof back, however, is a fiddly process that takes time.

Lotus Elise S – video review

Minimalist offering

You can’t open the front clamshell, but you do get a tool kit and a tyre repair aerosol should you need it for the 175/55 R16 (front) and 225/45 R17 (rear) Yokohama Advan Neova tyres. Everything about this car is minimalist, so inside you can see the bare aluminium of the chassis in parts; the pull-out cupholder is a ring with a strap; there’s a tray and a couple of bins instead of a glovebox, the wing mirrors have to adjusted by hand and there’s no power assistance for the steering.

Frankly I’m amazed that it has electric windows; cruise control, two USB slots (one in the aftermarket Alpine head unit and one in the passenger side), air-conditioning, buttons for traction control and ‘Sports’ mode (which don’t appear to actually do anything – the former of which you can deactivate unknowingly as you lower leg leans on it!) and… well… lights and wipers even!

Lotus Elise S – video review

In our market you get the Touring pack as standard with optional Sport pack. The former includes leather upholstery for the thinnest seats around, leather on the door and centre console, floor mats, some laughable noise insulation, and the aforementioned cupholder and cruise control. The Sport pack adds those decorative buttons, Bilstein sports dampers, unique wheels and… that’s it.

And for all of this, you pay AED219,900 making it the cheapest car in the Lotus range (the next one up is the 345bhp Exige for an additional AED72k).

Lotus Elise S – video review

Can you live with it?

Well the A/C is brilliant in the evenings and mornings, but struggles a little during the midday-heat when its around 40 degree C, getting in and out over that wide sill requires practice or a complete abandonment of any notion of elegance or dignity, the tinny-sounding stereo sometimes can’t be heard at all, and you have to shout at your passengers over the din, despite the fact that you’re sitting cosier than any other car.

Eventually you won’t say anything at all except for the ‘sorry’ you have to utter each time your hand accidentally slides off the slippery alloy shift lever during an overly enthusiastic downshift, and punches your fellow traveller in the groin. Oops! You didn’t really want to have kids did you Imthishan?

Lotus Elise S – video review

But aside from that, and despite the fact the thick-rimmed small steering wheel is not adjustable, and the one-piece seat slides but doesn’t allow you to adjust the back rest, it’s actually surprisingly comfortable – even for my 6ft 2in frame. In fact the bucket seats are astonishingly supportive and comfortable over long journeys.

All around visibility is a lot better than you have any right to expect from a mid-engined exotic (which is a good thing, because some other drivers won’t notice this little car, so you have to keep an eye on them) and really you’re having too much fun to need a stereo, although at city speeds and constant highway revs it’s just about audible.

Which brings us to the surprisingly ability to cruise – noisiness aside, it rides impeccably, which considering it’s a hard-core sports car is amazing. The suspension is supple and never crashy or harsh, though it will transmit the surface irregularities directly to you – don’t try speaking over painted stripes and you will naturally try to avoid potholes and road ‘surprises’ because, well your bottom is only a few inches away from them!

Lotus Elise S – video review

Around town it is nippy and agile, flits through traffic gaps, snaps up the stingiest of parking slots, and it does get respect and a ‘go’ pass from most other drivers – though you do have to watch out for those paralleling you to get a picture or worst, a selfie!

Personally I maintain that this car is a perfectly usable daily-driver, if you don’t need to carry too much stuff or many passengers around with you, and I would indeed use it all year round. Though admittedly those who are spoilt by modern in-car creature comforts will baulk at the idea. The only other bugbear is that whilst it sips fuel at a rate of just 7.5L/100km (that goes down dramatically during hard driving though) it only has a small AED50 tank, so petrol stops are frequent.

Lotus Elise S – video review

Just drive it

But I’ve left the best for last, and this will also serve as the final verdict on this car. Lotus are the undisputed masters of tuning chassis dynamics on a sportscars and the reason the Elise has endured for nearly 20 years, is because it is the perfect showcase for their remarkable talents. It is set-up and tuned to perfection as a driver’s car.

That is to say, there are few sportsters that offer you the perfect blend of accessible performance and take-it-to-the-limit grip and roadholding in a real-world package. This is pure, unadulterated driving. The steering telegraphs everything you need to know about what’s happening on the move, and as if that wasn’t enough, there’s enough ‘seat-of-the-pants’ sensation to make you feel that your own bum-cheeks are indeed skimming along the tarmac bare, just enough for you to detect every ridge and ripple in the road texture.

Lotus Elise S – video review

At the back the tyres are pinned down with unerring stickiness and the front introduce understeer only to keep you safe and cue you for a slight lift-off and tuck-in. Heel and toe can be a little tricky as footwell room is limited. Best of all though, is that all the fun happens within licence-retaining distance of the speed-limit and with far less risk of a destructive and catastrophic end to your reverie – which so often might be the case in faster, more powerful and more expensive metal.

So basically you can be going slower, but being more involved, having a bigger laugh and gaining more satisfaction than any new Ferrari owner on any road in a Lotus Elise. That’s the miracle of this car. It proves fundamentally that less is more – light is right.

If you’re not one for posing and gizmos and gadgets and cooled seats, but proper back-to-basics driving is what you crave, then get down to Trading Enterprises in Dubai and take this Lotus for a drive – you’ll probably ended up signing on the dotted line and ordering one straight after!

Lotus Elise S – video review

Lotus Elise S – The Specs

Prices: AED219,900 ($60k)
Engine: 1.8-litre 4-cyl supercharged, 217bhp @ 6800rpm, 184lb ft @ 4600rpm
Performance: 4.6secs 0-100kph, 234kph, 7.5L/100km
Transmission: Six-speed manual, mid-engined, rear wheel drive
Weight: 924kg

You really think you can’t love a Lotus? Tell us why below!

2 responses to “Lotus Elise S – video review”

  1. Rakan Alqahtani says:

    Alsalam Alikum brother Shahzad,

    I love your youtube cannel and I watch all your car reviews and one of the best is the review on this goergious Elise. Thanks for your great effort. If you don’t mind, could you please give me the contact info of the owner of this Lotus because I would like to ask him some questions about his car and the experince of owning an Elise, an email will be fine.

    Best Regards and Eid Mubarrak,
    Rakan Alqahtani

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