There are few cars built today that offer a uniquely special driving experience. The Lotus Elise does. Here we have a car that has been stripped down to its bare bones for pure driving pleasure. The reaction is simply visceral. This small two-seater forms a special bond with its driver. It is quite delicious.
The Elise is definitely not a car for everyone. It isn’t a pragmatic choice by any stretch of the imagination. It’s extremely low, almost on ground level, so getting in and out is a little tricky. I’d advice against even attempting to do so with the cloth roof in place. It helps to be agile, and not too tall. Your knees need to be in good condition, and having flexible limbs is a big bonus. There is no elegant way of doing this but I found a little hop whilst holding onto the frame works.
Then there is the roof. This small cloth structure is mechanically operated and takes a few takes to master. You unclick the sides, roll it up and store it behind the driver and passenger seats. The problem is that this area is tiny and you need to get the roll as compact as possible to fit it in. Once safely inside, the bucket seats are surprisingly comfy; they hug the frame and as I was to discover first hand whilst in the passenger seat, are the perfect car seat for a power nap on route.
The stripped down cockpit offers only the bare essentials – there is not much of a glove compartment, the stereo is a simple CD player/radio and the boot is a petit bucket size slot at the rear next to the engine. Yet instead of taking away from the driving experience, the utilitarian interior design – where form really does follow function – only enhances the driving pleasure.
Once I got used to driving so low down – visibility is a little issue for someone of my 5”2 stature – the Elise really connects with the road. You feel every bump, every stone, every spec of dirt… but that only adds value to the adventure. Turn the engine on and the Elise S starts with a lovely sounding roar. The steering is unassisted and responsive, the suspension pretty obedient for a light, low car like this. You can have a great deal of fun on snaky B-road where we took the car for a drive.
The sportier S version we drove is powered by a 1.8-litre Toyota four-cylinder assisted by a supercharger. Power is at 217bhp with 184lb ft of torque at 4,600rpm, which makes it easy to drive the little Lotus quickly. And it’s not too thirsty at 37.5mpg.
The Elise S is a no frills machine that offers pure driving pleasure in a way that some other cars seemed to have forgotten how to do. It is a truly thrilling driving experience.