I’d not driven an Elise of this vintage for over 20 years but everything about it was instantly and utterly familiar. It really was like hooking up with a friend with whom you’d lost touch and discovering that despite being older, neither of you had changed in the least. Of course I could describe all the things I could see and hear that helped create this impression, but really it’s actually all about how it feels.
Because that’s what lightness is all about. The lighter a car, the more alive it feels, and it really is as simple as that. Very clever modern cars with state of the art electronics and four-wheel steering systems can synthesis some sense of the agility of a smaller, lighter car but none can provide that feel, that sense of connection to the road surface offered a standard in the Elise.
The steering is a living creature, writhing gently in your hands, flooding your fingers with information, never leaving you in any doubt about how much or, indeed, how little grip remains underfoot. Even in this weather it offers huge grip because having so little weight to persuade to change direction means very little work for the tyres too. And while a mid-engined car with no limited-slip differential is not the kind of machine in which drift jockeys would choose to skid about, it still slides beautifully and, with those Bilsteins, reassuringly too: because it’s so light it has very little momentum so while it rotates quite quickly, you don’t need acres of space to round it up, just quite rapid arm movements.
I loved this little car in 1996 and I still do. Properly maintained, they’re pretty reliable too, especially later cars with Toyota engines. But I’d still have an original S1, perhaps a 111S with 143PS rather than 118PS. It’s not just one of the all-time great Lotuses, it’s one of the world’s finest sportscars, period.