Lotus Elise – The Economical Petrol Sports CarMay 10, 2011
The Lotus Elise’s 45 mpg, equating to emissions of 149 g/km CO2, makes it the most economical petrol sports car. Yet it can also accelerate from 0-62 mph in 6.5 seconds, and go on to a top speed of 127 mph. This car is all about perfectly balanced mid-engined handling and the ability to have huge amounts of fun – within legal speed limits of course.
Model/Engine size: 1.6 litre Valvematic Dual VVT-I
Fuel economy combined: 45 mpg
Beating Spirit rating: 9/10
The Lotus Elise combines fuel economy of 45 mpg with fantastic mid-engined handling, but with its new, smaller engine, can it beat a twin-engined go-kart in a race?
Road Testing the Lotus Elise – plus some track time!
The secret to both the handling and the efficiency of the Elise is the light weight of the car; it registers just 876 kg on the scales. Try and find other cars that weigh under one tonne and you’ll struggle. Most cars will probably be closer to 1500 kg, or more. It’s the light weight that means that fun can be had in the Elise with just a 1.6-litre Toyota engine – which is 200cc smaller than the previous unit. There are certainly other engines, particularly turbocharged units, that are easier to extract performance from, but when you get the Elise between 5000 and 7000 rpm, the performance is impressive for such a relatively small powerplant. Thankfully, the brakes are also excellent.
The Elise comes with a new six-speed gearbox, and sixth gear is ideal for keeping the revs down on motorway runs. The terms ‘Elise’ and ‘motorway runs’ sound incompatible. Surely such a car is a hugely uncomfortable place to be if you’re covering lots of miles? Well, we covered 1500 miles during our week with the car, with trips between places as distant as Norfolk, Cheshire and Bath, and the Elise proved that both its suspension and seats were much more comfortable than most people would imagine. The suspension does an excellent job of planting the car to the road through high-speed corners, whilst also offering a sufficiently compliant ride in normal driving conditions.
The seats look so thin that you’d expect to have backache after a drive to the local shops. Yet after a number of four-hour drives, getting out of the car was never accompanied by any aches or pains. This is due to a well-designed driving position (even though there is no steering wheel adjustment and no seat height adjustment), and a well-designed seat that supports your back in the correct way. After being reminded how heavy most car seats are when lifting the rear seats out of a Skoda Yeti recently, the seats in the Elise show how other manufacturers can learn from Lotus’s approach to design to ensure components are lightweight yet also fit for purpose.
Of course you do need a degree of suppleness to clamber in and out over the very high sill of the Elise, especially with the roof in place. The roof can be easily removed, and again, being small and lightweight, it can be stored in a very small space behind the seats.
The interior reflects the whole point of the car, and Lotus’s philosophy – if it’s not needed to enhance the driving experience, then it’s not there. This results in a cockpit in which the focus is on putting the driver in the best position to grip the steering wheel, change gear, and reach the pedals. There are a few other items in the interior, such as a radio and heater controls, but not much more. The steering wheel, and the resultant perfect steering experience thanks to having no power assistance, becomes the focus of your life in the interior.
The result of this minimalistic philosophy is an amazingly refreshing direct driving experience compared to virtually all other cars on the road today, most of which have so much extra equipment and electronic systems that it results in the driver being completely insulated from any feeling of contact between the themselves, the wheels and the road. Surely this must be one of the most important issues for all car makers to address along with CO2 reduction – how to make cars more refined without losing the direct feel of real drivers’ machines such as the Elise.
It should be mentioned at this point that the Elise does have some technology that is worth being aware of. Dynamic Performance Management, developed by Lotus in partnership with Bosch, is standard on all Lotus cars sold in Europe. This features the following elements – Corner Brake Control (CBC), Drag Torque Control (DTC), Electronic Stability Control (ESC), Electronic Differential Lock (EDL), and Traction Control System (TCS) – all of which can be switched off, and the following items that can’t be switched off: Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), Hydraulic Brake Assist (HBA), and Electronic Brake Distribution (EBD).
As well as being excellent to drive, the Elise also looks great, especially in red, and the new styling touches such as the rear diffusers add to the visual drama. You might imagine that a car such as the Elise is highly efficient from an aerodynamic point of view, but it actually has a drag coefficient of 0.41– this is 4% better than the previous version, which helps with fuel economy, but thanks to its short length, it is still less aerodynamic than the average family saloon.
Many cars that we test fall short of their official claimed miles per gallon figure in real-life driving; so how did the Elise fare? The car has a 40-litre or 8.8 gallon fuel tank – that’s a theoretical range of 396 miles on one tank. We managed 360 miles on one tank, which equates to 40.9 mpg. This is slightly short of the official 45 mpg, but this was mainly a result of driving on fast motorways, so we think this is a good outcome. We certainly don’t want to see the Elise become weighted down with lots of unnecessary kit, but one thing that we think should be on all cars, the Elise included, is a fuel economy read-out. This may sound a strange request for such a car, but if you get stuck behind lots of slow caravans on your Sunday afternoon drive, at least you can take satisfaction in looking at your fuel consumption read-out and hopefully seeing a 40 mpg plus figure.
So the Elise is a sports car that is great to drive, and it’s also efficient. But surely it has some weak points? Well, practicality is not a strong point of the Elise. It’s not the easiest car to get in and out of, and once you’re in, there’s not much room. You’ll find the gear stick is invariably touching your left leg, and if you also have a passenger, the chances are that there will be a fair bit of body contact with them when trying to change gear.
If you want to go away in the Elise for a weekend then you’ll need to pack very carefully, and use all the corners of the boot to fit luggage in.
In terms of the roof, there’s actually a warning printed on it saying that it’s not intended to be a fully weatherproof, which is a bit of a concern.
In our view the radio is possibly the worst bit of the car, we couldn’t get it to find and stay with any radio station. However the iPod connection helps to makes up for that, although the controls on the stereo unit remain very small and fussy.
However the main barrier for some potential buyers is likely to be the perceived level of build quality. They may imagine that certain German marques may prove to be more robust over the years.
The Elise costs £28,100. There is a £2100 touring pack upgrade, which includes little luxuries such as air conditioning, cruise control and iPod connection. We’d recommend specifying this option.
If you want something a bit more hardcore, there’s one other Elise model, the Lotus Elise Club Racer, which is slightly cheaper at £27,500.
Review of the Lotus Elise – Summary
Many motoring journalists will summarise that the Elise does not have sufficient performance. The chassis would certainly be able to cope with more power. But all cars need a niche. There are plenty of cars out there that have lots of power, and you’d be lucky to manage 20 mpg in most of them. You’re also likely to struggle to find roads to use all that performance, and to gain points on your driving licence in the process.
The Elise offers something a bit different – a fantastic mid-engined chassis with an engine that will achieve 40 mpg on the drive to the deserted B-roads, and then sufficient performance to have fun on the right roads without being in constant fear of being well over the speed limit.
The Elise may have a number of flaws – perhaps we should say quirks – but when you’re driving the Elise on a great road, such issues are quickly forgotten. Is the Elise a great Sunday car? Yes. Would it be possible to live with the Elise every day? Actually, yes. It’s likely that you would have to make some adjustments to your normal driving routine (such as making it clear that you can’t transport surplus items such as children, dogs or lots of shopping), but if you did use this car on a daily basis, there would be very few other cars out there that would offer such a fun experience every day whilst also returning 40 mpg-plus. We’d be happy to assist Lotus with a long-term real-life trial of our theory.
We therefore award the Lotus Elise a Beating Spirit rating of 9 out of 10. Thank goodness there is still a car that exists that puts the driver directly in touch with the road – and that the car is also capable of 45 mpg.
Oh, and which is fastest, the Elise or a twin-engined kart? Although both vehicles have many similarities in terms of their direct driving experiences, the Elise won the competition for fastest vehicle around the track. And with no roof, boot or iPod connectivity, the go-kart even makes the Elise look practical.
Fuel economy extra urban: 56 mpg
Fuel economy urban: 34 mpg
CO2 emissions: 149 g/km
Green rating: VED band F – first year £125
Weight: 876 Kg
Company car tax liability (2010/11): 18%
Price: £28,100 (From £27,450 to £34,450)
Insurance group: 20
Power: 134 bhp
Max speed: 127 mph
0-62mph: 6.5 seconds
Keywords: Lotus Elise review, Lotus Elise road test
Thanks to Three Sisters Race Circuit