2008 Lotus Elise S Review & Road Test
“It’s got a 1.8-litre engine lifted from a Toyota Corolla and yet there are precious few supercars which can out corner the Elise when you hit the ‘S’ bends”
Options fitted: Touring pack $8,000
Pure driving bliss, unbelievable handling, great looks, well priced.
– words and photography Anthony Crawford & Alborz Fallah, action photography – Paul Maric
That’s 1.8-litres, 100kW, and not a whole lot of torque, just 172Nm to be precise. Not impressed? Then ask someone at your nearest Lotus dealership to demonstrate it’s handling ability to you, but only if they have a sickbag on board.
Theme park operators should listen up too! You don’t need to spend millions of dollars building the next best roller coaster ride. All you need to do, is lay five kilometres of bend-to-bend tarmac, buy a Lotus Elise S for $69,990 and start printing tickets – lots and lots of tickets.
Awesome, astonishing and mind blowing all come to mind as apt descriptions of the Lotus experience. But I’m sick to death of those worn out descriptive words, which these days, are used to describe anything from the latest Nokia handset to a new pre-school backpack by the Wiggles.
But if I could find three more descriptive words which best describe your first time experience behind the wheel of a Lotus Elise S, I would. It’s like nothing you have ever driven before, a masterpiece of mechanical symphony.
You never need to turn the leather bound race car style steering wheel more than half a turn, except maybe in a car park. Such is the accuracy and honesty of the steering set up. No power assistance whatsoever. With an all up weight of 860 kilograms, you simply don’t need any.
You might need a G-suit though, after you re-calibrate your body’s motor neuron system and get used to driving the Elise through bends with your right foot only! The brake pedal seems superfluous at times, as you work the throttle on, off, on, off. Total driver engagement.
It’s not that your driving skills are any better than they were before you hoped in to the Elise but, driving a Lotus seems to rapidly improve your ‘behind the wheel’ skill set.
Adhesion levels are ‘out of this world’ which allows the car to change direction faster than a mongoose in a pit full of cobras. But that’s only if your reflexes can keep up with the car’s prodigious cornering ability. My guess is they can’t, and the Elise’s on road talent exceeds most drivers’ ability. That’s a good thing.
While the steering response is scalpel sharp, let me offer a little bit of advice if you want to get the best out of this car.
If you don’t race karts, Formula Ford or V8 Supercars, you best start squeezing a squash ball every now and again. That will build your wrist strength up enough, to properly enjoy the car as you find yourself going back over the same ‘S’ bend stretch, over and over again or until you run out of fuel.
And Lotus doesn’t prescribe to the school of wide rubber for enhanced traction either. At least, not since the 1992 Esprit V8, which ran 285/35s down the back.
With the Elise S, it’s all down to the super high-tech extruded and bonded aluminium chassis, which weighs almost nothing at 68kg. That’s partly the reason this car is shod with just 225/45 R17’s down the back and 175/55 R16’s up front. But they are Yokohama Advan Neova AD07’s that feature massive tread blocks and rounded edges, which I could not fault, wet or dry.
The Elise S is no rocket ship, at least in a straight line. But when you factor in a power to weight ratio of 116kW/tonne, it’s anything but slow. If we consider the benchmark 0-100km/h sprint, it’s as quick as the V6 supercharged TRD Aurion and a full four tenths faster, than the sizzling V6 engine Golf R32.
Top speed is only 205 km/h but in this country, that’s plenty fast. Damn impressive for a 100kW output and what’s more, there’s plenty of torque right through the rev range in all five forward gear ratios.
And don’t expect a wiz bang, double-clutch transmission on any Lotus. If you want one of those, buy a Volkswagen or an Audi.
Standard kit on board the Elise S is the quickest and easiest shifting 5-speed gearbox you will ever have the pleasure of using. Heel and toe shifts in this thing, requires little or no practice, such is the positioning and weight of the pedals.
Most cars in the Elise family like to rev out. Switch ratios at near enough to 6200rpm or until you notice the three up-shift lights in the Elise S, and you will know the ‘Lotus experience’. Even better, if you can manage this feat on a camber friendly ‘S’ section. That’s when you will enter Nirvana.
When you’re close to red-lining through the first three or four ratios, don’t expect things to be anything but raucous. There are better sounding exhaust notes around but they don’t come from a 1.8-litre Toyota engine.
Driving the car normally though, that’s shifting at between 3000-4000rpm and you will have no problem listening to your iPod or having a conversation with your passenger.
It may look hard-core, even outrageous to some, but the Elise S is one of the easiest sports cars you will ever drive. But there are one or two significant barriers of entry, literally.
At 2.29m tall (7’6”) NBA sensation, Yao Ming from China won’t fit inside the cockpit, roof on, or off. In fact, anyone over 6’2”, is going to struggle. Worse still, if you’re put on a few too many kilos over the years, then it’s doubtful you will either get into or out of, an Elise.
But even for those lucky enough to be in shape, there’s still a trick to getting in and out of a Lotus. To enter, just place your left foot into the foot well and lower your bottom into the seat, then slide your right leg over the extra wide sill and your set. To alight, reverse the procedure but remember to slide the seat back before doing so.
Our press car had the optional Touring Pack (there’s also a Sport Pack) which is undoubtedly overpriced at an additional $8000 but with full leather interior and carpet set, embroided carpet mats with Elise logo, front driving lights, noise insulation panelling, noise insulated thermal soft top, interior stowage net, leather handbrake gaiter, trinket tray divider (this is getting silly) as is the aluminium retractable cup holder, leather trimmed centre console, padded leather door panels and a proper integrated iPod connector, it is nonetheless tempting if you have plenty of spare coin. I particularly like the leather ProBax cushioned seats, which are absolutely brilliant. No back ache whatsoever.
I’m fairly certain the Elise would be pull up just fine with drums all round, given its largely composite construction and subsequent ultra lightweight. However, reading a description of the brakes from the factory spec sheet is like reading from a high-end ‘go fast’ tuner catalogue. “… track-tuned 4-channel Anti-Lock Braking System with Lotus/AP-Racing twin-piston fixed aluminium alloy front brake calipers, Brembo single piston sliding rear calipers with ventilated and cross-drilled discs …”.
Suffice to say, the brakes not only work a treat but the pedal pressure is near perfect.
It’s the same with the overall suspension set up. “Fully independent suspension utilising unequal length wishbones, Bilstein mono-tube gas dampers with Eibach coaxial coil spring at each corner and front anti roll bar …”.
What is interesting, if not surprising about the suspension, is that it has been carefully tuned to provide a decent level of compliance over speed bumps and other nasty so-called traffic management devices. You really have to be driving quite quickly on a very bad road surface to feel any crash or jarring through the cabin. It’s quite remarkable in that respect.
I used the Lotus Elise S all week as I would any other press car I was reviewing. That meant visits to the Mall, the beach, and peak hour commuting. No problem, once you master the entry/exit procedure.
This is a high performance sports car you could live with seven days a week if you had to, with not a whole lot of compromise.
Let me qualify that. There is a sufficiently large storage area behind the engine (it’s a true mid-engine car) to carry two mid size soft bags. That means gym gear, enough clothes for weekends away with your partner, and even a couple of razor scooters and soccer balls thrown in for good measure.
Standard features on the base model Elise S are again, more than I expected. Air conditioning, twin airbags, central door locking, electric windows, Alpine audio head unit with four speakers, and remote alarm. All the creature comforts, if you like.
There’s also an easy to use engine push-start button, lightweight aluminium passenger footrest, Carpet mats, polished aluminium gear knob and handbrake sleeve.
When you buy a Lotus in the Elise family, you are going ‘Green’. Whether you are committed to the cause or not, Lotus is unquestionably committed. The Elise S puts out a class leading 196g/km and consumes as little fuel as 8.3l/100 km. Mind you, when you are having some serious fun on your favourite set of bends, expect to use another 30% more fuel. But then, that rule applies to almost any car on the planet.
Have I mentioned reliability? With its Toyota engine and gearbox, do I need to? Without a long term test, we can’t be conclusive but my guess is, the Elise will be a problem free sports car, which is unrivalled in the handling department.
Continue to read on for Alborz’s point of view…
When Anthony called and asked if I was interested in coming down to Sydney to drive a Lotus Elise S and Exige, I didn’t need to respond, I was already on my way to the airport.
Instead of writing about just how great this car is (and it is), as Anthony has already done, I will have to play bad cop and tell you what I don’t like.
From the outside, the Elise is not exactly your typical car and there is nothing ordinary about it. If there is one car you will remember on your 5pm drive home, it will be a Lotus. I am positive you will have no trouble spotting it, even through Beijing’s thick and healthy fog.
Drive it around Sydney and you can be guaranteed that nearly every conscious motorist will turn their head. This is not necessarily a good thing if subtlety and a valid license is something you desire.
One noticeable problem seems to be that the local police have a Lotus detection system. On at least two instances we were followed, for no apparent reason except that we had a ‘cooler’ car than our friendly officers. Come on guys, I am sure the Commodore SS can keep up through the bends!
Getting seated in the Lotus is an interesting exercise in patience and serenity, Anthony says you can get used to it, but that’s because Anthony is about as tall as the Elise itself.
After spending two days with it, my right leg was not only sore but had a noticeable bruise from every failed attempt at getting in or out of the car, and I am no Malcolm Turnbull.
Once you actually find your way inside, you are presented with an interior that is, well, a little lacking, which I suppose should come at no surprise. The idea here – and you have to keep reminding yourself of this – is to save weight, so that’s a good reason to pretty much have no interior comforts at all.
You have your steering wheel, gearshift, pedals and an air-conditioning system that works – when it wants to. Then there is the manually operated roof which ideally you’ll need two people to operate.
A typical day with the Elise goes a little like this. Get in (eventually), start the car up, put it into reverse, look in the mirror, see nothing, turn off the car, attempt to get out, hit your knee on the way out (swear), get out of the car, make sure there is nothing behind you, get back in, hit your knee on the way in (swear louder). Go to step 1.
However, the pain will quickly condition you to start by looking behind the Elise before you even think about getting in.
Once you’re on the open road though, the Elise comes to life in more ways than many can imagine. First there is no power steering, which is great if you love go-karting. Then there is the problem of boot space, yes, there is a boot, but it’s good to maybe store your wallet and a small bag. This leads to the passenger seat becoming your storage compartment.
Speaking of passengers, if your lady wants to tag along (and she is lady-like), she’ll need to be wearing jeans to enter or leave without having a “Britney Spears moment”.
Then you’ll have to explain to her why this car costs $70,000+, why her seat doesn’t heat up, why she can’t find anywhere to put her purse, why the stereo sounds ordinary (when you can work out how to turn it on), why there is so much road noise, why it feels like every single bump is transferred directly to her spine and eventually, why you spent $70,000 on a really fast two-seat go-kart.
Alas, there is only so much bad cop I can play. The Elise is a hard car to criticise, because despite all its short falls, I do absolutely love it. It’s brilliant for anyone that has even one drop of motoring blood in them. But, as a daily driver? For who?
For me, sure, I’d buy one tomorrow. I am not married, have no children and generally would only ever have my girlfriend or a friend in the car with me (plus I can wear knee pads). For Anthony, who is married and does have children, the Elise would become a weekend or track car, which is essentially what it’s meant for.
Don’t get me wrong, you can drive it to work day in and day out, but the impracticalities will eventually start to get to you.
My advice? If you have the money, this makes a lot more sense than the Japanese AWD kings, because whilst those two may be slightly quicker around a mountain and from 0 to 100km/h, the Elise is far more fun, and it’s rewarding to drive.
It will sit quietly in your garage until 5am on Saturday morning when the sun is about to come up, the men in blue are still asleep and the mountains are free from idiots on bicycles. Then, and only then, the Elise will connect with you in an almost spiritual way, eating the bends as they come, one, then another, then another – pure driving bliss.
Also, if you’re interested in an Elise S, you better hurry as Lotus is covering the 8 percent Luxury Car Tax until the 26th of August!
All that being said, I stepped out of the Lotus Elise S with a big smile and started walking slowly towards a supercharged Lotus Exige … for that you will have to wait.
If someone ever writes a book entitled “ZEN driving mastery” you can be sure the star car will be the Lotus Elise.
CarAdvice Overall Rating:
How does it Drive:
How does it Look:
How does it Go: