THE REBIRTH OF LOTUS- THE ELISE S1

If you must have comfort, refinement, quiet, power steering, power windows, electric seats, assisted brakes, central locking, and an automatic transmission then stop here and read no further. The journey we are about to embark on is one in the minimalist doctrine of one Colin Chapman, the late founder of Lotus. We are only looking for two things here, power and handling. There isn’t anything in his cars that are heavier or bulkier than is needed to get the job done, though Chapman’s philosophy only lives on in spirit. He might just turn in his grave if he knew the current state of affairs of his company.

 

The baby Lotus is none other than the Elise, a name lent to it by then chairman Romano Artioli’s grand-daughter. Space frames may have been the trademark of Lotuses but this is not a conventional space frame by a long shot. Aluminum holds magical attraction in the automobile kingdom and this exotic material is supplied by a company called Hydro Aluminum. What do you make of a car that is “glued” together? Well, here it is, the Elise is based on several precision extrusions bonded together with a blue colored epoxy. The bonded areas have large, flat surface areas for extremely strong bond strengths so there is no fear of the joints debonding. Rather than a skeleton frame approach, the large boxed extrusions make up part of the running chassis and floorplan on which the composite panels are attached.

This novel approach delivers extremely high torsional strengths and it is very light. Lotus claim their spaceframe floorplan only weighs 70 kg! We can attest to the strength of the body because over poor surfaces we did not detect scuttle shake at all. Even with every component assembled, the Elise tips the scales at a featherweight 730 kg. Of course this low weight is necessary to mitigate the weakest link, the Rover engine with just 118 bhp from 1.8-litres. But with so little weight to move around, the Elise really flies. The UK version without the air-conditioning does 0-100 km/h in 5.9 seconds. Our version with the relatively effective air-con does about 6.2 seconds which is still supercar territory.

In the process, it is more an assault on the senses, particularly one’s ears. The mechanical cacaphony is barely inches behind the occupant’s heads. To say it is noisy is an understatement but the aural assault is accompanied by a surreal turn of speed, heightened by being less than a foot off the road because the thinly padded competition seats feel as if they were touching the floor. There is a gutteral growl from the induction system but it needs to be opened even further with some intake tubes and a sharper exhaust system. Since it is already a noisy car, why not have a nice noise instead? It would be different if this was trying to be a Lexus, but the nature of this beast is so far removed that it deserves a matching “sound system”, something the aftermarket can supply, no doubt.

The Elise looks far better without the detachable hardtop and it also feels better when driving because it seems to lessen the engine noise. However in this tropical heat, it is not exactly pleasant and there is a backdraft of radiator-heated air that swirls into the cockpit to give your neck a mild roasting. I’d say this is most welcomed in the UK or thereabouts but for us, the air-con please. Part of the reason for this huge delay in its arrival is the air-conditioning. We understand it is a Japanese compressor so it should be very reliable. Mind you, it has quite a task, removing the cabin heat because there is no insulation to speak of and a lack of complete cabin seal. However the small cabin volume is rapidly cooled by the efficient air-con unit which makes the Elise an acceptable proposition in this heat.

At the first acquaintance, these irritations seem to occupy a disproportionate amount of your attention. Finding the car’s essence is somehow lost in the myriad of distractions. Everything is so raw, so direct, so intimate that it becomes uncomfortable. I am here to tell you prospective buyers of an Elise, do not make up your mind on the very first outing with the Elise. The contortionist act that needs to be performed to get in or out will fade into insignificance once you find the car’s inner essence. Believe me when I say it is there but it takes more than one or two outings. I found it on my third day.

You will forget the difficulty in getting in, maybe even forgive the mechanical cacophony of the whole car. The unassisted steering is fortunately unblemished by assistance and even with 2.5 turns lock to lock is light enough in carparks thanks to 185/55 ZR 15 P-Zeros in front. Besides, with just 285 kg shared by the front wheels, how heavy can it get? The other 61% of the weight sits atop 205/50 ZR 16 P-Zeros at the back. I am certain the P-Zeros were chosen for its excellent feel-good factor rather than sheer grip.

Perhaps I got used to the quirks and intimidation or just the numbing from vibrations or perhaps the deafness that develops which allows getting down to the business of enjoying the little uncut jewel. The steering at first bereft of self-centering torque, is a lively and accurate instrument. Coupled with extremely pert dimensions, the Elise can be steered within centimeters of apices and not run over it. At least when you are not trying for fastest lap times. Then things get more serious. Grip is modest by supercar standards but handling is fantastically adjustable. Your first encounter with oversteer in the Elise will be a -----dropping one. The tail really comes out especially with trailing throttle. Power oversteer is harder to produce but the Elise wants to dance but not pirouette. The tails comes out quickly but it is quelled by steering correction and returning to power or reducing power. The faster sweepers, one can feel the car balance on the throttle like few others. Mind you all this happens at modest speeds but makes you look and feel like a hero nonetheless.

The low mass of the Elise allows some pretty startling performance without the need for super exotic solutions. Acceleration is phenomenal even with the plain vanilla Rover K-Series engine, never quite associated with cutting edge technology. Braking is accomplished without the need for servo assistance and the 282mm rotors are never taxed to the extent it needs floating rotors or a 2-piece design. The tyres are very narrow by supercar standards but can still match the best in handling and stopping ability. The lightweight tyre design is also comfortable yet provides great steering feel and handling. They should last a decent distance because they are so unstressed which reduces running costs. Fuel consumption should be low but it is unlikely because owners will use full wick every opportunity they get. Be reminded however the Elise is a poor Grand Tourer as it has been designed for B-roads and not expressways lest you expect to have fun on the North-South highway. But find a B-road and you’ll think you are in 7th heaven.

This is not a car for everybody. This is so out on a limb, it makes my Integra Type-R feel tame and refined. The search for the holy grail of handling has led us down this path that Colin Chapman has envisioned. Yes we are enlightened and appreciative that such a diminutive machine has shown us the error of our ways. This is the pure essence of driving pleasure unfettered by anything that seeks luxury. The introductory price tag of $168,888 without COE is princely considering its diminutive size but this is a true Goliath slayer in the true minimalist sense. If you seek only the holy grail and are limited to $200,000 then this path takes you to heights only $500,000 or more can deliver. AL

SPECIFICATIONS

Engine

Capacity : 1796cc
Cylinder layout : 4-cyl In-line, aluminum alloy
Valves : 16 valves
Redline : 6500 rpm
Maximum power : 118 Bhp @ 5500rpm
Maximum torque : 165 Nm @ 3000 rpm

Transmission
Type : 5-speed manual
Driven wheels : Rear, mid-engine, transverse

Performance
Top speed : 202 km/h
0-100km/h : 5.9/6.2 seconds

Suspension
Front : Double wishbones, Koni dampers
Rear : Double wishbones, Koni dampers

Steering
Type : Unassisted Rack and Pinion steering
Turns lock-to-lock : 2.5
Turning circle : na

Brakes
Front : Ventilated discs, unassisted
Rear : Solid discs, unassisted

Tyres
Type : Pirelli P-Zero
Size : f: 185/55 R 15 r: 205/50 R 16

Safety
ABS : No
Airbags : No
Traction control : No

Measurements
Length : 3726mm
Width : 1701mm
Height : 1202mm
Wheelbase : 2300mm
Kerb weight : 730kg
 

Original Price : $168,888 without COE
Warranty : 2 year, parts.

 

Summary
Photos: 
all content is intellectual property of motor-prime and cannot be reproduced in any form or manner without explicit permission from motor-prime. © 2004-2016 MotorPrime. All rights reserved.