Lotus Elise Cup 250/Exige Cup 380: Driven

In 2016, Lotus introduced the Elise Cup 250, replacing the Cup 220. It was the fastest Elise ever, and the most focused: Cup is Lotus's track day brand, for those who want to drive to a circuit, embarrass GT3 owners and then drive home again to search online for images of them pulling Gilles Villeneuve-like drifts like a boss. The Elise has been around longer than the £2 coin and, thanks to boss Jean-Marc Gales' pragmatism, just keeps on getting better.

Same 250 Cup, just a bit better
Same 250 Cup, just a bit better
For 2017, there's a new Cup 250. It doesn't have any more power, or any suspension changes. Indeed, the only reason the spring rate goes up ever so slightly is because it weighs less - the most hardcore Elise is back down below 900kg. Spot it from its new Exige-style front end, the single tail lamps, plus the rather cool colour Lotus calls Peppermint (because people can't decide if it's green or blue.)

The aero kit tweaks are subtle; the front end is cleaner, the bargeboards have been revised and Lotus says the rear wing is even lighter and now generates 125kg of downforce at 140mph. There's lots of plastic mesh on all the grilles now: you can't get anything lighter, says Gales, which is why Lotus uses it. Mesh with kudos. The soft-top roof is still removable, although both test cars had the carbon fibre hard-top, which takes 3kg out of the highest point of the car for £3K.

Suspension is still Eibach springs and Bilstein dampers. AP Racing brakes can improved with lighter two-piece discs, saving 1kg a corner for £1,500: Gales enthuses over these, getting down on his knees in his suit to point out why they're so cool. Details like this are important: "It's getting harder take weight out of the Elise," he says, particularly if you want to keep the price below £50K. "We could save weight with a carbon fibre body - but then you'd be looking at nearer £70K..."

What else to say? We all know what the Elise is like. It's still awkward to get in and out, even if those (optional) carbon sills do ease it a little. It's familiar inside - here, Gales, points out the Alcantara steering wheel, something Lotus didn't used to offer, "but is now taken by 50 per cent of buyers". It's basically unchanged, and won't now change for another three years. The drive is the important bit here: time to follow Lotus's 2009 Toyota Previa factory hack out onto the circuit.

We can get on board with premium minimalism
We can get on board with premium minimalism
On track, sure enough, it's addictive. Because it's so light, so well-proven, so honed and equipped with that unbreakable Toyota drivetrain, it feels like it could lap all day long and not tire - the sort of car that doesn't feel unnatural on a circuit, doesn't feel like it's being worn out or weathered with every passing lap. Drive it as hard as you want with a clear conscience; it's so approachable, it almost lures you into exploring - indeed, almost demands it, given how easily the torquey motor gathers speed from track day-newbie revs.

It's quick enough without being monstrously so. The fact its chassis is so biddable, has such ridiculous levels of confident clarity, is what will keep you going ever-faster. Pretty soon, it'll be your driving you're working hard to perfect, because this lovely Lotus has not a single nasty surprise waiting in store if you get truly experimental. As your speed goes up and your lines improve, you'll also feel the aero swelling your confidence, egging you on yet further. You'll be flat through Big Balls Bend before you know it.

Then it's to the road car, to see how the Cup 250 performs in the other 98 per cent of driving conditions. Naturally, the press car has all the options that take dry weight down from 884kg to 860kg (and the price up by a good £20,000). Personally, I could do without the carbon fibre heater control surround that saves 0.1kg and costs £400, but people do still order it, says Gales, so what do I know? An absolute must-have, though, is the £4K titanium exhaust, because it sounds wonderful: bassier, richer and much more 'motorsport'. It also weighs just 5kg (standard is 12kg) - you'll struggle to find a lighter road car exhaust, reckons Gales.

It's Peppermint, OK?
It's Peppermint, OK?
What strikes you away from the rush of the circuit is how tactile and well-finished the Elise is these days. It's purist, sure, but a premium sort of minimalism, with deep paint, precise interior fit and a general feel of plush robustness. Full credit to the people of Hethel here: seems it's not just engines they're taking from Toyota. Even the (optional) air-con blows colder and more effectively these days.

The next bits are core Elise attractions. Non-assisted steering is indescribably wonderful - more so with every passing year, as ever more cars get off-the-shelf EPAS systems they haven't even bothered to hone. Well-matched pedal weight also complements this: the clutch isn't over-heavy, the accelerator is just-so firm and precise, brakes are like brakes used to be before manufacturers stopped bothering. And, lo, Lotus's open gear linkage is present in all its clicky-clack glory. I couldn't resist sticking 19 seconds of it in action on Instagram.

Lotus's test route was intentionally all-encompassing. Because B-road glory is always interspersed by much more dull and boring stuff. On the broken concrete of the A11, the taut Cup 250 blends a lovely Lotus firmly-controlled ride with ever-better surface NVH, while the torque of the engine and impeccable power delivery makes it feel rich and muscular even when squirting around a roundabout.

You don't need to drive an Elise fast to enjoy it. Even at five-tenths, the weighty, ever-chattering steering, the way you can so precisely bleed on and off the brakes, the effortless precision to how it rolls along without inertia or corruption, all should have you thinking hard whether you could have one as a daily driver. It brings a better quality experience to any drive; just as you'd stay out all day on the circuit, you'd have no qualms driving half-way across the country and back to do this. I rolled back sad only because I wasn't, unlike my lucky colleague, then going to drive it hundreds of miles back home.

Brilliant on road, brilliant on track; just brilliant
Brilliant on road, brilliant on track; just brilliant
The 2017 Cup 250 is a preview of the life of the Elise for the next few years: detail changes and an ever-richer experience thanks to those passionate geniuses at Lotus keeping cashflow rolling over by making it better and better. It's an almost motorsport-like approach of constant detail improvement of the nuances which, for nerds of high-grade componentry and increasingly perfected experiences like me, ensures the Elise still has ongoing relevance.

Yes, it's two decades old. No, it won't radically surprise until the new one in 2020. But if you want well-honed tactility in a world where more and more are throwing it away, the current Lotus Else still has relevance. Making the Cup 250 even lighter only enhances that, and takes it ever-closer to real-world roadster driving perfection.

Lotus Exige Cup 380
Lotus is also making another 80 Exige Cup 380s in 2017, so more well-heeled buyers can enjoy its '911 GT3 RS experience for 911 Carrera' appeal. The plan was only to make 60, but then Japan sent a request for another 20. And, at a likely transaction price easily into six figures with options, Gales wasn't going to refuse. They're all sold out, but Lotus still let us take one out for a blast on track. When in Hethel, etc.

Track car with a manual? Crumbs.
Track car with a manual? Crumbs.
I drove it still sweaty from hoofing the Cup 250 as hard as I possibly could. And the step up in speed, intensity and general colossalness was out of this world. The Elise is fast: this is incendiary. Its beautiful V6 engine offers more speed and richness, the tyres grip harder (20mm wider rear rubber is "as wide as you can go") and there's no doubting Gales' claim it's as fast as a GT3 RS on track.

I'll be honest, I didn't have time to recalibrate for its speed, its traction, its new variable traction control that allows you to alter slip from zero per cent to 12 per cent via a knob on the steering column (I loved the whap-whap of the ignition cut as it operates, though). Equally, the power of the brakes left me short of the apex even in max-Lewis Hamilton mode, and 200kg of aero meant the cliff-jump fear I felt as I turned into Hethel's quickest kink vaporised instantly.

The depths of this car are immense, making it, in such exalted track-day supercar company, something you could almost call a bargain. This is Lotus bringing McLaren 675LT-like experiences to those of us who aren't Jenson Button or Chris Evans. No wonder Lotus reckons prices are already on the up. It's bonkers, and brilliant.

1.8-litre, supercharged 4-cyl
Transmission: 6-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 246@7,200rpm
Torque (lb ft): 184@3,500-5,500rpm
0-62mph: 4.3sec
Top speed: 154mph
Weight: 917kg (with fluids and driver; lightest possible dry weight 860kg)
MPG: 37.7 (NEDC combined)
CO2: 175g/km
Price: £47,400

3.5-litre, supercharged V6
Transmission: 6-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 375@6,700rpm
Torque (lb ft): 302@5,000rpm
0-62mph: 3.6sec
Top speed: 175mph
Weight: 1,105kg (with fluids and driver; lightest possible dry weight 1,057kg)
MPG: 28.0 (NEDC combined)
CO2: 242g/km
Price: £83,000



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Comments (52) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Skornogr4phy 16 Jun 2017

    How can you have non assisted power assisted steering?

  • Ryvita 16 Jun 2017

    Reading reviews like that makes me seriously miss my Exige. cry

    Also makes me wonder how long they have to keep making these incredible things before public opinion will finally move away from the stereotypes:

    • "Lots of Trouble Usually Serious"
    • "Should be £20K cheaper"
    • "Can't compete with Porsche"
    • "Should be 500kg"
    • "It's only a Camry engine"
    • "Should have +100 bhp more"
    ...did I get them all? smile

    Edited by Ryvita on Friday 16th June 16:47

  • gashead1105 16 Jun 2017

    Skornogr4phy said:
    How can you have non assisted power assisted steering?
    Really very easily indeed. Even in my fat boy spec V6 Exige all you need to do is get the car rolling.

    Elise = sweet spot of the range, I really believe that. The Exige though ...... I'd love a cup and that rear wing is amazing. Performance bargain. Can you have it on 50:50?! If I didn't have my V6 already...

  • Porsche911R 16 Jun 2017

    I so want a Elise 250 CUP but not at £70k when you have these so call must haves of AP disks and Ti exhausts all extra's !!

    They say they can make it lighter but it will be a £70k car, then the test car is already a circa £70k car lol

    £45k max for an Elise surly and that needs all the lightweight parts as standard in at that price on a CUP car.

    Sort of makes the Cup 380 seem cheap but all sold out lol great ! (not really all sold out , As it's the dealers which have bought them, I hope they have strict guidelines not to sell at over list)

    They just need to work out how to make them UK track legal now as the Sport 380 and Cup 380 breach most UK track limits ! Slight error that Lotus.

    Edited by Porsche911R on Friday 16th June 16:56

  • Composite Guru 16 Jun 2017

    I'm collecting a year old 220 Cup next week. Cant wait to get it. biggrin

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