Pure & simple

When it comes to undiluted crystal-clear engagement behind the wheel, there is nothing else quite like a Lotus Elise

And soon there won’t even be an Elise – well, not a new one anyway. But the British manufacturer is sending this cherished sportscar off in style, with a series of Final Edition models available to Kiwi enthusiasts right now. Because after all, you always did promise yourself an Elise…

Words Cameron Officer Photos Giona Bridler

 

There is plenty going on in and around the Giltrap Group right now. Impressive new electric vehicles being debuted, whole new ways to lease vehicles introduced to the market, Group-sponsored Kiwi racers doing brilliant things in international motorsport. But of all the recent announcements, this has to be the one that induces the biggest smiles.

The return to New Zealand of the famed Lotus brand is something to be celebrated, as is its assured future with, first, its ‘next chapter’ sportscar, the Emira, and then the high-tech Evija all-electric sports coupe.

But first, a chance to revel in everything that makes driving a Lotus an unmistakable experience.

While the British marque has plenty of hitmakers among is ranks across a long manufacturing history, the Elise will certainly cast a long shadow after it disappears. It’s a bone fide legend and, remarkably, is already 25 years old. With the Emira waiting in the wings, it’s time to bid the Elise farewell. In order to send the diminutive sportscar off in style, Lotus has released two final edition Elises’ (along with three different editions of the V6 Exige).

The new Lotus Elise Cup 250 is twinned with the car you see here – the Elise Sport 240. To be honest, every flavour is a winner, but there is perhaps no more potent a reminder of the inherent fun-factor the Elise represents than the fact so much enjoyment can be had from the range’s very start point.

This is utterly unapologetic lo-fi sportscar brilliance in a compact 3.8m x 1.7m footprint. If you’ve always promised yourself an Elise, then this is undoubtably the best opportunity you’re going to get to tick that one off the life goals list.

Assured future classics, the Sport 240 and Cup 250 both benefit from a number of Final Edition flourishes. These include celebratory exterior paint colours, new wheel finishes including a lightweight anthracite-finish 10 spoke design option, special decal sets, and a Final Edition build plate. Inside the cockpit both models benefit from a new flat-bottomed steering wheel, an up-to-date digital instrument cluster which allows the driver to toggle between an analogue-look dial tachometer or a linear bar version, as well as new seat trim stitch patterns which can be further tailored to suit the individual owner with a variety of colourways available.

Because this is a Lotus, there are also further opportunities to reduce vehicle weight with an array of carbon fibre panel options, including sill and engine covers, lithium-ion battery, and a lightweight polycarbonate rear window. With all the lightweight option boxes ticked, your Elise Sport 240 reduces from 922kg to 898kg.

Cue joke about the rather large gentleman driving this one… But tipping the Elise Sport 240 over the tonne once aboard doesn’t spoil the fun by any degree. Honest.

Getting in and out across that low, wide sill takes a bit of practice, but muscle memory soon kicks in. It’s perhaps no coincidence that Lotus make the Elise’s driver and passenger seats so rigidly poised in the tub – they provide handy leaning points while you get in and out of the driver-focused cockpit.

Once settled in, the smiles start spreading uncontrollably. This is a tactile, analogue experience before you’ve even set off on your journey. A firm push of the starter button brings the 1.8-litre supercharged dual VVT-i engine to life behind your head. Good for 179kW peak power and 244Nm maximum torque (the Cup 250 expands on the Sport’s power figure with an extra 3.7kW), the burble from the four-pot at standstill is pleasing, building nicely to a shout up around the 7000rpm redline.

The six-speed manual gearshift is a pleasure to use; sports tuned with close ratios and, thanks to the supercharged set-up, plenty of Newtons available as you get underway. The exposed linkages into the transmission tunnel are a beautiful, effective nod to the engineering nous behind this car. Oh, and yes, it isn’t until you need to perform a relatively tight turn you remember steering in the Elise is unassisted. But it feeds into the notion of the Elise as a roguish old-school charmer.

On the road, as you’d expect, you sit low and there’s plenty of feedback through both the seat and steering wheel. The Elise’s chassis has always been a thing to marvel at: a lightweight aluminium extruded and bonded skeleton with Eibach springs and Bilstein dampers at each corner giving you the headlines on what’s happening underneath you. Its composed and feels solidly planted on the road – interesting when you remember Lotus founder Colin Chapman’s ‘add lightness’ mantra. But it isn’t flimsy or creaky. Despite its dimensions and back-to-basics approach, it feels solidly engineered, the product of a lot of development. This is no kit car.

What the Elise Sport 240 and its Cup 250 sibling are, however, are remnants of a past era of motoring – one that is easy to mourn (the six-speed manual transmission alone brings a tear to the eye), but one that isn’t necessarily over for the prudent buyer. There is still plenty to smile about.

Thanks to www.kartsportauckland.org.nz for the use of their appropriately sized track for our photoshoot.

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