2 Oct 2015

Lotus Elise S2 Review

My day to day car is a 2015 Volvo XC60 which I love dearly. It's comfortable, sips diesel as if from a thimble and has a crystal clear and extremely powerful sound system. But when it comes to thrills n'spills it's only average.

I also have a motorcycle, a Triumph Street Triple, which I bought brand new in 2011 and which has 8,000 miles on the clock. 2,000 miles a year might not seem much but it isn't bad for a bike. I love the Triumph and ride it often, and it provides thrills n'spills in ample quantities.

But I'd been hankering for something else. I'd been hankering for a Porsche 911.

The 911 had always been my dream car. The object of my affection. My ultimate driving machine (to pinch a phrase from another of ze Germans). And 911s of the 90s era are seriously cheap.

You can bag a 996 911 for £8,000. Eight grand! That buys you a dark blue, rear engined speed machine with fried eggs for headlights, no glove box and an interior the colour of baby shit.

I wanted one. But then I remembered that 911s of that era come with a special engine that explodes itself to pieces unless you take it to a Porsche specialist and pay him many thousands of pounds to take the engine apart and build it as Porsche should have done in the first place.

So I didn't want a 911 any more.

And anyway my son said I was stupid if I didn't buy a Lotus Elise. He said the Elise is the best looking car ever made and that Lotus is the best car company ever. My son is 13 and when he was 11 he was driven round the Lotus test track at high speed in an Exige by a man called Darren, who is Lotus's senior engineer. He may be somewhat biased.

But he was right. I bought a Lotus Elise and it is the best car ever made.

The reasons for this are many but can be summarised in just one statistic. If you were to strap my motorcycle on to my Elise the combined weight of the resulting six wheeled monstrosity would be less than one single, measly Mazda MX5.

My 2002 Elise has the bog standard Rover K-Series 1.8 litre engine, manually winding windows, a passenger seat that is bolted to the floor and an accelerator pedal modelled on the head of a pin and as such it weighs 720kg.

The Street Triple weighs 160kg. A Mazda MX5 of any age weighs more than 1,000kg. Fat, lardy bastard thing.

A bog standard £8k Porsche 911 weighs 1,350kg. That's almost double what the Elise weighs.

This lack of weight is felt everywhere. For a start it is felt whilst sitting in it. It is felt in the extremely thinly cushioned seat, which adjusts about 4 inches backwards and forwards - and that's it.

The seat is supportive and lends itself well to spirited driving, which is something the Elise excels at. The cast aluminium Rover 4-pot chucks out a measly 115bhp but this is plenty enough as it hurls the Lotus from 0-60 in 5.6 seconds.

You need to be good at changing gear to match that though. The gearbox is the Elise's worst feature. It doesn't like being hurried. Get it right though and acceleration is supremely swift.

The driving position is snug. The car is essentially an aluminium bathtub chassis on to which a GRP body is glued. The chassis dictates everything about the shape of the car and where you fit in it. The sills are high and wide (which makes getting in and out comically difficult) and the footwell narrows to almost nothing where your feet should go.

You need to be friendly with your passenger as your elbows will overlap, and neither of you had better bring any luggage. The boot (behind the engine) is tiny and the storage space in the cabin pretty much non-existent.

The steering wheel doesn't adjust (did you really think it would?) but it, the pedals, the gearstick and the seat align themselves in such a way you wouldn't want to change any of them - unless you were quite tall or quite short in which case the Elise isn't the car for you. Go buy a lardy old Porsche, freak.

Fire up the engine and you realise it wasn't tuned to make a great noise. It's just there and sounds about as good as  the same unit in a Rover 45.

The first time you pull away you drive like an 89 year old with arthritic feet who's forgotten his glasses. The throttle needs a hefty push, the clutch bite point is hard to find.

Tune yourself to the car some more and getting away from the line becomes easier, but expect a degree of pogoing when in a traffic jam.

The steering has no assistance but doesn't feel like it needs any. The front tyres are quite narrow and did I mention how light the car is? The brakes don't have any assistance either, but you do sometimes wish they did.

Aside from pulling away from a standstill driving the Elise is a doddle - as long as you aren't an 89 year old with arthritis, or aren't freakishly tall or short. Or aren't too fat to fit in it.

The steering is light and wonderfully fluid. The Elise is legendary in this regard and with good reason. Quite simply it is sensational. You feel every undulation of the road yet the compliant suspension irons out irregularities. Darren did an amazing job when he engineered Mr Chapman's legacy.

The engine doesn't make much noise or power but it doesn't need to. The Elise is fast everywhere. Visibility is great and the controls are the most intuitive of any car I've ever driven.

The brakes are wonderfully competent and deliver great feel, although you need to push hard on the pedal to make them work. The discs are drilled and never give up their bite, even after many miles of hard driving.

The roof is a canvas affair that rolls up and lives in the boot when you're not using it. Putting it in place takes around 2 minutes. It is a bit of a pain in the arse. With the roof off the Elise feels light and airy and wonderful and lovely and fun. With the roof on the Elise feels very, very snug. Almost claustrophobic if you suffer from that kind of thing.

You remain dry until it rains. You'll stay dry if you drive at under 50mph. Above that and the roof's limitations are revealed. Water enters at the top of the windscreen - the traitorous roof lifts to expose your dry head - and proceeds to pelt you in the face with water at high speed. This is funny the first time it happens. After that you resolve not to drive your Lotus in the wet.

I bought my Lotus Elise as a plaything. I do drive it whenever I can. It is impractical but it has proved to be reliable. I have as much fun driving it as any car I've driven (quite a lot). I like it a lot and so would you if you bought one, and weren't built in such a way as you couldn't fit in it.

By Matt Hubbard