. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Pretty Little Roadster With Serious Power

Thumb through motoring history books and cars stand out for numerous reasons, and not always the ones you may expect. Who could have predicted that the Volkswagen Beetle would have become such a classic, or the Mini would have enjoyed a production run stretching more than 35 years?


With sports cars, it's a little easier to spot an instant winner, a car that will be remembered as a machine that set new standards and reached new heights. And there's a new star on the scene, one that has arrived with a big bang. You can put your money on the new Lotus Elise as a car that will remain a player in automotive history.


Lotus is currently in the news not for its products but because of its financial woes. According to company boss Romano Artioli, the small, Norfolk-based sports-car manufacturer is up for sale to anyone with about $100 million. These are turbulent times for Lotus.


But there is light -- and plenty of it -- shining at the end of the corporate tunnel if you look directly at the cars. A brand-new V8 engine has dragged the Esprit almost up to date with its competition, and promises still more excitement once Lotus sorts out a turbocharged version. But it's the Elise that is set to become the jewel in the crown for those interested in buying up Lotus.


Named after Artioli's granddaughter, the striking two-seater roadster made its official public debut last year when it did the motor show rounds. But only now is the Elise on sale -- and you can almost hear the clamor of buyers ringing in your ears. Savor the looks before you actually get into the car. This is no dull, uninspiring automaton with a hugely powerful engine to make up for a serious lack of charm. The Elise is, in the best way possible, a pretty little car. The lines of the composite body are sufficiently different to anything else on the road to make it stand out, but it does so by being attractive rather than brutal. And yet it also has a serious aura that evokes the ability to provide maximum enjoyment for the most demanding of drivers. The twin exhaust pipes, which poke out from the rear bodywork, and the sweeping side vents, which feed cooling air to the mid-mounted engine, are clear indications that the Elise has been designed as an enthusiasts' car.


If you are an engineering type, there are, of course, much bigger clues. First up is the layout, which offers a mid-mounted engine and rear-wheel drive, which give perfect balance and handling potential. Another good sign is the fact that the Elise has an extruded aluminum "spaceframe" chassis and composite body, helping it to weigh in at just 690 kilograms. But the technical side of the equation only sets the scene.


From the very first prod of the accelerator pedal, it's obvious that the Elise is going to get adrenaline pumping around your body at one hell of a rate. Powered by an excellent engine, the Lotus is off the mark quicker than a steroid-boosted sprinter. The 1.8-liter, 120ps engine is from Rover -- it's the same engine that powers the MGF sports car and is an example of transplant engineering at its best. Making use of the Elise's light weight, the Rover engine delivers performance that translates to less than six seconds from standstill to 100 kilometers an hour, with the ability to zoom up to a little more than 200 kilometers an hour flat-out.


But the on-paper figures, impressive though they are, are but a fraction of the tale. You can hear the engine howling out its song just behind your head, goading you on to keep the accelerator down.


And any half-decent driver could do just that, because the Lotus' dynamic ability is breathtaking. Show the Elise a corner that you would normally take at 100 kilometers an hour and it will be round at 140 kilometers and hour and away to the next bend without a twitch. The steering response is lightning-quick, and there are very few cars that come close to communicating as well as the Elise. You know exactly what's happening at all times, which gives you the confidence to push the car hard.


If you're looking for some criticism, of course it can be found. If you need practicality, this is not the car for you. There are few creature comforts and little luggage room and the interior is very basic. But then again, you are paying your $28,500 for thrills and ability, not electric windows and air-conditioning. The Elise is fast, it's loud and it's very proud. Those who know the history of Lotus will remember the ideal that Colin Chapman, the company's founder, set for his company's cars: a basic design comprising light weight, superb handling and high levels of driver satisfaction. The Elise is all this, and more besides -- and it's difficult to see how the competition is going to match it, let alone beat it.





-- Paul Chadderton is editor of Auto Express in Britain. He contributed this article to the Moscow Times.