Lotus Elise S: More power is no bad thingDoes messing with the Lotus Elise's balance of low power, low weight and fine handling do it any favours? Having driven the supercharged Elise S, we'd say no...
Of course you went back to 1996, just what were you doing? Lotus. Lotus was busy, busy making something the world really care about. It was called the Elise and it was named after at the time CEO Romano Artioli's granddaughter and that is one hell of acclaim to fame. The S1 as it is known came with a mid-mounted 1.8-liter Rover-K Series engine which isn't the most reliable thing in the world. Various spec solutions and tweaks kept the lineup fresh until 2001 when Lotus launched the S2. Now it put on a little bit of weight, but on the looks front it was the Brad Pitt to the S1's Steve Carell. It was a little bit fit. It also kept the K-Series engine until about the middle of the noughties when some Japanese muscle found its way under the boot bonnet thing. Yes. The Toyota-powered cars came in 3 flavors, 111S which was the standard 1.8, 111R which came with a jazzy twincam 189 brake horsepower 1.8, and the SC which had a supercharger and 218 brake horsepower. The 111R though was the one to go for. It kept the right balance of power and Lotus handling. It's coincidentally the one I own. The wonderful thing about it is that it had an awesome little party piece. Once you got it up to temperature, you can get to about 5,500, 6,000 RPM and a second camshaft would kick in. It'll be a little bit like old school turbo like it was a bit nuts and shouldn't I say it'd run about 4-1/2, power, power, there we go. Jesus. It's just cool. You see there's something about the Elise that bewitches people. It's got a small engine so it isn't too difficult to fuel. It's impractical but you can just put a weekly shop in it, which you shouldn't bulk at because I've done it lots. You definitely can. In 2010, the S2 was facelifted and all of its jazzy engines were removed and they're replaced with a 1.6. It was a decent enough steer but it was missing just one thing, speed. Fast forward to 2011 when Lotus decided to drop a supercharged 1.8 in there. It's got the power back to the range and some. Now this wee beastie comes with 216 brake horsepower, will allegedly do naught to 62 in about 4.6 seconds and around 145 miles an hour. That's quite quick. They handle like nothing else and it's still relatively comfortable. And if you do lose it at least, very difficult to get it back. I'm still buzzing from the fact that I just pushed my own car around Hethel and now I'm its grandson. I'm trying to do exactly the same thing. What a wonderful thing. Now I wonder if it's as easy to live with as it is to boost on the track. Good God, that was 100 miles an hour. Wow. It's quick. Well, it's mammothly quick and it's good fun, so far so good, but it's one thing playing at Lotus' very own test track and it's another thing experiencing it in the real world. So I'm gonna do a little bit of an Elise swap. Lotus handling is praised for being some of the best you can ever get from a sports car, and it's very so ethereal in the way it goes. You see they tuned over bumping nasty British B roads that surround the factory in Hethel but also on the track which means they're good say on a normal B road and on a smooth, smooth track. I really, really love the way these things handle. Just magical. You can pop it into a bend and you can be 99 percent certain unless you're driving like a complete moppet, but it will stick to the road. The gearshift is wonderful. You just think clink, clink, clink, clink. It's very smooth, very quick, very easy. It has evolved along with the car. Now the biggest difference in this Elise over to others is the fact that it's got a large amount of power, nearly 220 brake horsepower. That's quite a lot for a car that weighs less than a ton. Some people would think that that would ruin the Elise. Some people thought that the 111R or S2 was the one to go for because it had the right amount of power for the car for the handling for what it is. They're wrong. More power hasn't ruined this car. What it's done is it's made it more usable which of anything is a good thing. The torque curve and the power curve is a marvelous thing because the supercharger just gives it that little extra added vim so you can stick it into 3rd, 40 on a country lane as we're doing now and the world starts going backwards quite quickly. Go for a hoon in an, say an R400, R500 or even the Caterham Supersport, what you'll get is that your spine will be shaking straight from its mountings which is bad. You have a giant ground in your face, but you will be broken but jump out of that and immediately step into this and you'll see just how much work has gone into actually making this quite a pleasant thing to drive and even hustle. You've got 99 percent of the ability with about 4 billion times the comfort. That may be down to the Pro Back seats in there. They twist your pelvis ever so slightly so you're using your skeleton to support you rather than your muscles so you can legitimately drive 250 miles in one sitting and still feel all right. The Elise S in all of its supercharged glory is a rather wonderful thing. It's indecently fast. It handles brilliantly and it's even got a few mod cons like aircon and a cupholder. There is one small problem though. It does cost 36,000 pounds which is an awful lot of money for a small 2-seater. It's great for the performance but you can get an awful lot of Golf GTI for that kind of money. Would you buy one? Well, maybe if that's your kind of thing. Would I buy one? Well, that's a pretty foregone conclusion. I certainly have one. It's simply brilliant. If this is how Lotus wants to evolve the Elise further, I'm all behind it.