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Lotus like rocket much better than the hype

Nauman Farooq | Interrobang   | Sports | June 12th, 2006

This has been a long time coming. I have been reading about the Lotus Elise since the first version hit the European market about 10 years ago. The reviews were nothing but praise for this tiny car.

Then, a handful of years later (2001), a new version hit the market. It was essentially the same old car with some more sinister looking skin, and a new engine.

The engine in those early Elise's (1.8-litre, Rover engine) was one of the reasons the car could not be sold here because it didn't pass the stiff North American emission tests.

However, with Lotus being constantly bugged by customers from America and Canada, they went about revamping the car to meet the safety and emission standards needed for certification. After a long and tedious process the car was finally on sale in America last year, and now they are finally on sale in Canada.

Since they are finally in Canada I couldn't wait to get behind the wheel of one. That's where Gentry Lane, the only authorized Lotus dealer in Ontario came in, and I was finally able to get myself in the drivers seat.

Getting into the actual driver seat is a bit difficult, getting out is even more difficult, especially with the roof on, but that is just trivial stuff, what matters with this car is how it drives.

Afterall, this car's whole cult status is based on the way it drives. I shall start out by saying, the reviews I read about it were not quite right. This car is much better to drive than any review had ever told me.

If I call it sensational, that is an understatement. Thanks to its low weight of just 860kg (that is exactly half the weight of a Maserati Spyder) this car can change directions like a bee.

Also akin to a bee (apart from my test car's paint job) is the way this car zips around. Thanks again to its low weight, it doesn't need a big engine to make it go bonkers fast. All it has for an engine is a mid-mounted 1.8-litre, four-cylinder unit, taken out of a Celica GTS. Thanks to its variable-valve timing system, this engine punches out 190 hp and 138 lb/ft of torque out to the rear wheels. Couple that with what has got to be one of the best six-speed manual transmissions on the planet, and you get one very quick car. This little rocketship will blast you from 0-100km/h in about 4.7 seconds, and top speed is around 240km/h.

Honestly, you'll never need to go that fast to enjoy this car. This car feels fast even at much more decent and legal speeds. The reason behind that is you are in a lightweight, low slung sportscar that is very responsive to your inputs, so everything feels a bit exaggerated. So 100km/h feels like you're doing almost twice that, which is good, it keeps your driving record safe. I wish all cars could feel as exciting to drive as this one does.

As for the handling, the very direct steering, a wonderful chassis and perfectly tuned suspension just lets you have enormous amounts of fun in the corners. The handling is perfectly neutral, doesn't seem to understeer or oversteer, unless provoked. The best way I can describe the whole driving experience is, imagine driving a go-kart on public roads, that's what an Elise feels like.

However, don't think it is also as uncomfortable as a go-kart. Despite low-profile tires, despite a short wheelbase, and despite the low weight, this car rides very well indeed. Sure, the interior is very minimalistic, but that's fine, because you do get everything you'll need. The seats deserve a special mention, because these new ProBack seats are amazing. Not only are they thin and light, but they are very comfortable to sit in, which seems impossible. Honestly, this car can be a good touring car, just remember to pack lightly because the trunk space isn't what you'd call huge.

That is fine also, because this car was built for one purpose and that is to give the driver an experience like non-other, and it does that very well.

It also looks like nothing else on the road. I know beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but to my eye, this even looks great.

There is nothing about this car that would put me off from buying one. Even the price is just right, $59,900 for a base model. Yes, some of you might say that is a lot of money for a small two-seater roadster, but it is a whole lot cheaper than other exotic sports cars. As a driving experience, even a Ferrari 360 Spider cannot beat this little car in my books.

However, you might be saying, this is twice the price of those other new hot roadsters, the Mazda MX5 and the Pontiac Solstice, so is it twice the car?

Well, it is more than twice the car the MX5 is, and it is about six times better than the Solstice, so in other words, no contest really.

I love this car so much, I have made up my mind that one day, I'll have to own an Elise. Don't know when, or how, but I will have one.

It really is that good.
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