Lotus Elise S

January 2007

picture of car from the front

Elise S retains the unique styling of the rest of the range

Ratings

Overall Rating 9Overall rating

Value for money Rating 8Value for money

Space and Practicality Rating 6Costs

Space and Practicality Rating 3Space and practicality

Controls and display Rating 8Controls and display

Comfort Rating 6Comfort

Security Rating 7Car security

Safety Rating 7Car safety


Likes

  • Handling and grip are outstanding
  • Engine is tractable and feels unburstable
  • Stripped down exterior is refreshing
  • ProBax seats are surprisingly comfortable

Gripes

  • Noise levels remain high at motorway speeds
  • Stiff ride and steering can feel intimidating for inexperienced drivers
  • Entry and exit are difficult, even for shorter passengers
  • Storage room is at a premium

Long renowned as a sports car manufacturer, Lotus's most important product is its Elise. Subtly revised in early 2006, the range has been widened further with the introduction of the Elise S, using a lower-powered 1.8-litre engine sourced from Toyota. Intended as an entry model, it still offers sparkling performance, and the reduced specification allows a much cheaper price.

From the outside there are few visible differences from the Elise R. It retains the low stance and curvy shape that all make it quite unlike any other sports car on the road. Subtle 'S' badging and simple eight-spoke alloy wheels set it apart from the higher specification R model, while it retains the simple fabric roof for top-down motoring.

Inside the stripped-down cabin remains, which includes the use of ProBax seats on all models. Designed specifically with posture and comfort in mind, they claim to put the spine in the correct position, improving comfort and blood flow to the benefit of alertness. The simple interior has small, chunky steering wheel with a high quality instrument pack, and a minimum of supplementary controls.

In practical terms the Elise is a strict two-seater, and offers little in the way of storage space. The boot is between the mid-mounted engine and the rear of the car, and although the area is a reasonable size and shape, the aperture is actually smaller than the space, making it difficult to carry rigid items.

The key change in the Elise S is the lower power output, and it also loses the variable valve lift, which in the higher output version results in a large power step at high revs. Although notable slower than the R, the S is still a quick car, and the more linear power delivery is more manageable in spirited driving.

Our verdict on the Lotus Elise S

The Elise is already a fantastic driving experience, and although the S model is essentially a lower spec version, this can add to the fun. With a less rev-happy engine, the whole rev range can be exploited and the balance of the chassis can be exploited more readily. Although it remains a car for the enthusiast with comfort and space compromises, in S form the Elise is even better value.

Costs
Costs rating 6

For the level of performance on offer, the Elise provides reasonable running costs. Driven with restraint the efficient 1.8-litre petrol engine can deliver decent economy as well as straightforward maintenance. Insurance may be an issue however, as it falls into the highest grouping.

Space and practicality
Space and Practicality Rating 3

The compact dimensions and intimate cabin leave little room for anything other than the two occupants. Once inside head and legroom are decent, although elbowroom is limited. A small storage area behind the seats and a boot behind the engine do give some room for luggage, but nothing larger than a sports bag will fit.

picture of car from the rear

LED taillights offer improved response

Controls and display
Controls and Display Rating 8

The minimalist nature of the Elise means the interior layout is refreshingly simple. The centre console houses only the ventilation controls which are stylish aluminium rotary knobs, although they are deep set which makes it difficult to see the top of the graduations. A small series of simple push buttons to the right of the steering wheel controls the lights, while the speedometer and tachometer are simple and elegant.

Comfort
Comfort Rating 6

Although clearly not built for comfort, the ProBax seats deliver respectable comfort levels, even though there appears to be little padding. At lower engine speeds there is little noise from the petrol unit, but exhaust drone, tyre rumble and wind noise do intrude.

Car security
Security Rating 7

With a standard fit alarm including remote central locking and an immobiliser, there is a good level of security for what is a desirable car. Anyone serious about theft prevention should consider an aftermarket tracking device as a secondary line of defence.

Car safety
Safety Rating 7

With outstanding grip, acceleration and braking performance, the Elise has an impressive level of active safety. Traction control is also available as an option. As standard the Elise is fitted with a driver's airbag, and four-point harnesses are available instead of regular seat belts in a bid to offer far superior support.

Driver appeal
Driver Appeal Rating 10

Anyone considering an Elise will be doing so purely because of its ability to deliver high levels of driving pleasure, and in this respect it is exceptional. The 1.8-litre engine has sharp throttle response, and despite the modest torque output has enough low down pulling power to accelerate smoothly. The stiff suspension comes into its own at speed, with virtually no roll to speak of and substantial grip. The steering is direct thanks to the lack of power assistance, and gives superb feedback. In ordinary driving the directness of the controls and the hard ride can be tiring, but when driving at speed it comes into its own.

picture of car interior

Simple cabin offers sufficient comfort

Family car appeal
Family Appeal Rating 2

A very small and enthusiastic family may enjoy the Elise's performance - as the second car in the household, but in all other respects a two-seat car such as this is unlikely to serve the needs of a family.

First car appeal
First car Rating 3

First time car buyers should steer clear of the Elise, however tempting its charms may be. Its high performance, sensitive steering and chassis and generally poor rearward visibility make it a car for experienced drivers only.

Quality and image
Quality and Image Rating 9

The lightweight construction of the Elise makes it more susceptible to rattles and noises that may be attributed to a lack of quality, but it is actually well finished from good materials. The image of the Elise is impressive, trading on its reputation as a superb car on or off the racetrack, and few rivals can match the cache of its badge.

Accessibility
Accessibility Rating

Getting in and out of the Elise is quite a challenge and requires practice, as the door aperture is narrow and the car is very low to the ground - the roof is at waist height on most people. Once mastered it is less difficult, but still much more taxing than an ordinary car. Access to the boot is simple, although the aperture is much smaller than the boot itself.

Stereo and ICE (In car entertainment)

The stereo unit fitted provides excellent sound quality and good station reception, although its regular size and mounting on the far side of the cabin can make it difficult to operate from the driver's seat.

picture of car in detail

1.8-litre engine offers impressive performance

Colours and trim

The majority of the surfaces are black or silver, in plastic or bare aluminium, all of which are pleasant to touch, if cold when the outside temperature is low.

Parking

The Elise presents a number of problems when parking, most notably the restricted rearward vision. Forward vision is much better, but the steering is heavy at parking speeds, and that can make manoeuvres quite taxing for the driver.

Spare wheel

Emergency inflation foam fitted beneath the bonnet - no spare wheel.

 

Range information

Petrol engine options: 1.8-litre (139 and 189bhp). Fitted with either a five or six-speed manual gearbox as standard. Trim levels are S and R, with S getting the lower output engine and less equipment.

 

Alternative cars

Caterham CSR 200 Even more stripped down, delivers incredible driving experience

BMW Z4 Roadster Better blend of comfort and fun, styling not to all tastes

Porsche Boxster Impressive handling, expensive and less thrilling

Vauxhall VX220 Superb performance from turbo variant and excellent value for money



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January 2007