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Car reviews - Lotus - Elise - SC convertible

Our Opinion

We like
Sweet and strong engine, incredible agility, potent brakes, rarity, value for money
Room for improvement
Harsh ride, impracticality, wind-noise, expensive options

23 Apr 2008

IT SOUNDS strange, but engines from Toyota have transformed Lotus cars.

Forced to switch from the Rover K-Series engine as that company died in 2005, Lotus took up the ZZ-series engines from the brand better known for economy and reliability than exhilarating performance.

Even in naturally aspirated form, the 1-ZZ (Elise S) and 2-ZZ (Elise R) engines rev harder and feel stronger than the old English motors ever did, which allows the driver to further explore the wonderful Lotus chassis.

Instead of waiting, frustrated, for some grunt to feed to the rear wheels, drivers can now get on with pushing the lithe Lotus cars, diving deep into corners and seeing how well they can cling to the tarmac through corners.

With a supercharger bolted on, the whole package becomes sweeter.

The Exige S coupe is an absolute cracker, a true hardcore performance machine with its metallic supercharger whine filling the driver’s ear and the intercooler plumbing destroying all rear vision.

It is no doubt the fastest road car in the Lotus stable and is more brutal and raw than the Elise.

The Elise SC is fast and a lot of fun, but it is not as harsh as the Exige S. That said, the Elise SC still rides firmly, is noisy, difficult to get in and out of and is incredibly impractical.

The upside is that is the closest thing to a race car that you can drive on the road with a performance boost that transforms it from a very quick car to supercar challenger.

It is also a roadster and once you have managed to peel back the roof, you can enjoy the wind in your hair and engine note in your ear.

My advice would be to take the roof off as soon as possible as you will be disturbed by wind-noise either way.

The test car we drove at the national launch this week generated an awful lot of wind-noise from around the A-pillar.

It appears that the roof is not sealed as well as you might expect and Lotus has even placed a sticker on the roof to point this out which reads: “The roof system and weather seals on this vehicle are only designed to provide some protection from rain and showers. Under certain conditions such as heavy rain and wind, water may enter the cabin.”

This is all a bit of a surprise really given Lotus cars come from England, where a day without rain triggers concerns about climate change.

There is also a sound of wind-rushing in the driver’s ear, but it is not traditional wind-noise, but instead linked to the supercharger. It seems the rushing is the sound of the air being forced into the engine.

There is also a nice metallic whine from the supercharger when you accelerate. It doesn’t sound like an enraged banshee as is the case with the Exige S, so it is less likely to give you a headache after a long drive, but still stands out from the wind-noise.

There is quite an exhaust boom point at cruising speed, about 3250rpm at 110km/h, and you find yourself changing down gears try and avoid it.

But cars like this are not meant for highway hauling, they belong on twisting country roads and racetracks. While the naturally aspirated engines are impressive, you do need to wait until fairly high in the rev range for the real fireworks to start.

The supercharger spreads out the power band and the engine pulls hard from very low in the rev range. It also revs strongly, with an extra kick coming in around 6000rpm to just past 8000rpm.

Just after that point the first of three shift lights comes in on the instrument cluster within the tacho arc.

The six-speed manual gearbox is crisp, allowing for short sharp changes. The pedals are all close enough that heel and toe work can be carried out under heavy breaking.

With four-piston AP calipers gripping the front discs and its light-weight, the Elise SC means has phenomenal braking performance.

We tested the Elise SC on the road and the track at Wakefield Park in Goulburn which allowed us to dive deep into the corners.

You find yourself braking far to early for the fist few laps, gradually braking later and later until you fully expect to disappear off the track, but somehow the car pulls up.

The pedal did go soft towards the end of the day, after a merciless pounding by journalists, but still managed to pull the Elise up in time.

Cornering is a treat in any Lotus and the Elise SC is no different. It really does corner in a similar way to a Formula Ford car, only with more grip.

The steering is direct and so precise that you can control where you are placing the car to within millimeters of where you want it.

Also, the firm suspension set-up means there is very little bodyroll. It all combines to form a truly brilliant track car.

Of course, not all Elises make it to the track and will be used for weekend escapes and the trip to work to impress others.

It might not be as raw as the Exige, but the Elise SC is still hard to live with. As mentioned previously, getting in and out is the first problem, with larger occupants imitating contortionists to simply get in and out when the roof is in place.

Once in the car there is very little space to go around. It is very narrow and as a passenger you find yourself leaning across to the door otherwise you will come into contact with the driver when cornering or when they change gears.

There is also hardly anywhere in the cabin to place things. A small pouch behind the seats and an open tray on the dashboard are the only places to stash your phone, wallet or sunglasses.

You can forget about having anywhere to put a can of drink unless you purchase the $8000 Touring pack which also adds carpets, leather seats, sound insulation, leather seats and a single cupholder.

This pack is very expensive and you could argue many of the items, especially things like carpet should come standard.

The $7000 Sport pack is a different matter and comes with mechanical upgrades that would be very useful for track specialists including Bilstein dampers and such.

We tested the standard Elise SC with the regular suspension and found it to be firm. It worked very well on the track, but was fairly harsh on the bumpy roads we tested it on outside Goulburn.

Admittedly, the roads were ordinary, with many ruts, but the jolting wears thin after a while. Even so, the ride of Lotus cars in general seems to be improving with each new model.

It may still seem harsh, but it is better than it has been in the past. Also, there is more equipment in the cars including a nice-sounding Alpine sound system and air-conditioning.

The styling of the current Elise has been around for some time, but its rarity means that people still stop and stare. New alloy wheels and a rear spoiler is not really going to make the SC version stand out from other Lotus models as only train-spotters would pick it from its siblings.

It is impractical and expensive, but there is nothing around at this price that can deliver the same thrills as the Elise SC.

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