A Lotus should have a very specific set of characteristics to its handling, at least according to Lotus. There’s no power steering and a very loose definition of “traction control” on offer, so it is one of the final real purists bastions. The gearbox is still manual, a delightfully-designed six-speed unit, and the damping totally passive. The fact that there is no sign of any real buttons or controls on the dash, other than a really hard-to-push Sport button, should let you know that this is a car all about you and the tarmac.
The engine is a 1.8-litre supercharged four-cylinder, and produces (in case the name didn’t give it away) 243PS (179kW) and 244Nm (181lb ft), not a world breaking amount but then the Elise does still weigh just 922kg, so it’ll still propel you to 62mph in 4.2 seconds. But in the Elise the engine is more there for necessity than as a core tenet to the car’s being. Hit the throttle and it’ll push you on with haste, but nothing that feels like it’s anything other than 25-year-old car – the corners are where the Elise wishes to be. There the suede-lined wheel becomes your greatest friend. Lotus say their approach to cars is to spring softly, but damp firmly. This means that the Elise is able to roll around more than some current sportscars, but doesn’t become a horrible lumpen mess when it hits the end of the roll. In fact that roll is where a lot of the fun arrives. The little engine with its 243PS isn’t really enough to agitate the car out of its mid-corner grip alone, but chuck the car into a corner firmly off throttle and the fronts will stick, while the rear axle rotates with abandon. A stab of throttle is a bit more likely to provoke understeer than over, but a turn and lift followed by power will rotate the car beautifully.
The steering, with no power added to help the turn, is an exceptional accompaniment to that movement, sending you constant notifications like a horny teenager let loose on snapchat. The even better thing is that, while being firm and communicative, at no point does the Elise feel fidgety, even at high speeds. The front wheels are also positioned exactly under the apex of the driver’s sightline on the arches, allowing for pinpoint precision as you turn in. There’s an argument that for £44,000 a lot of other cars will get you places a lot faster, but none will make you engage with the drive the way the Elise does. There have been Elise’s more suited to track times, and more powerful ones, but nothing comes close to a “standard” one for fun.
Because it’s softly sprung, journeying to and from the track also doesn’t become arduous. Actually the general ride in the Elise is exceptional, and you can motor your way through countless miles, say from Goodwood to Norfolk, without feeling tired or flustered.