Real downforce and more power for track-day special
You might have noticed the recent explosion of hardcore, road-registered, track-focused, low-volume sports cars. To go with the Caterhams and Ariels we know so well, there are now cars from Zenos, BAC, Elemental, KTM, Vuhl and so on to consider.
What response, then, might you expect from the company that first started building cars for this market more than 60 years ago?
The 250 Cup is a Lotus Elise sharpened in every respect. And if you thought that hardly possible, the good folk of Hethel beg to differ. First it has the most powerful engine ever fitted to an Elise, a 243bhp version of its usual supercharged 1.8-litre Toyota, giving it more than twice the output boasted by the original Elise some 20 years ago. But that’s just the start: there are Eibach springs, Bilstein dampers, an AP Racing brake system and fatter front tyres. And to give all that additional potential even less work to do, a lithium-ion battery shaves a useful 10kg off its kerb weight, carbon fibre seats yet 6kg more. And there’s an aero pack including a deeper front splitter, big rear wing and diffuser offering up to 155kg of downforce – and even that can be made 10kg lighter if optioned in pure carbon fibre.
I’ve driven plenty of hot Elises over the years, but none like this. In its focus it feels far more like an Exige roadster, that is to say a raw driving machine in which pure pace at last takes precedence over the manner in which it is achieved. Power delivery isn’t subtle, but it’s mightily effective, allowing the little Lotus to lunge down the road with a supercar’s spring in its step. The gearbox remains the car’s weakest point dynamically, but in truth the supercharger provides so much torque that almost any road can be dispatched by rowing up and down between third and fourth. On the track I imagine it would be rather more frustrating.
You’d expect a Lotus to more than match any power increase with at least commensurate attention to its suspension, so there should be no surprise in learning the Elise can handle with ease the engine’s extra urge. The steering feels a little heavier, probably a good thing in this kind of car, and grip and composure are of a kind I was not going to challenge on the dry, open Cotswolds roads of my route. I’d say a little of the old Elise delicacy has gone thanks to its fatter tyres and stiffer springs, but few will begrudge that if it allows the Elise to keep up with all its new rivals at track days.
So it’s an impressive and capable new iteration of a very familiar theme. The only mistake would be to conclude the standard Elise was now some kind of poor relation. It’s not: if it’s that unique Elise feel you’re after, that extraordinary ride quality and sublime steering that has meant I’ve yet to drive an Elise I didn’t like, then you’re better off saving yourself £10,000 and driving a base model. The Elise 250 Cup is a far better track-day car but, to be honest, there are now many others that do this kind of thing. By contrast, a standard Elise remains a unique proposition in the market place, one made not a whit less appealing because of its powerful new brother.
Engine 1.8 litres, 4 cylinders, supercharged
Power [email protected]
Torque 184lb [email protected]
Transmission six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power to Weight 266bhp per tonne
Top speed 154mph