Lotus Elise roadster
Price £30,900 - £43,800
- Great image
- Agile and sporty to drive
- Surprisingly economical
- Only two seats
- Spartan interior
- Very limited practicality
At a glance
"With incredible handling and thrilling performance, the Lotus Elise is one of the most successful and popular British sports cars of its generation."
With exceptional handling, thrilling performance and unique styling, the Lotus Elise is one of the most successful British sports cars of its generation. List prices aren't cheap, but power comes from a Toyota-sourced 1.8-litre 134bhp engine, which offers impressive performance. Weighing only 860kg, the Elise is some 300kg lighter than a Mazda MX-5, so it shouldn't cost the world to run – both the Lotus Elise and the Lotus Elise Club Racer will manage 45mpg fuel economy. That figure is almost unheard of from a sports car that can cover 0-62mph in just 4.6 seconds. The range was joined in early 2015 by the Lotus Elise S Cup, combining the outlandish styling of the Elise Club Racer with the engine and mechanicals of the Elise Club S.
MPG, running costs & CO2
The Elise will return 40mpg and is surprisingly affordable to run
Once you get over the initial high cost of purchasing an Elise, you'll find it's actually surpsingly affordable to run. Fuel economy of around 40mpg may not sound all that impressive, but it's excellent for a sports car like this. You'll also benefit from a two-year warranty, which is extendable at any Lotus dealer. On the downside, fairly high CO2 emissions mean that annual road tax can be quite expensive.
Engines, drive & performance
Few cars can match the Elise for character and fun
Very few cars can match the Elise when it comes to sheer driving fun. Thanks to its lightweight body, compact dimensions and and rear-engined layout, the Elise is incredibly agile and direct. It's almost a go-kart-like driving experience, as the steering is incedibly precise and there's lots of feedback through the wheel.
There are three models to choose from, but even the basic Elise feels fun to drive and exceptionally fast thanks to the low-slung driving position. The ride is acceptable for a car of this type, but the tight cabin can get a little tiring on longer motorway journeys.
The Elise S Cup, introduced in 2015, boasts a huge rear wing, side skirts, a front splitter and a rear diffuser, but these are not just cosmetic additions. At 140mph, up to 140kg more downforce is generated by this car compared to the base model – you can feel the Elise S Cup being pressed into the ground at higher speeds. Grip was never something the base Elise was short on and this road-going race car takes it to the next level.
The S Cup uses the same 217bhp 1.8-litre Toyota engine as the Elise S, and it's as feisty as ever. As there's only 932kg to haul around, it's lively and energetic, demanding you push all the way to the redline to access all of its power. As you might expect, however, refinement at speed isn't great, with lots of wind and engine noise.
Only a six-speed manual gearbox is offered in the S Cup, but its short and snappy shift action makes it an absolute joy to use.
Interior & comfort
The Elise has a hard ride, but it's still reasonably comfortable
Once you actually manage to get inside, the Elise is very comfortable for such a tiny sports car. The wind noise isn't too distracting, either, but the stiff suspension does take some getting used to. Overall, the cabin is pretty bare and unglamorous, but everything is logically laid-out and simple to use.
There's also the option of adding a Touring Pack if you want extra comfort. This includes leather seat trim, electric windows and further noise insulation. There's no sign of sat-nav or other gadgets on the options list, though – this is stripped-out sports car.
Practicality & boot space
Getting in and out of the Elise is no easy feat, while boot space is minimal
One of the biggest problems with the Elise is its poor practicality. A low ride height and wide sills make getting in and out of the car extremely awkward, and once you're inside cabin space is very limited. There's a tiny 117-litre boot at the front and the rear parcel shelf isn't much use, either. There's no glovebox, just a hollow in the dash, and only one small cup-holder is provided.
The standard sports seats hug you tightly, but if you want an even better solution, you can add an optional racing seat with a four-point motorsport harness in the Elise S Cup version.
Reliability & safety
Robust Toyota engine means the Elise is built to last
In the past, Lotus has been associated with poor reliability, but this is no longer an issue. The current Elise has a sturdy shell built from a mixture of aluminium and plastic composite. While under the bonnet, the 1.8-litre Toyota motor is about as tough and reliable as engines get.
Price, value for money & options
It isn't cheap to buy, but few cars are more fun to drive
The latest version of the Elise is the most refined and comfortable incarnation to date. Priced at just over £30,000 for the entry-level model, it's expensive for such an awkward and quirky two-seater, but few cars offer this combination of driving thrills, head-turning looks and reasonable running costs. Take all this into account and you won't feel short-changed.