1 Jan 1997
By CHRIS HARRIS
BEFORE the Elise arrived in the UK during 1996 Lotus was a basket case, selling old and outmoded sports cars that were low on quality and high on expense.
The Elise represented a rebirth, as the company sought to reinvent its most famous and loved icon, the original Elan of the late 1950s.
Lotus’ 1990 attempt, also known as the Elan II, was front-wheel drive, costly, heavy and used an Isuzu engine. Little wonder Mazda’s MX-5, the real reinvented Elan, buried that car.
But Lotus wasn’t about to follow Mazda in reproducing the first Elan with its Elise, and even named it after the then-Italian owned consortium’s director’s granddaughter, as if to prove its tomorrow thinking.
Yet it did take one vital aspect of Lotus history to heart: “Just add lightness.” This is what Lotus founder Colin Chapman is famous for. Today, the Elise would make him proud.
Like the original cars designed and built by the tiny British sports car-maker in the 1950s and 1960s, it is light, efficient and high on driver enjoyment.
It also lives up to the company's reputation for delivering affordable but leading-edge technology.
For the Elise this high-tech image is more than justified.
The car features an all-aluminium chassis that is bonded rather than welded to form what is said to be one of the lightest and strongest tubs around.
Stripped of engine and the sexy fibreglass panels, the car's space frame chassis weighs a minuscule 70kg which keeps the overall weight down to a skeletal 690kg.
The car's bonded platform is left exposed along the side beams, under the dash, in the foot wells and behind the seats. The pedals are also all-alloy.
The engine is virtually the same 88kW/198Nm 1.8-litre twin-cam 16-valve K-Series unit found in the MGF 1.8i, linked to a modified version of its five-speed manual gearbox. Lotus claims a 0-100km/h time of 5.7 seconds.
The cabin is a sparse two-seater, with lots of switchgear from different manufacturers. Only alloy wheels and cloth trim was officially standard.
Lotus made modifications to tape the snap-oversteer tendencies of the rear-engine Elise in 1998 and again during 2000.
Elise Sport (from 1998) and Sport R (from 1999) offered slightly more power (91kW and 101kW respectively) and less torque (165Nm) as well as far-firmer suspension for even quicker responses.