Lotus Elise S

July 2012

picture of car from the front

Bold styling and purposeful stance hints at car's potential


Overall Rating 9Overall rating

Value for money Rating 8Value for money

Space and Practicality Rating 7Costs

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


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


  • Noise levels remain high at motorway speeds
  • Heavy steering at low speeds can feel intimidating for inexperienced drivers
  • Entry and exit are a challenge, even for agile passengers
  • Storage room is limited

Despite the company's various ups and downs, Lotus' most enduring product in recent years has been the Elise. Subtly revised in early 2006, the range has steadily expanded to attract keen drivers of all abilities. This S model has been engineered to offer a potent blend of accessible performance and day-to-day refinement.

From the outside there are few visible clues as to the car's potential. It retains the trademark Elise low stance and curvy shape that makes it quite unlike any other sports car on the road. Subtle badging sets it apart from the rest of the model family.

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 changes to the Elise S are in the engine and chassis departments. The former is a supercharged version of Toyota's oft-used 1.8-litre four-cylinder unit. In this guise it outputs a healthy 220 horsepower plus a substantial helping of torque which, combined with the car's weight offers drivers a supercar-rivaling experience.

Our verdict on the Lotus Elise S

The Elise is already a critically acclaimed driving experience, and this S model lifts the car's potential to new heights. Not to be confused with any previous 'S' models, this supercharged variant delivers an experience to worry anything from Germany and put a smile on the face of keen drivers who appreciate fuss-free brisk motoring.

Costs rating 7

High performance cars are rarely described as bargain propositions, but the Elise S is a rare exception. The combination of lightweight, agility and a forced induction engine combine to deliver relatively sensible running costs when you're not pushing hard. And when you do choose to 'press on' you can be confident knowing that you've spent far less than some to experience such high levels of performance.

Space and practicality
Space and Practicality Rating 3

There's little doubt that you have to pack light when you're an Elise owner. The car's compact dimensions and intimate cabin leave little room for anything other than the two occupants. Once inside head and legroom are surprisingly good, although elbowroom is modest. 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

The view most people will have of the Elise S

Controls and display
Controls and Display Rating 8

The minimalist nature of the Elise is as much a functional statement as a design-led one. The car's centre console houses only the ventilation controls. Their deep-set location sometimes makes it difficult to see the top of the graduations, however. 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. The car's slick, short-throw manual gearlever is as you'd want it to be, with the Elise's slim pedals offering plenty of scope for heel and toe work.

Comfort Rating 6

While the Elise was never designed with comfort as a priority, the car's, ProBax seats deliver respectable comfort levels and help reduce fatigue. At lower engine speeds there is little noise from the engine but exhaust drone, tyre rumble and wind noise do build up as speed rises.

Car security
Security Rating 7

The Elise might appear to be a basic car but there's no shortage of protection on offer. The standard fit immobilizer package will ensure you car stays where you parked it, although the car's fabric roof can't possibly match the protection offered by a metal alternative. Anyone serious about theft prevention should consider an aftermarket tracking device as a secondary line of defence.

Car safety
Safety Rating 7

Despite boasting outstanding grip, acceleration and braking performance, the Elise is a stable and confidence inspiring car - unless you behave irresponsibly. An electronic stability and traction control package offers peace of mind, yet manages the seemingly impossible by work with the driver instead of creating frustration.

Driver appeal
Driver Appeal Rating 10

There's only one reason to buy an Elise, and that's for its performance. A no compromise sports roadster, it has the potential to deliver an engaging and rewarding experience if you're prepared to make an effort. The snug driving position, modest luggage spare and unassisted steering won't appeal to everyone, but for the keen driver these are minor distractions. In revised 'S' guise this Elise's supercharged Toyota motor's elastic power delivery, almost unburtsable nature conspire and nimble chassis conspire to entertain and reward in equal measure.

picture of car interior

The Elise S is a handsome car with the roof off

Family car appeal
Family Appeal Rating 2

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

First car appeal
First car Rating 3

It's no surprise that the Elise isn't going to be a sensible choice for a novice driver. Along with its considerable performance potential, the heavy steering and driver aids tuned to help exploit low grip situations, there are more appropriate alternatives for new drivers keen to build on their limited experience.

Quality and image
Quality and Image Rating 9

The standout feature of the Elise is its lightweight construction, and this has ensured a level of performance and usability the opposition has found hard to match. The downside is that rattles and road noise is more obvious than in cars with more sound proofing, but the Elise's exposed cabin structure is one of its selling points. Over time a loyal following has also done much to boost the Elise's appeal.

Accessibility Rating

With its high and wide sills, 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)

Despite the predictable focus here being on performance, Lotus hasn't forgotten on essential creature comfort. The stereo unit fitted provides excellent sound quality and good station reception, although its regular size and mounting away from the driver can be a hindrance. Also, when driving quickly it can easily be swamped by engine and road noise.

picture of car in detail

Clean and uncluttered cabin is functional and comfortable

Colours and trim

With a wide choice of exterior colours to choose from, it's hardly surprising that the popular choices are often the brightest. Inside the Elise, the majority of the surfaces are black or silver, in plastic or bare aluminium, all of which are pleasant to touch, if a little cold when the outside temperature is low.


The Elise isn't the easiest car to accommodate when it comes to parking, most notably the predictable restricted rearward vision. Forward vision is much better, but the steering is heavy at parking speeds, and that can make maneuvers quite taxing for the driver.

Spare wheel

Emergency tyre inflation kit included.


Range information

Petrol engine options: 1.6-litre (134bhp); 1.8-litre (220bhp). Transmission options: six-speed manual gearbox for all variants. Trim levels: base, CR, S (1.8-litre only).


Alternative cars

Caterham CSR 200 Even more basic, but delivers incredible driving experience

BMW Z4 Roadster Better blend of comfort and fun, styling not to all tastes and performance is modest by comparison

Porsche Boxster Impressive handling from benchmark premium roadster but an expensive option

Audi TT Roadster Another premium alternative that packs a powerful punch but can match Elise for thrills

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july 2012