The Lotus Elise is one of the best-handling sports cars in the world, but in introducing a smaller engine, Lotus says it's also now one of the 'greenest' too.
It’s a compact two-seater with a mid-mounted engine in a lightweight body designed for superb balance and handling.
On the outside, the latest version of the Lotus Elise has been given a series of tweaks, and while it doesn’t appear much different to the previous model, there are some clever changes employed to eke out even better performance.
The overall look is sharper, with the softer curves of the front-end now more pronounced, with longer, thinner headlights, LED daytime running lights, and a revised front grille flanked by new nostrils.
At the rear there’s a more aggressive diffuser that not only makes the new Elise look refreshed, but also reduces drag by four percent.
This means less work for the new Toyota-sourced 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol engine that is now the only powerplant on offer in the entry-level Elise – the previous 1.8-litre Toyota unit is still found, albeit supercharged, in the more powerful Lotus Elise S.
The smaller engine has been introduced in an effort to improve fuel economy, taking the old car’s figure of 8.3L/100km down to 6.3L/100km – an improvement of 21 per cent. The Elise’s closest rival, the Mazda MX-5, uses 8.1L/100km.
While it’s smaller in capacity, the 1598cc engine is actually a little taller, meaning the Elise’s engine cover now sits higher, reducing rear vision slightly.
You’ll forget that though, as the new engine is packed with go-fast technology including variable valve timing.
It also has the same 100kW as the old engine, but in an effort to reduce emissions, torque has dropped from 164Nm at 4200rpm to 160Nm at 4400rpm.
To compensate, the Lotus Elise comes with a six-speed gearbox instead of the previous five-speed, which gives it even greater flexibility to exploit the torque on offer.
Still, the already rev-happy Elise needs to be pushed hard to get the most out of it, but in truth this makes it even more exciting to drive.
The new engine and gearbox feels even smoother and has a greater willingness to rev, with crisp throttle response. There’s also a snarling second-wind once the variable valve timing kicks in as the Lotus tops 5000rpm.
Sitting in the low-slung sports seats, the Lotus Elise is not a car for the heavy-set, even getting in is an athletic feat in itself.
Out test car was fitted with an optional Touring Pack, which adds thin sports seats that proved comfortable even after a day’s driving.
There’s a small-diameter sports steering wheel in front of you, a fairly spartan dash layout, and exposed aluminium along the floor and doorsills as its lightweight chassis is made of the stuff.
You’ll get three pedals made of aluminium, too, as you can’t buy a Lotus Elise with an automatic gearbox.
You are literally sitting between the chassis rails when in an Elise, adding to the sensation of speed when you floor the throttle and punch through the six-speed manual.
The shifts are firm and feel solid with no play or lightness like in most road cars, making it a quick movement to slot into each gate.
The new engine is a cracker, and doesn’t have you missing the old motor – which was a brilliant unit – for one second.
Following Lotus tradition, the Elise is a lightweight, tipping the scales at a mere 876kg – making it much lighter than a Mazda MX-5 (1129kg) and Porsche Boxster (1310kg). At 3.7m long, it’s also shorter, narrower and lower than both the Mazda and the Porsche.
The lithe mass means the Lotus Elise can get away with unassisted steering, which itself is super responsive and delivers excellent feedback.
In the Elise, you know precisely where you’ve put it and exactly what’s going on.
The lack of weight also helps with excellent braking, further adding to the confidence gained from the abundant grip.
Body roll? Non-existent. Dive, squat? None. It’s a rewarding, pure driving experience that few, if any, cars can rival today.
The downside is that the ride is super crashy in town – clearly its focus is on razor-sharp handling on billiard-table smooth roads.
While it’s much more affordable than the Porsche Boxster, it doesn’t quite have the same cache or reliability as its German rival. It’s more expensive than the Mazda MX-5, too, but it easily offers a more rewarding and driver-focused drive than the fun-loving but more mass market Mazda.