2005 Lotus Elise
By James Riswick
Saving weight to improve quickness and agility is an age-old concept. Whether youíre talking about Britainís defeat of the Spanish Armada or the Korean speed skating team, less bulk usually translates into quick reflexes and the ability to make larger rivals look silly.
Case in point. The Lotus Elise is three tenths of a second quicker from 0-60 mph than the Porsche Boxster S, but has 90 fewer horses. Thatís right, 90. What automotive sorcery is this, you ask?
The answer is simple: the Elise weighs a whopping 990 pounds less the Boxster S. Heck, it comes in 507 pounds lighter than a Mazda MX-5 Miata and is only bested (at least in the United States) by the Honda Insight by 94 clicks on the scale. So despite only having 190 Toyota-provided horses aboard, the Elise can zip from 0-60 in a sweet 4.9 seconds.
In an age when cars are getting heavier and heavier (kind of like Americans), how has Lotus produced such a Weight Watchers-mobile? Well, a quick look inside will provide most of that explanation. The snug interior appointments can best be described as resembling a couple of leather seats and some plastic stuck inside a Diet Coke can. The carís aluminum structure (that only weighs 150 pounds itself) is visible everywhere and padded surfaces are few and far between. Sound deadening materials and power windows are optional. A í76 MG-B looks like a Lexus in comparison.
Therefore, if youíre looking for something that can double as a day trip tourer or take you from Los Angeles to San Francisco in comfort, go for the Boxster. But thatís not what the Elise is about. Instead, all that aluminum and weight savings translate into what has been described as the best handling car currently on sale in the United States. The little Lotus transmits every nuance of whatís happening at pavement level to the driverís hands through the easy-to-operate, yet non-power-assisted steering. If youíre looking for a car that carves up mountain roads like an Iron Chef slices and dices Shanghai Shark Fin, then thereís nothing that beats the Elise (except maybe its psycho brother the Exige).
Power is provided by Lotus-massaged versions of the same 1.8-liter inline-4 engine and 6-speed manual thatís found in the Toyota Matrix XRS and late Toyota Celica. Lotus installed a new engine-control computer that makes the Toyota engine a more flexible, less peaky powerplant. Despite having a sky-high redline in the 8000-rpm range, you donít have to drive it like you stole it.
Although only on sale in the United States since 2005, the Elise has been a huge hit in Europe since 1997. Back then it was only offered with a ratty old Rover engine best suited for marine use (say, as a boat anchor). With its super lightweight frame, it also had a better chance of carrying five passengers than getting exported across the pond where more stringent safety requirements ruled the day. While living in London in 2003, it was a treat to see these little, tantalizing cars zipping around corners, but depressing to know they were for Europeís eyes only.
Eight years after its introduction, though, Lotus managed to get the Elise up to U.S. snuff without any special exemptions. How they did it is unimportant. The only valid news is the Elise is finally here, itís even more fun than promised and itís still light as an aluminum feather.
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Pictures of the Lotus Elise
Click pictures to enlarge
Posted March 2, 2006
Photos courtesy of