In recent years, Lotus has been testing its new products by taking them on a brisk run from London to Rome, a trip that presumably reveals any remaining reliability issues, as well as offering the Brits an excuse to find a few meals that are not pie- or pudding-based. While today's Elise has undergone this challenge in Europe, we've decided to plot our own version of the London-to-Rome trek, with the intention of discovering if everything will stay glued together, including our sanity, on a trip beyond the local test track. In keeping with the Elise's American intentions, we'll be visiting not the original London, England, and Rome, Italy, but rather their eponymous counterparts in Texas and Georgia, respectively. The route will take us through the deep South, which is very similar to Europe in that it, too, is above sea level, if somewhat more fond of the contraction y'all.
I invite my friend Murph along for the ride. He's got vacation days he needs to burn, and I figure nothing will prove the Elise's long-distance capabilities, or lack thereof, the way a passenger will. Murph isn't exactly built like Keith Richards, either, and the Elise is so small that it might be the only car on the U.S. market that conjoined twins would be able to drive without any modifications. At least our car has the Luxury package, which includes power windows, a Blaupunkt CD player, and extra sound-deadening material. You know you're hard-core when sound-deadening material is on the options list. Creature comforts may be lacking, but, as Murph points out when we roll into London, "it's pretty unique to be able to pull up next to a Porsche and know you've got the cooler car."
We've definitely got the coolest car in London, Texas. Strictly speaking, we might have the only car in London, Texas, as the citizens here haven't received the memo that says you're permitted to drive something besides a full-size pick-up with some type of deer-smashing apparatus welded to the front. Charlie Reichenau, owner of the London Short Stop gas station, has a look at the Lotus's shin-high front end and makes an ominous, and certainly accurate, prediction about what would happen if the Elise were to hit any of the Texas Hill Country's hoofed wildlife. Basically, Murph and I would get impromptu, highly risky antler grafts that would, at worst, be fatal and, at best, preclude use of the soft top.
Besides the Short Stop, a bar, and a scattering of houses, London's not calling us to linger, so, after stocking up on beef jerky and 93-octane, I bid farewell to the small crowd of Lotus oglers at the Short Stop and point the prow eastward. To make a properly memorable exit, I run the Elise up to redline in first and second gears and take the corner leading out of town at a speed never imagined by the local F-150s. Then I realize I left my hat on the fuel pump and follow my 8000-rpm exit with a sheepish return. "Back already?" Reichenau asks, and I joke that I'm already out of gas.
As I soon learn, I wasn't exaggerating by much. You might assume that any car with a 1.8-liter four-banger would have great range, but not when that four-banger is flirting with the redline more or less always. And not when the fuel tank could be siphoned with one pull from a turkey baster. For the next refuel, I push it until the low-fuel warning light comes on, and when I fill up, it takes only 7.9 gallons. If you were driving like a namby, you might make 200 miles on a tank, but given the Elise's high-revving personality, 150 miles is a more realistic limit. And after 150 miles, you'll welcome a stretch. Trust me.
The Elise doesn't look like a million bucks, but, to some of the less car-savvy denizens of the South, it at least looks like a couple hundred thousand bucks. During our many fuel stops, guesses about the Lotus's price range from high five-digits to $200,000. Most of the six-figure guessers look as if they also might consider toothpaste to be a luxury commodity wildly out the reach of the average man, but it's still safe to say that the Elise exudes an air of exoticism far beyond its price.