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2006 Lotus Elise Road Test

Automotive expert , Updated:
Hardly Ideal but Just About Perfect

I'dthought I'd driven a true purists' sports car before, having
Now there's a brand logo we haven't seen here in quite some time... (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)
pilotedeverything from Mazda's pesky little MX-5 Miata to Ferrari's superblycrafted F430, and most everything in between on the street and aroundrace tracks, but while each has been wonderful in its own way, nothingcould have prepared me for the ultra-light Elise.

In NorthAmerica, anyway, nothing as inherently visceral exists. No car connectsas intuitively to its driver, or relates as much information about whatit is doing and what it's about to do. Certainly Mazda's littleroadster is minimalist compared to an everyday midsize family hauler,and Porsche's Boxster is about as much fun as any open-top luxurysportster can get, but believe me when I tell you that even the agilePorsche feels like it's wearing lead boots when put side-by-side withthe Elise.

You can't see it, but all seven Elises are actually anchored to the ground to prevent them from being blown away by the wind. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)
only makes sense, after all, what with a Boxsterweighing in some 400 to 700 kilos (900 to 1,500 lbs) greater, dependingon trim level, its suspension is more taxed and engine needs to put outa lot more power to achieve the same levels of performance. The Elise,on the other hand, weighs only 900 kilos (1,984 pounds) in base trim,which in perspective is only 140 kg (309 lbs) more than the smallestcar currently being sold in Canada, the smart fortwo, and 245 kilograms(540 pounds) less than a base Mini Cooper, the smallest car availablein Canada before the smart came along. Then factor in that the Elisecomes equipped with an engine more powerful than even the top-line MiniCooper S, by 22 horsepower no less, and it's easy to understand why acar with only 190-horsepower feels like a Ferrari at takeoff.

Fewcars can manage a sub-5-second sprint to 100 km/h (4.9s to
Toyota engine provides robustness, and plenty of thrust for tiny Elise. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)
be exact),much thanks to its thorough use of aluminum, blatantly exposed insidethe cabin, and rigid composite body panels - even the exterior painthas been scrutinized to make sure its not adding excessive weight.Actually, I've never been around a team of engineers so obsessed withweight reduction (no doubt we journalists should be so concerned). Needto know the weight of the right front fender, each individual seat, thegas cap... they can tell you. Fortunately their somewhat disturbingpreoccupation has resulted in a car that can transform Toyota's peakylittle 1.8-litre four, with a rather thin torque curve maximized at6,800 rpm to 138 lb-ft, into a blistering performer.

Not only does it shift the Elise, the high-revving engine creates a rather joyous sound. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)
befair, this 190-horsepower mill, that features a Lotus engineered enginemanagement system, is a fabulous little beast. At around 6,200 rpm itwakes up as if juiced by a hidden can of nitrous, forward momentumpersisting as it whips into a frenzied 7,800 rpm maelstrom to deliverpeak power. I kept it up over 6K most of the day, the power instantlyon tap and mellifluous whine zapping the synapses to my brain, abarrage of nervous impulses force fed from one neuron to another, withwhat seemed like constant electric stimuli - OK, I spent much of myearly adulthood strapped to Japanese sport bikes, so the sound of ahigh-spirited small displacement engine is beyond intoxicating to me.