One could argue the Elise is the most delicate car in both Lotus' current and future portfolios. Some critics will compare every future Lotus product to the current Elise while ignoring the fact that Lotus has never turned a profit while the Elise has been on sale. For reference, the Elise went on sale in 1996. That's a long time to be losing money.
If the lack of profitability isn't enough to convince you that Lotus needs to modify the Elise as it moves forward, consider the incredibly tough crash standards that will come into effect around the world in the next few years. The Elise will have to grow a little larger, a little heavier, and a little more expensive in order to clear these hurdles.
The new Elise will grow 8.4 inches longer, 5.1 inches wider, and 5.6 inches taller by 2015. Brace yourselves -- that results in a weight gain of 430 pounds for an estimated curb weight of 2414 pounds. Lotus has increased the dimensions as much for improved ingress and egress as it has to add in the required crumple zones, which should address one of the primary reasons potential buyers decide against taking home an Elise today.
The Toyota-sourced 2.0-liter I-4 will produce as much as 316 hp and 243 lb-ft of torque, which is more than enough to counter the higher curb weight and slightly larger footprint of the new car. It's possible the engine will be turbocharged, because a small-displacement engine can be more efficient with a turbo than a supercharger. Since the Elise is still the smallest, lightest, and simplest Lotus, it's optional hybrid solution will be limited to a simplified start-stop system.
Perhaps the most significant feature of the Elise is the standard six-speed manual transmission. This is likely the last Lotus that will offer the choice between two- or three-pedal transmissions. While we applaud Lotus for planning a manual transmission, we presume the projected 4.3-second 0-62 mph time will only be possible with the optional dual-clutch transmission. One of the reasons Lotus is moving to automated transmissions is for emissions, and the Elise is expected to emit less than 150 g/km of CO2.
With the Elise's increase in size, it will now compete against the BMW Z4, Audi TT, and Porsche Boxster. In person, the new Elise almost looks like the result of a Boxster-Gallardo one-night-stand. If nothing else, it's certainly a huge departure from the current Elise's styling. Lotus Group CEO Dany Bahar describes the styling as "young, strong, confident, verging on ruthless" and goes on to say the design "mirrors the engineering and technology" contained under the sheetmetal.
It may seem like sacrilege to design an Elise that weighs more than 2000 pounds and offers a dual-clutch transmission, but the automotive landscape has considerably changed since the first Elise rolled off the assembly line in Hethel. Lotus could either update the Elise to meet the changing world's needs, or the car could have been put out to pasture. We're hoping the 2015 Elise won't have to compromise what we've come to expect as the purest driving experience this side of a kit 7 replica in order to survive.