2005 Lotus Elise
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
British sports car builder and Grand Prix racing champion Lotus has come up with the small, wild-looking Elise sports car, which is a blast to drive with its race-car performance.
As with a good sports-racing car, the Elise almost seems to know what a driver wants to do before he makes a move. There is no hesitation when the mid-engine two-seat convertible is given steering, braking and throttle commands, making it fun to drive even to the local 7-Eleven.
The Elise is perhaps the closest thing to a modern sports-racing car that can be legally driven on roads. But it has standard air conditioning, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, anti-lock brakes, dual front airbags and an anti-theft system.
You also can get the Elise with a $2,480 Sport Pack, which contains light forged alloy wheels, track-tuned suspension and super-high-performance Yokohama LTS tires designed for the Elise.
The quick manual steering is heavy at low parking speeds, but lightens up as the 150-mph car gets moving. It has a Lotus-modified 1.8-liter 190-horsepower 4-cylinder engine with variable valve timing from the Toyota Celica GTS coupe.
Despite the sizzling performance, fuel economy is relatively high, at an estimated 23 mpg in the city and 27 on highways. Moreover, there should be no question about reliability of the high-revving Toyota engine.
The Elise has a Toyota 6-speed manual gearbox with an ultra-precise Lotus shift linkage. The shifter works with a decent clutch and enhances driving enjoyment. I can't image this car with an automatic transmission.
What's a Lotus?
The award-winning Elise has been sold in Europe in different form since August, 1996, and is the first computer-designed Lotus, with a chassis made with aluminum alloy extrusions and aerospace bonding techniques. It's the best-selling car in Lotus history, with more than 17,000 purchased.
American car buffs have been crying for a street-legal version of the Elise for years; Lotus brought a race version to America in 2000, but it could be only driven on a track because it didn't meet government regulations for street autos.
Lotus Cars and its innovative sister company, Lotus Engineering, which has done work for the world's major automakers, are owned by Group Lotus PLC, headquartered in Norfolk, England.
Lotus was founded in England in 1952 and headed by Colin Chapman, who died in 1982 at age 54. His cars won international Grand Prix racing championships and even the Indianapolis 500, where the winning rear-engine Lotus changed the traditional design of heavier, front-engine Indy 500 cars.
Small Lotus often lived hand-to-mouth and had little sales success with road cars, although nobody questioned their performance. Poor U.S. dealer and distribution networks were a drawback, as was marginal quality. The fist Mazda Miatas were a close copy of the 1962-73 Lotus Elan road car, but had much better construction.
The Elise is only 43.9 inches high, which means it's the lowest sports car sold in this country. Even the low-slung Porsche Boxster stands 50.8 inches high.
Getting in and out over the wide door sills calls for athletic moves, and occupants sit virtually on the floor in race-style bucket seats. There's decent room for two tall medium-weight adults, although the no-nonsense interior is rather narrow. Narrow shoes are called for with the small pedals. The engine is started with a dashboard starter button after the ignition key is turned.
A large, single wiper clears the sharply raked windshield of rain water, and the rear roof hoop has fixed glass.
Easily Installed Soft-Top
The small cargo compartment next to the rear-mounted engine has room for a few pieces of soft luggage.
The Elise could be used daily if its driver didn't carry much because it has none of the rough edges and quirks of most other exotic foreign sports cars. But it's more of a car for tackling winding roads with a flourish or for track competition.
As has been the case with all Lotus sports cars sold in America, there is nothing quite like the Elise offered here. It can be had with a variety of exciting colors, but rest assured that it will attract stares and smiles no matter what color it's painted.