Wednesday 30th January 2008


The new Lotus Elise SC promises to be faster and easier to drive - but has it gone soft? Adam Towler flies to Spain to find out...

We're used to Lotus unveiling yet another Elise variant - but there's nothing wrong with that. After all, most of us will always have time for another derivation of Lotus' seminal sports car. But now, just as the company is able to shift its focus to an all-new product for the first time in years – say hello to Project Eagle - Lotus has brought us a new Elise range-topper. Without wishing to give too much away early on, it’s a real high for the lightweight two-seater.

Lotus claims the SC is the Elise for those who want plenty of straight-line performance, but aren’t the kind of hardcore enthusiast interested in repeatedly attending track days and sweating over ultimate lap times. It retains the broader appeal of the Elise - hopefully still with plenty of circuit ability intact - but injects not only additional pace, but also what Lotus hope is a newfound driveability in everyday use.

The reason behind this claim is the supercharger installation on the 2-ZZ VVTL-i 1.8 litre Toyota engine. As any 111R driver will attest, the regular Toyota engine is peaky in nature, with a narrow power band that doesn’t get going until 6,200rpm and then revs frantically until 8,500rpm shows on the dial. And although it’s no slouch at lower revolutions thanks to the lightness of the Elise, you do need to cane the R if you’re to fully tap into its performance potential - and not to drop out of the angry cam zone with the next up shift either.

But this supercharger recipe isn’t as simple as the power outputs of the SC would have you believe. Although it generates the same 217bhp as the Exige S, there is in fact a completely different set up under those familiar ventilation slats. As we’ve already said, Lotus wanted to concentrate on driveability as much as outright power for this car, and naturally, having an intercooler blocking all rearward visibility would hardly sit with the kind of product brief they had in mind. To that end, they’ve used a smaller Eaton type M45 supercharger cast as one with the intake manifold plenum and there’s no intercooler in sight. The SC unit doesn’t have the tuning potential of the Exige S engine according to Lotus, but it does fit inside the standard Elise engine bay, and this configuration also weighs 8kg less.

So not only is there that peak power figure of 217bhp developed high as ever at 8,000rpm, the angry cam now kicks in at 4,000rpm meaning a fat 4,500rpm band of power (relatively speaking) to work with on the road. Torque may have only risen to 155lb ft at a still high 5,000rpm, but that needs to be viewed, as ever, in the context of a 903kg kerb weight. Lotus claims the 0-60mph sprint in a scintillating 4.4sec, 0-100mph in 10.7sec, and a maximum speed of 150mph to unnerve any scalp when the roof is off.

Lotus has chosen to launch the SC in the hills above Barcelona, not far from the stages of Rally Spain, so any WRC fan will be able to picture the kind of tortuous, twisting and tight asphalt on offer here. The Elise is a delicate and precise riot on these roads, goading you to drive it ever-faster, your concentration needing to remain at full strength if you’re not to misjudge a tightening curve and, at best, crunch the front clam on an unforgiving stone wall; at worst take a tumble down the rocky hillside. The Elise may inspire confidence with the sense of integrity its monocoque imbues, but I’ve no wish to put it to that kind of test.

The additional torque and breadth of power is an utter joy, hauling this Elise out of tight hairpins in second gear that would need to be a first gear scramble in a 111R to sustain the pace, and then shrinking the next short straight before the Elise can be enjoyed through another sequence of corners for all the reasons we love it in the first place. Some things haven’t changed, and nor did they need to.

Throttle response is better than ever on this SC, and the brakes have a heartening resistance that inspires confidence and facilitates fancy footwork. Overall, it’s simply great fun, and the kind of car you end up wishing the road you’re driving on would just never end. It’s also worth noting that with a combined fuel consumption of 31mpg and a Co2 figure of 200g/km, it doesn’t have to be a particularly guilty pleasure either. Well, as long as you don’t take your speeds across country into account, I guess…

The visual modifications are minor: there are new wheel designs – wider on the rear axle – and a rear spoiler, plus the 2008 model year upgrades to the interior are fitted, which include twin airbags, a new dashboard finish and more modern looking dials. From experience, the little Lotus seems better finished than ever before.

I suspect there will be some that miss the highly-strung character of the atmospheric Toyota engine, and the added commitment required to keep it working hard on a challenging road. That’s a matter of personal taste, either unnecessary hard work or devotion to the challenge of judging a road just right, but although it’s easy to dismiss the obvious flexibility of the SC in daily driving as a sign this Elise has grown up and gone soft, an urgent blast to the redline soon reassures you that not only is this Elise as vociferous and sharp as a 111R, it’s also quite a lot faster.

This top-end fury coupled with the delicious combination of torque in a car of lightweight construction makes the SC one of the strongest strands of Elise DNA yet seen. It might cost £4,000 more than the 111R, but it’s a superb sports car in the very best sense of the words. As to whether it makes it easier to live with every day? How tempting…



Lotus Elise SC


217bhp @ 8,000rpm

155lb ft of torque at 5,000rpm

1796cc 4 cyls in line, supercharged

6 Speed gearbox

31.0 mpg

0-60mph 4.4sec

0-100mph 10.7sec

150mph max

903kg kerbweight

200g/km co2


Author: adam towler