Reviews of the Lotus Elise, at least among driving aficionados, brim with superlatives. Edmunds, for example, says, "The 2008 Elise provides the most unfiltered driving experience of any roadster sold today." 2008 brings a new instrument display with a trip computer, the new Elise SC, featuring a supercharged version of the standard four-cylinder engine.
This year Lotus adds a supercharged SC trim. They're using a slightly detuned version of the supercharged Lotus Exige S's four-cylinder engine. Further, Lotus engineers employed a new intake manifold that incorporates an Eaton M45 Roots-type supercharger and saves 17.6 pounds by eliminating the intercooler used in the Exige S engine. The 1.8-liter engine produces 218 hp, and the performance increase drops the 0-60 time to 4.4 seconds, equaling that of the 420-hp Audi R8. Along with the supercharged engine, the SC trim includes a rear spoiler, specially designed alloy wheels, and a single central exhaust pipe. Lotus gives mileage estimates of 20/26 mpg for the SC.
The Elise produces 1.0g of lateral grip - more than both the Porsche Boxster S and the Corvette Z06. The Elise does this by remaining faithful to its founder, Colin Chapman's racing philosophy: Lighter is faster. The Elise's remarkable extruded aluminum, epoxy-bonded chassis weighs only 150 pounds. Clad in lightweight composite body panels, the car tips the scales at an amazing 1,984 pounds, 514 pounds less than a Miata and about 300 pounds less than a Toyota Yaris.
With a 1.0-g grip, mid-engine configuration, and super-low weight, the Elise's handling is phenomenal. Don't expect a daily driver's soft ride, but do expect to have some serious fun. Motor Trend compared the accuracy and lightness of the steering "the rival of any Porsche," needing only three-quarters of a turn to negotiate most switchbacks. They conclude that the supercharged engine in the SC actually improves the fabulous handling of the base Elise due to its extra torque at all engine speeds - it's the torque that boots you out of the corners. Yet other reviewers question whether the additional $8,000 to move up to the SC is worth its slight performance increase.
Standard equipment on all Elise models includes 16-inch front wheels and 17-inch rear wheels, Lotus/AP Racing (front) and Brembo (rear) brakes, air-conditioning, power windows and locks, an aluminum handbrake and shift knob, a trip computer, a four-speaker Alpine stereo with CD player, an anti-theft system with engine immobilizer, and black cloth ProBax anatomically designed seats, which are said to improve blood flow to the legs, negating the need for an adjustable lumbar.
Weight is a major factor in the Elise, and thus reviewers all note its rather spartan interior. This is a driver's car - there's even a checkbox on the order form to skip the air-conditioning to save weight. After all, full floor carpeting and a cupholder are part of the Touring Pack option package, which also includes a thermal and sound-insulated soft top, full leather seat and door trim, a leather-trimmed center console, an iPod connector, and "additional sound insulation." Safety equipment, besides the car's handling and braking capabilities, includes driver and passenger airbags.
The Elise leaves much to be desired in terms of everyday driving practicality, but the Elise is a driver's machine, and as Car and Driver put it, "The soul, the fluidity, the sheer genius of the thing - those are what matter."