Friday 25th January 2013

PH Fleet: Lotus Elise Sport 135

A cry of alarm from the Lotus and a nagging sense of guilt from Danny for ignoring it

Wanting to express a feeling of neglect without the power of words can be achieved in a number of ways. If you're a baby you can cry your eyes out. If you're a dog you can chew up your owner's favourite leather armchair and if you're an S1 Elise you can emit an ear-splitting beep.

Back On Track got Danny back on track
Back On Track got Danny back on track
For a car with such impotent horn, the warning alarm - purely for the job of telling the driver that the back-up battery has died - is surprisingly virile. Passers by and the local dog population will testify to this.

Fortunately, I was taking the Elise for its annual service, at Lotus specialist Back On Track, when it happened and if anything could silence the din it was their three-pound club hammer. About 15 miles further down the road the battery had picked up enough charge for the beeping to stop, although only to be replaced by a sound of sloshing liquid that was either a catastrophic coolant leak or permanent hearing damage.

Having had the major - read expensive - C-service and cambelt change last year 2013 was scheduled to be a mellow blip in the fiscal roller coaster that is Lotus ownership. To my relief, and despite the Elise's vociferous attention seeking, it was given a completely clean bill of health. According to Jez and Stef from BOT, the only thing I will need to keep an eye on is a build up of cobwebs.

A quick call by Bell and Colvill on the way home...
A quick call by Bell and Colvill on the way home...
With their words ringing in my ears - a definite upgrade on the alarm - I set off home with a resolution to make 2013 a year where the Elise gets some proper use. There was just one errand I needed to make en route...

Being that I drive right passed past Bell and Colvill - a Lotus dealer for over 40 years - on my way to Guildford, and they had just taken delivery of one of the first Exige V6 demonstrators in the country, a thought had occurred to me when I was arranging the service. I sent out an exploratory email to Sales Manager Jamie Matthews that was met with the very kind offer of a test drive.

First off, I'd like to nail my colours to the mast; I think the new Exige looks the absolute conkers. OK, so accommodating the V6 might have made it look a bit stretched in pure side profile, but from almost all other angles it exudes pure aggression. It even makes the old Exige look a bit girly.

...and a chance to see how things have come on
...and a chance to see how things have come on
Conditions were far from ideal, with a damp, greasy layer of muck covering most of Surrey's roads. However, after a brief familiarity drive, Jamie left me in sole charge of the pleasingly filthy white Exige.

Getting in is a familiar challenge. It's a trial that may remain the biggest obstacle to ownership for some of the target audience, but it also happens to evoke some of that special feeling you get when clambering into a proper racecar. And that has to be a good thing.

Once inside it's not a million miles away from my car. Beyond a few extra switches and some nicer materials, all the controls fall into their familiar positions and you still rub shoulders with your passenger on right handers. Even the indicator stalks are the same Vauxhall sourced items.

Firing up the engine, however, is about as far removed from a 90s Corsa, or Elise for that matter, as you can get. It sounds fantastic; throaty and capacious, yet with a harder edge and a note of supercharger.

Winter roads no problem for new Exige
Winter roads no problem for new Exige
You don't need a microscope to detect the classic Lotus steering DNA. Just grab hold of the wheel and the directness, accuracy and clarity of information streams through your fingers. It's like having a constant ticker tape of feedback running along the bottom of the windscreen. There's plenty of weight though - something I really noticed when I got back in the S1.

If the steering is an evolution, the damping and ESP are revolutions. The damping is Oscar-winning stuff; so composed and confidence inspiring, even on the bumpiest of Surrey's B-roads. And combined with the Dynamic Performance Monitor set to Race, the way you can cover ground, in complete trust, makes it feel like there is some serious voodoo at work. Really; it's impressive stuff.

For me, the only chink in the armour of the Exige V6 is the gearbox. Ok, so there's enough torque that you can be lazy with your changes, but interaction is high on my list of priorities and there's just a little too much throw and a reluctance to be rushed that means it just falls short of perfection. And, in the car I drove, a delay in the throttle response made heel and toe tricky.

Hopefully that doesn't sound too negative, because I think the Exige V6 is brilliant and anyone lucky enough to be getting one is in for a real treat.

Fact sheet
1998 Lotus Elise Sport 135
Run by: Danny Milner
Bought: October 2010
Purchase price: £9,500
This month at a glance: Elise protests - loudly - at lack of use, new year's resolution to address problem enacted


Author: Danny Milner

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12 comments on this story

Last comment was by Danny Milner
on 25th January 2013