This is hardcore
An admirable expression of core Lotus values then. Or it would have been if our test car hadn’t arrived with 15kg and £1,100’s worth of air-con and a 9.1kg/£1,100 Comfort Pack reinstalling the deleted stereo, floormats, insulation, mud flaps and central locking. Beware then the Elise owner claiming he’s a true disciple of Chapman in his Club Racer if he isn’t blue with cold/sweating in the sunshine (delete according to season) and boasting about how good the new Miley Cyrus album sounds on his fancy Alpine stereo…
Let’s put the scales and calculator away and concentrate on the real essence of the car though. Which is, frankly, the same as it’s always been but facing a new and more exotic pretender to its lightweight crown in the form of the carbon-tubbed Alfa Romeo 4C.
Setting the emotional and marketing pull of that magic weave aside for a moment the 4C is a lot closer to the Elise in spirit than Alfa Romeo – which apparently tested the concept in Elise-based mules – might care to admit. The fancy sounding tub of the 4C only buys a few kilos over the Elise’s and, as previously discussed by Harris, has led to cost cutting in other areas (mainly the rear suspension) that probably have a greater impact on the driving experience than the pose value of its building materials.
By this point you’ll probably already know if you’re likely to get on with an Elise or not and the core values are very much intact. That tiny wheel with its evocative badge at its centre really plucks the heartstrings and the little Lotus is one of those cars that just manages to feel like an event every time you drive it. Not bad for a car with an engine derived from that in the Prius.
Supercharged to 220hp, it’s regained at least the on-paper potency of the old SC with the previous zingy and characterful 2ZZ-GE 1.8. Curse the emissions laws that killed that engine and its high-revving ways; in normally aspirated form it was a challenge – albeit a rewarding one – to keep on the boil and in screaming supercharged trim was genuinely thrilling. Lotus has done what it can to make the new engine sound and feel as exciting as a supercharged mid-engined sports car with 240hp per tonne should do but there’s no escaping it sounds a little flat. And those one-two-three shift lights appear just about where the old engine was really starting to kick off.
In all other respects the Club Racer is an out and out delight though. An Elise is never going to appeal to those chasing impressive numbers but as a sensory experience it remains unique, and shows up just how badly Alfa needs to finish the job calibrating the chassis and controls on the 4C before it can really compete. Where the Alfa throws a snatchy throttle, oddly weighted steering and an alarming lack of composure on bumpy roads at you the Lotus oozes confidence and predictable linearity. The wheel wriggles and writhes in your hands, load through the front tyres felt as the tensing and relaxing in the muscles and tendons in your forearms. Pedal weighting, throttle response, gearshift throw – all are balanced and consistent in relation to each other and it’s equally beguiling on a twisty back road as it is on a fast track like Spa-Francorchamps where we were lucky enough to drive it.
Same old same old then, and nowt wrong in that. It’s easy to cynically pick apart the ‘Club Racer’ package and dismiss the supposed weight saving benefits with closer scrutiny but at heart the Elise is what it’s always been; minimal, fun and perhaps more relevant than ever. And if it offers a wake-up call to Alfa about finishing the job on the 4C then all the better.
LOTUS ELISE S CLUB RACER
Engine: 1,798cc 4-cyl, supercharged
Transmission: 6-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 220@6,800rpm
Torque (lb ft): 184@4,600rpm
0-62mph: 4.6 sec
Top speed: 145mph
MPG: 37.5mpg (NEDC combined)
Price: £35,600 (Basic, £39,000 as tested comprising Comfort Pack with stereo, floor mats, central locking and sound insulation £1,100, air conditioning £1,100, forged Sport wheels £1,200)