One of the many problems faced by Lotus right now is how to make money out of the Elise. We, the motoring press, have fawned over it these past 16 years but the truth is if you’re going to make a good business selling cars in volumes as low as this, you need to be able to charge proper money for them. Which is why Lotus’ business plan should it ever come to fruition is based on selling larger numbers of more expensive cars.
My fear is that’s not what people want Lotus to be. My sense, rejected by the nowformer Lotus boss Dany Bahar when I suggested as much to him, is that those who love Lotuses love them to be small, light, simple, technologically advanced and affordable. Problem is that this business model may have worked in Lotus’ heyday almost 50 years ago, but there appear to be insufficient takers today. I hope Bahar is right, that my view is peculiarly UK-centric and that in other regions around the world, particularly places like China where the Lotus brand is still strong, people will not think twice about spending Porsche 911 money on a Lotus.
It has, however to survive in the meantime and one of the ways it’s trying to do so is with this new supercharged Elise S. Of course forced-induction Elises are nothing new and this one has no more power than the last, the supercharged Elise SC. But, says Lotus, it has far more torque, further down the rev range and is distinctly more drive-able.
And they’re right, to a point. It’s much easier to make the new S perform than the old SC, which required lots of revs all of the time. But so too was keeping it screaming at 8000rpm pat of the fun, especially if you were on a track day. The S is less interesting to listen to and less inclined to rev, having done its best work long before even 7000rpm is reached.
Then again if you believe what makes a Lotus is not how fast it goes down a straight, but the way it gets into and out of a corner, the S makes the Elise beffer than ever. It’s not its unchanged peak power but the extra mid-range shove that really challenges the chassis and brings it alive. Even with the open differential Lotus continues to use, traction is very rarely an issue with Elises, but now, thanks to this engine, you can come out of corners right on the very limit of both longitudinal and lateral acceleration. It is sublime fun.
The Elise S costs £37,150, an £8000 premium over the standard car. It’s a lot of money especially when you consider the base Elise is lighter and has even sweeter steering, but it does raise power from 134bhp to 217bhp and turn the Elise from enjoyable recreation into a serious weapon. Then again, if that’s what you want your Lotus to be, what you really need is the 345bhp Exige S, a full appraisal of which will appear on these pages next month.
ENGINE: 1.8 litres, four cylinders, petrol
TOP SPEED: 145mph
POWER: 217bhp at 6800rpm
FUEL/CO2: 37.5mpg, 175g/km