The Lotus Elise is one of the most no-nonsense sports cars you can buy today. However, newer alternatives with more technology are much better value.
The Lotus Elise has been around since 1996 and its latest update was back in 2011 – the fact it’s still very relevant today is a testament to the good job of the Lotus engineers. However, it’s now priced, especially in mid-range trim, very similarly to sports cars such as the BMW M240i and Ford Mustang, which are much better suited to daily driving.
Your first clue that Lotus has gone for the focused approach with the Elise is looking at the interior. Well, there’s not much of it – you get seats, a steering wheel, a stereo and some fairly flimsy door cards. The rest is either non-existent or optional – you can’t get a touchscreen infotainment system in the Lotus Elise, for instance, while even floor mats are an option.
The spartan interior might turn you off if you’re used to pairing your smartphone as soon as you get in your car, but the benefit of even sound deadening being an option is that the Elise is light. Very light indeed. It weighs about 900kgs and to put that into perspective that’s roughly half as much as the BMW M5 weighs.
The light weight of the Elise has many benefits, chief among which is the Elise’s incredible agility around corners and an eagerness to turn that alternatives can only hope to match. The ease with which the Elise stops is another benefit of weight reduction and so is the relatively impressive fuel economy – you can expect 35mpg, something a Ford Mustang can only dream of.
The Elise made great sense when it came out over 20 years ago, but each year alternatives have been getting better and most have surpassed it on usability.
There are drawbacks, however, and some of them do stem from weight reduction. There is a considerable amount of wind noise even at moderate speeds and the stereo struggles to overpower it. Also, to extract the best of the entry-level engine you need to rev it hard which might get tiresome if all you want is to keep up with traffic.
The basic engine for the Elise is a tried and tested 1.6-litre from Toyota so it should give you few headaches when it comes to reliability. The engine is paired with a quick-shifting six-speed manual gearbox that is enjoyable but not quite the most satisfying to use among alternatives. There is also a 220hp 1.8-litre engine, also sourced from Toyota, but that pushes the price up quite far.
Which brings us onto arguably the Elise’s biggest fault – its price. In isolation, spending around £35,000 on something with the performance of the Elise sounds like a bargain, but bare in mind that things like air-con are optional. Remember you can have a BMW M240i for a similar amount of money and have all the technological advancements of the last 20 years as part of the standard equipment.
So it’s not that the Elise is a bad car – certainly not when it comes to driving quickly – but instead it has failed to move with the times. For those predominantly using one for track days, that’ll be exactly why they buy one. For the majority who drive their sports car every day, a newer, more comfortable, better-equipped alternative will be more attractive.