Lotus Elise review

Our Rating: 
2002 model
By Auto Express Test TeamComments

Lightweight Lotus Elise sports car priorities handling and performance above all else

Performance, running costs, handling
Practicality, comfort, refinement

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The Lotus Elise has come to represent everything that Lotus cars stand for. It's lightweight, stripped-out, agile and communicative, making it one of the finest handling cars on the road. All that performance and pin-sharp handling comes at the expense of practicality, comfort and refinement, though.

Lotus now offers four versions of the little Elise. There's the base Elise, the Else S, Elise S Cup and Elise S Cup R. The latter is a stripped out and track only model, while the latest addition to the range, the S Cup, uses the race car as a base and makes it suitable for road use.

The entry-level model comes fitted with a 1.6-litre engine as standard while the S and S Cup versions use a larger Toyota-sourced 217bhp 1.8-litre supercharged engine. It's not the most refined, powerful or sonorous engine fitted to a sports car, but with only 932kg to haul around you're never short on performance or excitement. 

As an all-rounder we'd suggest the Elise S is the one to go for, but the £6,300 worth of additions the S Cup model brings also makes it worth considering if you're like the occasional track visit. 

Our choice: Lotus Elise S 1.8

Engines, performance and drive


The Lotus Elise is available with a 1.6-litre 134bhp engine or a 1.8-litre 217bhp in the Elise S and S Cup. Acceleration from 0-62mph takes 6.5 seconds and 4.6 seconds respectively. The Elise is also one of the few cars on the road with no power steering, which results in a fantastic accuracy and amount of feel through the wheel.

The lack of electronic interference means you become immersed in the driving experience and you feel everything the car is doing on the road. Add in its miniature proportions and the Elise is unquestionably one of the most precise and agile sports cars around. There's also huge levels of grip which gives you plenty of confidence if you decide to take it to the track. 

Ride quality is pretty good for such a focused car and even the S Cup model with the firmer suspension delivers a surprising level of comfort. But wind and road noise are a big problem, so longer journeys can become a little uncomfortable.

MPG, CO2 and running costs


Go for the standard Elise and the relatively small engine and lightweight body mean fuel economy is an amazing 45mpg. The more extreme Elise S is equally as surprising, with supercar performance but a fuel-sipping 37.5mpg figure. CO2 emissions aren't bad either, with just 175g/km. A warranty covers the car for three years and unlimited mileage while the chassis is covered for eight years in total. That should help keep running costs down too.

Interior, design and technology


The Elise is low, compact and stylish. It's image and styling hasn't evolved much since the sports car was introduced back in 1996 but it now features LED daytime running lights in the headlamps and looks more modern than ever.

Opt for the Elise S Cup and the exterior receives a racecar makeover. A huge rear wing, side skirts, rear duffuser and front splitter are all carried over from the stripped out racecar. And the aerodynamic bodykit isn't just cosmetic either, with the bodykit generating 140kg more downforce than the base model at 140mph. 

On every model the interior is as spartan as you might expect from such a lightweight car but it is pleasing to the eye. Build quality could do with being slightly better though. Lotus also offers a comfort pack on certain models, which adds additional soundproofing, MP3 compatibility and central locking.

Practicality, comfort and boot space


The Elise is an absolutely tiny car so practicality is very poor, in fact the only load area is just 117 litres. The cabin itself is also a tight squeeze, not to mention difficult to access in the first place. The car sits so low to the ground and the door sills are so wide that it'll take a few practice entries and exits before you look like a natural.

Reliability and Safety


It's fair to say that Lotus doesn't have the best reputation for reliability, but the Elise has always been very trouble free. The car is made from mostly plastic and aluminium so there has never been any problems with rust. In its more recent forms the Elise is safer than ever with traction control and ABS fitted as standard. It hasn't been tested by EuroNCAP though so there's no official word on how safe it really is.

Last updated: 19 Jan, 2015