Lotus Elise and Exige - are they safe in a crash?

Lotus Elise and Exige - are they safe in a crash?

Author
Discussion

AdvocatusD

Original Poster:

2,277 posts

187 months

Saturday 23rd May
quotequote all
I've always wanted a Lotus and had set my mind on buying one. However, I witnessed an incident which put me off a purchase for safety concerns.

A 2006 Lotus Elise was parked up and stationary. A 2008 Z4 was doing about 5-10mp behind it, also coming to a stop. Driver error meant the Z4 went into the back of the parked Elise. The impact was really quite minor as I saw it happen and the speed was really very low.

However, the damage was quite dramatic for what seems quite low impact and speed. What really concerned me is that the driver of the Lotus ended up getting a fairly deep cut, about 2 inches long to the back of his head and it needed a few stitches. I think this is where a bar that was behind the headrest still managed to cause some damage through the seat. I can only imagine how bad it would have been if the speeds were higher.

I really want a Lotus, but I think there is no way I would buy one that is more than 5 years old, having seen the incident above.

The big question I have is whether PH thinks the latest Exiges are safe and can hold up in a crash?

Not looking to cause an issue, just asking given what I experienced. If it sounds like a freak incident, happy to hear that!

kambites

59,472 posts

177 months

Saturday 23rd May
quotequote all
Two major points here I think...

Firstly modern cars are designed to deform in even relatively minor impacts to protect the occupants from sudden forces so the fact the car deformed significantly is not, in itself, a bad thing.

Secondly, in the case of an Elise, there is nothing structural at all behind the engine so the boot area will collapse in even a relatively minor collision. This is, in itself, neither a good thing nor a bad thing from the point of view of the safety of the occupants. Like most cars, the Elise has no significant rear crumple zone, it relies on the front crumple zone of the car which hits it to absorb the impact.


In answer to the actual question. No Elises are not very safe in crashes by modern standards for a number of reasons. The tub is pretty strong but it's also below the bumper level of most other cars which means it offers little protection in an impact with another car. The doors do contain impact bars and they're reasonably tough but they have a lot of work to do. The Elise is also very light so if you have a head-on with a car of twice the weight, the Elise will end up heading backwards at some speed meaning there peak load on the occupants will have been considerably higher. Secondly early cars have no air-bags, and even later ones only have front airbags. They also have no load limiters on the seatbelt or anything like that.

Finally in terms of crash dynamics, Elises tend to submarine under other cars, which, which it reduces the peak loads on the driver in a crash, tends to lead to being stuck in the car.

Another point to note is that any convertible is relatively weak in a roll-over compared to a tin-top car. The Elise has a very strong roll-bar but that only really helps if you roll over on a flat surface.

Equus

8,825 posts

57 months

Saturday 23rd May
quotequote all
kambites said:
The Elise has a very strong roll-bar but that only really helps if you roll over on a flat surface.
... at low speed and/or while superglued to your seat.

Otherwise, gravity takes over.

People seem to ignore the fact that roll bars mainly work on competition cars because drivers are very tightly strapped in with a full harness.

Fortunately, cars don't roll over all that often.

kambites

59,472 posts

177 months

Saturday 23rd May
quotequote all
Also true, especially if you're tall.

AdvocatusD

Original Poster:

2,277 posts

187 months

Saturday 23rd May
quotequote all
What I'd like is a new-ish Exige, but it's sounding like safety is a definite issue.

gareth h

2,327 posts

186 months

Saturday 23rd May
quotequote all
AdvocatusD said:
What I'd like is a new-ish Exige, but it's sounding like safety is a definite issue.
Much safer than my old Caterham!

kambites

59,472 posts

177 months

Saturday 23rd May
quotequote all
If you're worried about safety, I guess you need to join the arms race and buy a two tonne SUV like everyone else.

timbo999

809 posts

211 months

Saturday 23rd May
quotequote all
I spun my Elise at high speed (100+mph) at Spa and hit the barrier both front and back... I suffered no ill effects (well, not physically, I cried buckets) and the car was driven back to the UK. The crash structure and ally tub were not damaged at all (according to Back on Track) but the car was written off financially as it needed both front and rear clams and headlights. Having said that, I do agree that an Elise wouldn't fare so well in collision with another car.

heebeegeetee

26,984 posts

204 months

Saturday 23rd May
quotequote all
AdvocatusD said:
What I'd like is a new-ish Exige, but it's sounding like safety is a definite issue.
Just please do bear in mind that insurance premiums for classic cars, which obviously have almost no safety equipment at all, are peanuts, because pro-rata they are driven in an entirely different way and do so much less harm and they are crashed at a far lower rate.

As I'm sure you're aware, the one massive factor in whether you crash or not is you. Also don't forget that sports car will help you avoid the crash, an SUV will do much less to help you avoid the crash but keep you safer when you have one.

Though even that is disputed, apparently SUVs do more harm both to occupants and those outside the vehicle.
"SUVs are a paradox: while many people buy them to feel safer, they are statistically less safe than regular cars, both for those inside and those outside the vehicle. A person is 11% more likely to die in a crash inside an SUV than a regular saloon. Studies show they lull drivers into a false sense of security, encouraging them to take greater risks. Their height makes them twice as likely to roll in crashes and twice as likely to kill pedestrians by inflicting greater upper body and head injuries, as opposed to lower limb injuries people have a greater chance of surviving. Originally modelled from trucks, they are often exempt from the kinds of safety standards applied to passenger vehicles, including bonnet height. In Europe legislation is being brought in to end such “outdated and unjustified” exemptions."
https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2019/oct/07/a-d...

Olivera

3,970 posts

195 months

Saturday 23rd May
quotequote all
As others have stated an Elise is considerably unsafe in many types of crash when compared to your average 2020 passenger car.

Fortunately this level of unsafety is still far better than most Caterham 7 type cars, kit cars, and many classics.

kambites

59,472 posts

177 months

Saturday 23rd May
quotequote all
Olivera said:
Fortunately this level of unsafety is still far better than most Caterham 7 type cars, kit cars, and many classics.
Or indeed anything on two wheels.

CTE

1,351 posts

196 months

Sunday 24th May
quotequote all
Its true to say you really don`t want to be in a head on with another vehicle, but then do you in any vehicle?

I`ve had one or two large thumps on track and witnessed quite a few others whilst competing in a junior Elise race series over the last few years and apart from a hit to the wallet no one has been injured to any degree.

The clams and crash structures surrounding the tub does crumple quite nicely and given the cars relatively low mass they absorb an impact well against a stationary object.

Unfortunately in order to achieve the handling delights of such cars they need to be low and light which tends to be at odds with added safety kit.

As said previously, if you are on the ball you are far less likely to be involved in an accident in the first place given their agility and braking performance. The V6 Exige`s and more recent Elise's do have a lot more electronics to prevent spins etc which where the early cars can be tricky especially in the wet.

AdvocatusD

Original Poster:

2,277 posts

187 months

Sunday 24th May
quotequote all
Thanks everyone. Let me put this another way. I assume there are certain globally required standards of safety. I assume that some companies just about meet the requirement and some companies exceed them. Where would Lotus fall when reviewed in light of legal safety requirements?

My concerns is not so much the headon collision, but the fear of what might have happened to my friend if the BMW in the first post was doing 30 mph instead of 5-10.

kambites

59,472 posts

177 months

Sunday 24th May
quotequote all
There's laws regarding specific items like air bags but not really any regarding overall safety. It's pretty much entirely driven by consumer demand fed by the results of private testing companies like NCAP.

I rather suspect that the Elise/Exige is the least safe (for the occupants, it's probably pretty good for everyone else) fully EU type approved car on sale today if it's involved in a crash.

Edited by kambites on Sunday 24th May 19:38

Stephanie Plum

2,599 posts

167 months

Tuesday 26th May
quotequote all
Honestly if this is worrying you then a Lotus isn’t for you. Or any other classic car. There are much higher volume sports cars that will have ncap ratings that you should look at.

Venisonpie

854 posts

38 months

Wednesday 27th May
quotequote all
kambites said:
There's laws regarding specific items like air bags but not really any regarding overall safety. It's pretty much entirely driven by consumer demand fed by the results of private testing companies like NCAP.

I rather suspect that the Elise/Exige is the least safe (for the occupants, it's probably pretty good for everyone else) fully EU type approved car on sale today if it's involved in a crash.

Edited by kambites on Sunday 24th May 19:38
You're probably right. Doesn't stop me driving mine anywhere however I'm always super alert at all times.

Constantly looking at other traffic and anticipating next moves, always leaving plenty of room on a dual carriageway and motorway, never get boxed in, never pull up stationary directly behind another vehicle (leave an escape gap to left or right) and will instantly cut off a conversation with a passenger if I need to. Oh, and get a chrome orange one as they're easier for others to spot!

Fonzey

1,355 posts

83 months

Wednesday 27th May
quotequote all
I've not owned a 7' car to date for this very reason, though I'm fairly sure I will do eventually.

I have however owned two Elise/Exige based cars (currently in a 2006 Exige) and as it can feel a little bit exposed when you first start mingling with modern SUVs on the road. I do however feel very safe in the car once acclimatised, the main factor for avoiding an accident is myself and when I strap into the Lotus it's not to do a bleary eyed drive to work in fog, or to rush to an appointment - it's a purposeful pre-planned drive in good weather and no compromises.

I've witnessed a few semi-heavy smashes on track involving Elise/Exige cars and they do remarkably well at protecting their occupants, and more often than not end up back on the road after a few bits of fibreglass. They are very tough! Technically they have an edge over so many other cars too, probably a fraction of the braking distance of a modern SUV for example.

Somebody else mentioned insurance on classic cars, and the same story applies here. Generally insurance on an Elise/Exige is extremely cheap compared to a contemporary/comparable performance car, and that's not without reason - they're generally involved in very few accidents due to how they're used and looked after.

Later cars come with airbags (2008ish onwards) and that's about all that has changed since the early 2000's. Many people run harnesses (even on the road) which renders even the airbags moot. The S3 Exige (if that's what you're considering) will go a long way to looking after it's occupants in terms of traction/stability control and will generally be easier to drive on the road in mixed conditions. An S1 or early S2 on the other hand is likely to have much fewer 'assists' and that may influence your decision too.

If you're considering one for a 12k/year daily involving 300 rushhour commutes per year I would be more concerned, but if it's for a weekend blast/trackday car then I'd be fairly comfortable in recommending one!

Rick101

6,007 posts

106 months

Wednesday 27th May
quotequote all
A Lotus is like a truck compared to a 7 laugh

A Caterham is not enjoyable on primary routes in mixed traffic! They come into their own though on the back roads where they are supposed to be used.
Even at 30mph they are great fun as it's all on the driver.

I'd have no concerns in a Lotus over any other car. They may have weak and strong points but all cars have their quirks, well apart from Volvos.
I've never thought to look up an NCAP safety rating, I did however do an IAM course before buying my first M3. I've done subsequent courses and other training since to keep topped up.
It won't prevent you having an incident but it'll lessen the chances considerably. I note Fonzey's comment above and it is a key part of AD and often overlooked. The most important nut is the one behind the wheel.

Fonzey said:
the main factor for avoiding an accident is myself and when I strap into the Lotus it's not to do a bleary eyed drive to work in fog, or to rush to an appointment - it's a purposeful pre-planned drive in good weather and no compromises.

james_gt3rs

4,767 posts

147 months

Wednesday 27th May
quotequote all
CTE said:
Its true to say you really don`t want to be in a head on with another vehicle, but then do you in any vehicle?
yes Even the safest car in the world probably won't do too well in a head on with a lorry for example.

kambites

59,472 posts

177 months

Wednesday 27th May
quotequote all
Yup. Mine has been my daily driver for 12 years including taking my daughter out in it most weeks. You do have to drive quite defensively though, especially in poor weather.