Lotus Formula 1 made Ayrton Senna a hero by giving him a great chassis powered by a blinding Japanese engine. The company is now using its 26 UK dealers to offer similar sensations to car buyers, by applying the same philosophy to its road cars. Driver’s car? The Elise SC almost defines the term.
This time, the engine is sourced from Toyota, not Honda, It used to be seen in the Celica. That died, because it couldn’t meet emissions regulations, but thanks to a Lotus-designed ECU, this does. With variable valve timing, the Celica engine put out 189bhp. It still does, in the Elise R, but by bolting on awhopping great supercharger in the SC, Lotus has ramped the output to 218bhp.
Unfortuantely that isn’t a massive increase given the extra complexity, and the torque figure of 211Nm is still very limp – what makes matters worse is the fact peak power doesn’t arrive until – wait for it – 8,000rpm! It’s here that some will start to have doubts about the validity of the SC.
Sure, 60mph in 4.4secs is flippin’ fast, and 150mph is about as quick as I’d ever want to go in an Elise, but shouldn’t it have, well, a bit more ‘go’? Only one thing for it… grab the keys for the SC sitting in the Car Dealer car park and find out.
Crawling inside is still as awkward as ever – the Elise is certainly feeling smaller and smaller as the years pass.
It’s still great, sitting nearly in the middle of the car, tiny, firm steering wheel perfectly positioned for bent-elbow hands to caress. But the passenger… well, they’re a bit close. The door sill seems to take up half the car’s width and it’s all a bit cosy.
It’s as mechanically intimate too. Wobble the gearlever and the selector forks transmits clonks throughout the aluminium chassis. Starting it allows you to almost hear the electricity flow to the starter, before a whirr drowns it out. Then an anodyne four-cylinder grumble emerges from behind, sounding as mundane as Lotus always have. Will the Evora be the first aurally-satisfying Lotus? We live in hope.
Dear oh dear, I seem to be moaning. And it’s a good job I wrote those grumbles down while I was sat in the car for every single one disappeared the moment I selected first, turned the wheel and pulled away. The Elise is defined by its utterly incredible steering, and even writhing around a car park reminded me how much I must get this system, somehow, into my life.
The feel you have is just incredible. It writhes, tweaks and twitters in your hands – not like, say, a torque-steering Astra VXR, but like a race car. Indeed, I’ve raced cars on full-bore slicks with less feel than this road-going Elise SC. You are always aware of exactly what is going on underfoot: and, as your only contact with the road is through the tyres, such direct communication with half of them does amazing things to the confidence you have in the car.
The steering is still heavy when parking, but not over-weighty on the move and don’t confuse heft for feel. There’s a delicacy here that Worrall-Thompson would struggle to create; and although it is deliriously direct and accurate, it’s never nervous. There we go. That’s me sold. Lotus, I’ll take one of the 220 you plan to shift annually.
Ah, but the rest of it? Well, frankly, it felt little different to a regular Elise. That is, of course, until the throttle met the floor. What should erupt, but the most mighty feral wail from behind me. The supercharger! Like an electrocuted cat getting more brassed off and scrabbly as the realisation dawns, it rose in pitch and threw in extra excitement in spades. This is entirely dependent on throttle position: more noise means more throttle means more go.
As it’s forcing extra air in by being driven from the engine, rather than the exhaust gases it expels, the response is immediate. This is something you really appreciate in gear changes. Basically, it’s wail – bam – wham. Power is delayed but by the speed of your left hand.
Letting it rev gives out its all, but really, the 860kg Elise is so bantamweight, you don’t need such dizzying heights. As there is no lag when you go on the throttle, you can keep it cooking on twisty roads at exceptional speeds without working either it or yourself all that hard.
Yes, you’re kept absolutely in the loop, and the steering, plus the quality of the damping, means it feels like you’re covering roads with the finesse of silk sheets over sexy contoured anatomies (hell-ooo), but the muscle and brainpower called from you isn’t huge.
The Elise has blinding grip and an even more dazzling ability to go round corners with haste and composure. The Yokos never run out of grip, and if, somehow, you’re brutal and force the rear tyres out, the Sport’s optional traction control reigns it all in with mesmerising finesse.
In short, it’s still brilliant. No, the power isn’t that massive (a Ford Focus ST has more go) – but drive it and you’ll be shown it doesn’t need it. The Elise may be 13 years old, but it’s still brilliant. Still affordable. Still uncommonly economical. At journey’s end, you’ll be felling like Senna, Hamilton, and Raikkonen all rolled into one. And that’s why it’ll sell.