The lightweight heavy-hitter from Hethel gives us a week to remember.
After announcing that the much lusted after Lotus Elise will finally come to our shores Lotus Cars USA, the distributor of the British marque, sent a European-spec Elise 111s Mark II for us to drive for a week. Actually, Lotus didn't send the Elise, we had to pick it up at our local Lotus, Caterham, Morgan, and Panoz dealer, AutoEurope, in nearby Birmingham, Michigan. Here in southeastern Michigan we are fortunate to have a dealer enthusiastic enough to sell the four most esoteric brands available stateside.
What one immediately notices upon clambering into the Elise is that you are essentially sitting on the road, looking out at other cars at license plate level. The view is disconcerting to some, but a revelation to others; like going sideways in a car for the first time, you'll either love it or hate it. Once underway the Elise impresses with a supple ride, even on Michigan's shredded roads the Lotus is never jarring or harsh. Under cornering loads the suspension stays firmly planted, the absence of body roll and screeching tires an advantage of the Elise's lightweight. Unassisted steering transmits messages from the road to one's hands unfiltered and unedited. Every system involved in the motion of the Elise speaks to the driver clearly and honestly, as if they were designed by a Puritanical engineer bent on undoing the showy complexity that muddles more decadent automobiles.
The 111s is a mid-line Elise model that Lotus believes best represents the upcoming U.S. Elise. Weighing in at a feathery 1700-pounds and powered by a 156-horsepower 1.8-liter inline-four Rover engine, the Lotus is able to snap off runs to sixty in 5.1 seconds. The Elise we'll get next year will ditch the Rover engine, rumor has it that Toyota's Yamaha built 1.8-liter (from the Matrix XR-S and Celica GT-S) sporting 190-horsepower will be under the bonnet. Although the U.S. Elise will undoubtedly gain some weight, 190-horsepower should offset any gain nicely.
After a seven-year wait the Elise will finally go on sale in April of 2004. With pricing expected to hover around $40,000, Lotus shouldn't have any problem selling their Elise. A stark contrast to the roadsters compared in the August issue, the Lotus lacks some of the luxuries that the mid-life crisis crowd has come to expect; nothing is power assisted or operated in the Elise, it's hard to get in and out of, and you'll have to explain to everyone why you bought it. The Elise's competition does not require these sacrifices, but as every automotive anglophile knows, it is these sacrifices that separate those in the know from those who merely pose.