We've all read the reviews, watched the videos, and cast our judgement about the Lotus Elise. I'm not ashamed to admit that I have been right there in the mix, with my horsepower figures and reasoning while riding my couch, keyboard in hand discussing the ins and outs of the Elise.
The car has been around for some time in the American market. Long enough that we've all seen one or two motoring around. Not long enough though for me to hide my excitement when I found out we bought one at auction though. To top it off, this was the extremely rare 06 Lotus Sport Elise model with only 50 being imported to the states. It features Ohlins dampers with remote reservoirs, a cat-back exhaust (that is loud as a banshee wail), and a 5 point harness looped through the awesome ProBax seats. It also has air conditioning which actually works and was a necessity the day I drove it.
Most of you know that I am 6'4 and at that height, I am somewhat limited to what sports cars I can drive and enjoy. I have a hard time getting comfortable in a newer SL500 and a 993 is only comfortable for short trips. It stands to reason that I would never consider, let alone fit in an Elise. Well, truth be told, I never cared for the little car until I had the chance to drive one. There is a video out there of me getting in and out of this car. It's a sight to behold. Not a good sight either. I left the top on for the time I drove it as it's not an easy top to remove.
Once in the car, you notice that everything is in close reach. The wheel sits in your lap. The shifter is just off your right leg. The passenger window crank is, well, right there as well. It's a tight cabin, but hey, Colin Chapman wasn't in the mood for racing Buick sedans.
It's a stark cabin once you wedge yourself in between the frame rail, steering wheel, and the teeny tiny opening in the the cockpit. Once you're in though, it's a great fit. The floor is flat and you are sitting on it in that wonderful ProBax bucket seat that is at that perfect angle. The steering wheel is perfectly positioned and is probably the smallest wheel in current production. The gauges are a little chintzy but the darn thing is British and we all know the old adage: the Brits drink warm beer because they have Lucas refrigerators.
The first thing I do is hit the gas station. I know the car is a featherweight with a Toyota based powerplant so I get $15 and it gives the car half a tank. This makes me feel pretty happy until I realize that this means the gas tank is small, really small. No matter though as the mileage is pretty stellar for such a sporty car.
Now that the car is warmed up, I can exercise the throttle past 6000 rpm. The variable valve lift is inoperable until the engine is warmed up sufficiently but when this engine comes on, it's like an S2000 on a big diet. The noise goes from a sporty car to an uncorked race car over 6500, thanks in part to the sport exhaust. The cool part is that when the car is in 6th gear on the freeway, you can roll in to the throttle and move at a pretty decent pace. Downshift a couple gears though, and the Toyota block with the Yamaha designed head is downright quick.
I drive a ton of neat cars home. Cars that cost over $100k new some times. This car cost less than half of that new but it's the only car that the kids in my neighborhood flocked to look at when it landed in the driveway.
It's an exotic looking and acting car. It has an attitude that is far nastier than cars twice its cost. Sure, it needs another 50 ponies and some wider rear tires to counter the lift-throttle oversteer but that's what the Exige is for. Could you buy a used 911 C4S, SL55 AMG, or Corvette Z06 for the mid-$30's pricetag? Yup. Can your neighbor. Yup. Can he buy a Lotus Sport Elise. Nope. With only 50 imported in 06, he's not ever going to find one.