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Lotus Elise SC tested

2008-10-06 11:59

Lance Branquinho

 The Lotus Elise SC. Primarily plastic and alumini

The Lotus Elise SC. Primarily plastic and aluminium - which means it would be at home in a contemporary kitchen as an appliance – it features Toyota power. An odd blend it might be. Toxically addictive to drive it most definitely is.

Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer Lotus
Model Elise SC
Engine 1.8l, supercharged, in-line four
Power 163kW @ 8 000r/min
Torque 212Nm @ 5 500r/min
Transmission Six-speed manual
Zero To Hundred 4.6 seconds
Top Speed 241km/h
Power To Weight 189kW/t
Fuel Tank 43.5ll
Fuel Consumption 8.5l/100km
Weight 860kg
Boot Size 112l
Airbags Yes
Tyres Front: 175/55 R16, rear: 225/75 Yokohama Advan Neova AD07
Front Suspension ouble wishbone, coils, anti-roll bar
Rear Suspension ouble wishbone, coils,
Price R599 000
What’s it about

A contemporary incarnation of the legendary, vintage Lotus 7, Elise SC is a light-weight performance car owing most of its considerable prowess to intelligent design and low-weight engineering principles.

Lotus founder Colin Chapman was an engineering maverick. The Elise continues the tradition of Chapman’s vision: performance by virtue of lightness – not power.


Although the Elise appears cheap and tinny – especially if you rap the plastic body panels with your knuckles – this is an extraordinarily trick piece of automotive engineering.

With its low, rakish nose and sculptured flanks it’s disarmingly cute yet purposeful, especially the tapered-off rear, with those Ferrari F355-like rear lights.

Chapman used his aeronautical background to great effect in his race winning designs during the 1950s and 60s. Echoing tradition then, Elise features an advanced epoxy-bonded aluminium chassis. 

Essentially the Elise constitutes an aluminium ‘tub’ with driver and passenger inside the largest part, whilst the engine occupies a secondary, smaller, tub at the back. The entire chassis is only 27 components strong – about what Porsche uses in its cup-holders.

It yields a very small, low-slung yet exceptionally rigid car. Well under 4m in length, only 1.1m from tyre contact surface to roll-bar top and tipping in at only 860kg, you’d hardly call the Elise supercar overkill although it has ballooned in comparison to the original Elise that weighed a touch over 700kg.

The mid-engined configuration houses a transversely mounted - wait for it – supercharged Toyota RunX RSI engine. Now, the RunX RSI mill was hardly Toyota’s finest performance effort, yet in the low weight Elise application, with a blower taking power to 163kW and torque to 212Nm, you’ll see the ‘Toy’ mill in a vivid new light.

Unequal length double-wishbones at each corner are balanced by Blitstein mono-dampers and evened out with Eibach coaxial coil springs. Steering is unassisted – you would expect no less – and turns 2.8 times from lock-to-lock.

On the inside

Let’s not be coy. The Elise is no posers’ car. If you like wafting along the beachfront in your drop-top sports car, imitating a suave demeanour, the minimalist nature of the Elise will be an affront to your image sensibilities.

There is little in the way comfort and convenience features. The interior bares itself in stark aluminium. In touring pack trim you have an Alpine CD-front loader, audible at town-driving speeds, and a heater and air-conditioning combination well up to the task of regulating temperatures within the small cabin.

You even have electrically operated windows which were not even an option on the original Elise in 1996. The one piece slot-mounted central cup-holder – an aluminium ring with support sling – is the stuff of industrial design genius and deserves an award.

As expected, the steering wheel is not height or reach adjustable. You can move the thinly padded bucket seats under your own power, but the driving position is pretty much chassis design dictated, if you don’t like it – or don’t fit – you can get out and walk. For 2008 there’s a revised instrument stack and central locking too.  Like, wow!

Anti-lock brakes are there for emergencies but you have no nanny-aids like ESP to call on when you run out of talent…

On the road

So it’s glued together. The body is pretty much plastic. The engine is a recycled Toyota hatchback unit. There’s no power steering and there's no spare wheel - you get an aerosol puncture repair kit instead. A bit hard to see the appeal then? Indeed.

Swing open the tiny door and you’ll have to call upon your long since forsaken high-school athleticism and flexibility to clear the tub, before dropping unglamorously into the bucket seats. Once inside you’ll appreciate just how low a car with only 130mm of ground clearance is; Polos look like Touaregs from inside the Elise lined up at traffic lights.

I am 1.8m and was perfectly comfortable, but the cabin is a mite narrow for two average-sized blokes - passengers of the svelte variety work best. Although the seats appear sadomasochistic in their economical use of padding at first, in fact, they’re superbly comfy.

With the ingeniously simple removable canvas roof off (60 seconds worth of solo handiwork) and stowed behind the engine in the 112-litre boot, you set off, surprised by a surprisingly civil clutch and throttle action.

Yes, the ride is harsh.

Yes, the cacophony of noise drowns your synapses at even the tiniest throttle opening.

Yes, at night you can’t see anything through the rear view mirror thanks to the instrument cluster glare off the rear window.

Yes, you knock your right knee (hard) against the tub through fast left-hand corners.

But, these things are pithily inconsequential compared to what the Elise gives in return…

The handling benchmark? Is that a question?

Think you know something about steering feel and feedback? You don’t, none of us do. Until you drive an Elise.

The SC renders steering so direct and communicative it completely unnerves at first, overwhelming the driver with road surface, camber and front-wheel angle information.

Nimble, benign and utterly engaging the Elise exhibits complete body control and rolling is not in its technical frame of reference. Forget about lurid power slides though, on the limit at low speeds it has safety first understeer designed into the package – especially prevalent with the 175/55 front, 245/45 rear tyre combination.

Oversteer is available with brutal corner entry braking or lift-off tactics, best experienced on a track with plenty of run off available. The optional limited-slip differential should quell any wet-weather twitchiness for the easily unnerved.

Capable of Playstation GT4 pace in real world conditions, the Elise, with its ridiculously low driving position allows you to ‘think’ the car through fast sweeps. Its flickability through tight second-gear corners at stupefying speeds inspires unflinching confidence.

From tight second gear hairpins to fifth-gear flat out sweeps, the tactile driving experience is intoxicating at either end of the speed spectrum, yielding a tremendous fun coefficient for all skill levels. The flat under-tray aids stability too, allowing the Elise to track with tremendous reassurance in crosswinds despite its low mass.

The supercharged Toyota engine provides ample urge about 4 000r/min. Between 6 500- and 7 800r/min it’s simply in supercar territory with accelerative verve, rushing from 0-160km/h in 10.7 seconds.

A slightly loose gearchange action vexed as the single average part of this fabulous dynamic package.


At a touch on R600 000 most would dismiss the Elise as a ridiculously overpriced kit-car. It has very little posing appeal – despite being disarmingly cute aesthetically.

It makes an excellent first-date car for leg caressing thanks to the narrow cockpit and offset first gear, though ladies despise the narrow door aperture which requires very unladylike entry and exit behaviour.
If you love driving, you’ll understand why the Elise remains such an alluring choice despite its manically minimalist design parameters.

It remains an undiluted performance car – without the excess and sporting entirely acceptable 12.8l/100km on-the-limit driving economy too. You can average under 10l/100km if apex clipping instincts are curtailed sufficiently.

An irrational purchase? Most definitely. Bear in mind though, most cars with comparable performance can't touch its efficiency and it treads a delightfully conscience soothing emission and fossil fuel footprint.

I spent an inordinate amount of time driving the Elise during its test period. Despite the lack of so-called comfort and convenience features it never fatigued me. You only need to stop for fuel, food and a comfort break. But you’ll never want to stop driving an Elise – ever.


Incomparable handling and dynamics

Dramatic presence

Outstanding performance/economy blend

Tactile and unrefined cabin environment


Tactile and unrefined cabin environment

Committed ownership mandatory

No spare wheel

Sinfully expensive locally

Can be embarrassing to clamber out of


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