6 SP Manual
This review was written during the summer of 2007.
Countless worldwide press articles state that the Lotus Elise/Exige family are the best handling sports cars in the world even going as far as being compared to the handling of a Ferrari, what a bold statement, now I could possibly be starting to agree………. The Elise R is the newly re-badged re-optioned listed Elise 111R for all intense purposes and although much hasn’t changed it’s been a refinement trip at Lotus UK HQ, Hethel, England more than anything.
The ‘Turnip famers’ (as Jeremy Clarkson lovingly refers to Lotus) of Norfolk have gone as far as making items such as air-con and other modern luxuries as standard for the Australia models for the first time, something all Aussie cars have enjoyed as standard for a long time so let’s gets stuck in and see what has been the results of this refinement.
The first thing you notice compared to previous Lotus Elise models is they really have tried to fit the interior out with some nicer materials, trying to I guess broaden the appeal of the Elise further away from the likely buyers of a Westfield or Caterham from the track day car market. Moving more towards the buyer who would happily drive their car for longer distances, day-to-day driving and to and from the track in comfort.
This particular Elise car is fitted with the optional Touring Plus Pack which adds lots of sound-deadening panelling and roof lining, Leather interior in parts including the gear knob, leather handbrake gaiter, Embroidered carpets, Auxiliary front driving lamps and an up-rated flashy Alpine stereo with iPOD connectivity. Not that you’ll hear much in the way of your favourite Britney Spears MP3’s with the roof off.
There is also fitted the optional Sports pack to this Elise which add’s for a first time, the switchable Lotus Traction Control System, a electronically controlled Limited slip differential, Bilstein dampers and Eibach springs, twin oil coolers (specifically an addition for the Australian climate) and some rather sexy looking 18″ 7-spoke ultra lightweight forged alloy wheels in Black straight from the Exige Racer.
Weight has gone up a little from the old model especially with the optional Touring Plus pack but with a power to weight ratio packing 164 kW/t (220 hp/t, 223 PS/t) the little Elise R is still a featherweight that can punch with the big boys. Indeed when compared to the equivalent member of the Porsche family the Porsche 911 S (997) is only 10 kW/t greater in power, and when we look at weight it’s a whole different story, 860kg for the little Elise versus 1,820Kg for the Porsche.
Lotus really have invested some money in their seat design of late, they have formed up with an external consultancy company to design the new ‘Pro-bax’ seats and compared to the hard alcantara seats found in the older Elise’s they are a dream of snugness to sit in. Other sensible additions to the Elise’s interior include a rear stowage net just behind you between the rear seats handy for maps and CD’s, a drinks holder just in front of the gear lever and some trinket tray dividers to stop items from sliding around on the dashboard on those tight corners.
Everything inside the snug cockpit really looks and feels like it was designed to be strong and lightweight from the designs beginning, from the lightweight well fitted leather bucket seats you sit low to the road with to the lightweight extruded aluminium pedals and even the passenger footrest which has holes cut into it to save that little bit of extra weight, it almost makes you feel guilty for eating that big lunch.
This is the first 07 spec Elise in the country and indeed the 2nd Lotus in the country to show the new for 07 ‘Polar Blue’ paintwork off, the first being a Queensland customer owned Exige the Lotus dealer explained. The colour shows off the smooth curves of this lightweight sports car beautifully, it’s such a unique design in its looks the Elise with its function design as a sports car built to absolute lightness and function governing its exterior shape so much.
The front of the car forwards of the driver contains the radiator cooling, oil cooling and steering system so there are large gaping apertures to channel air for this. This allows air to enter the car, do its cooling work and then exit passing over the car providing less drag at the same time as cooling, a design enjoyed by rear/mid engine race/sports cars for many years. The large air intakes on the sides of the car allow more cooling air to the rear based engine and also to allow the air-intake to suck in some cool air. Lots of vents on top of the engine bay allow any hot air to escape easily without hindrance, this car seriously knows how to stay cool.
The body work is a glass fibre composite developed with the objective of being as lightweight as possible which also allowed the easy forming of the smooth curves found in the bodyworks design. The roof is a manually removable type affair that quite easily unclips and then rolls up and is placed into its own zip up bag that fits in the boot. I found the roof quite simple to put on and take off once doing it for a few times, just don’t forget and leave it at home and store it in the boot!
Ah the boot, not the single largest selling point of the Elise. I found in practice that although the aperture that you have to squeeze your bags through into the boot is fairly small, the Elise could surprisingly swallow up quite a lot of luggage if you used more smaller bags instead of a couple of larger bags. Easily enough for a long weekend away for sure but not something you’ll be using to get to the golf club, take the sensible car.
Under the hood –
The engine nudged up behind your back is a Toyota sourced 1.8 VVTL-I, VVTL-I? That would be Variable Valve Timing and Lift. The extra lift cam that kicks in at 6100rpm feels simular to a small turbo and means that to keep the engine on the boil you have to keep those gear changes up between the 6000rpm and 7500rpm to use the produced 141 kW (189 hp) to its full potential and to hit it’s impressive 0-100 km/h in 5.2 seconds. Fortunately when you are above 6000rpm the usually un-interesting exhaust note changes to a metallic shriek and seems to jump up 20 db in volume sounding simular to the metallic shriek you get from an M3 on full chat which is quite rewarding.
With slightly less power the Elise S model is available which features the same engine but with some of the more clever trick technology not included, namely the variable lift part. This removes the cam switch at 6000rpm and so lowers the power output to 100kW (134 hp) but with the little Lotus Elise S’ weight, it still delivers an impressive performance of 0-100 km/h in 6.1 seconds, a still extremely impressive figure, and the best bit is it’s a lot cheaper to buy at $69,990.
As an option to this Elise R the Limited Slip differential is fitted which Limits velocity difference between the driven wheels to transmit torque more efficiently for improved traction. It’s an Ideal addition for low speed, high acceleration driving around tight corners as experienced usually on a tight twisty set of roads or alternatively on those spirited drives around your local muti-storey car park.
Worth a mention under the skin is the clever design of the Lotus Elise’s chassis which was the first car ever to use an extruded and bonded aluminium chassis. This is glued and pressed together and amazingly is as strong as a normal welded chassis but even better at coping with twisting and flexing forces and weighs in at only 68kg’s.
On the road –
Today im test driving this latest model from these Turnip farmers of Yorkshire, England on the roads of Sydney and the Royal national park coast road to Woolongong in the South. As we pass through the inner city roads out of the city the first thing you notice is just how much attention a Lotus gets over your more common sight of a BMW, Mercedes or other Bavarian designed beauty in the city. You just don’t see the likes of a Lotus around very common, a Sydney Dealer quoted to me that there are more Ferrari’s in Australia than Lotus’s so the sighting of a Lotus puts you keen in everyone’s interest of, ‘what’s that?’
The suspension is certainty firm but supple enough not to have you running to the dealers with your chiropractor bills! I have the feeling that this firmness will be a sure sign of great things to come when we hit the twisty national park roads. The only negative point I have so far is the un-interesting exhaust note. The standard exhaust on Elise’s has always had a reputation of being a tad ‘bland’ and un-interesting and this one is the same. There’s no rumble of a sports car’s like exhaust note rumbling to hit your ears. No wonder the first thing on most Lotus owner’s options list is the fitment of a Lotus Sport exhaust or a 3rd party exhaust like the Larini.
Moving out to Sydney’s Royal national park and off the freeway, travelling along the motorway in 6th is actually in such a small car you wouldn’t expect is really comfortable indeed. I have an idea it has something to do with the great seats im supported in and the 6th gear ratio isn’t set too low with the ratio of 0.815:1, equates to 3500rpm at 110kph. The twists and turns of the national parks roads are now showing me what this car is really about, where the time and effort from the engineers and the countless years of racing pedigree of Lotus has gone into building the fabric of the car.
The power train is handled by a 6 speed manual gearbox with a short throw action that is so precise you would swear the cogs were directly under the gearstick itself at times, definite track day material this is. There is no power steering on this baby of light-weightness meaning the turns that keep coming flowing from corner to corner feed information straight to your hands. There is no power-assisted servos getting between you and the feedback from the road, allowing positive and negative camber turns to be taken at speed with confidence and with ease.
The setup of the Elise R’s weight distribution is 40% front & 60% rear, the front tires are a smaller width of 195 versus the rears of 225. With this setup the car naturally understeers when taken to the limit of its cornering G. It was chosen by Lotus to set the car up in this manor to allow less experienced drivers to be able to recover more easily from the limit than the beginner’s panic stations situation of an over-steering car as the back wheels swing wide as you approach the limit of cornering G. In this setup it encourages you to push harder exploring the limits of its corning ability and I have to say, when I’ve heard people say ‘this thing corners like it’s on rails’, I am now agreeing.
So we know this car is an absolute hoot to drive near the limit, but what about its everyday driveability. It’s fuel consumption, not that an average person buying a performance car matters so much what the Johnny Howard campaign are doing to the fuel taxes but this car delivers a Combined Fuel consumption of 8.8 l/100km. Let’s compare that to our previous example the Porsche 911 S (977) which returns a rating of 17.9, that’s near as dammit 10 litres difference.
Price, safety and options –
The additions of everyday items we take for granted in other cars such as air-con, full leather interior, fully fitted carpets, ABS and traction control are all now included making this car more comfortable to live with on a daily basis. Safety updates to the Elise now include LED rear lights that are 36% brighter and illuminate quicker than the old conventional bulb using rear lights, dual airbags both for driver and passenger, side impact protection bars in the doors and like in previous Lotus models, the use of the Lotus crash structure crumple zone technology in the nose of the car for frontal crash situations.
The options list for the Elise R is pretty substantial, there is the ‘Touring Plus Pack’ as previously mentioned which adds a Leather interior, Full embroided carpet set, Noise insulated roof and panelling, Auxiliary front driving lamps, a Interior stowage net and a Up-rated Alpine CD/MP3 stereo which includes an iPOD connector. The ‘Sports Pack’ includes the Lotus switchable traction control system, stiffer sports suspension (front 12% rear 8%), Twin oil coolers and fits ultra lightweight 7-spoke forged alloy wheels in your choice of Hi-power Silver or Black.
The last option pack is the ‘Super Sports Pack’ for the serious track day enthusiast, this includes fully adjustable suspension, adjustable front auto-roll bar, strengthening to the rear suspension for continued hard track use and lastly front and rear wider street-legal Yokohama competition tyres, the same found on the Lotus Exige and Exige S. The last tick you could put on this very long list is the available Torque-sensing Limited slip Differential (LSD).
With the little added refinements now fitted to the modern Elise like we have seen here, comfort levels have not risen to the likes of the Porsche Boxster but it certainly would be a more comfortable car to live with on a day to day basis compared to previous Elise models. If comfort levels did rise to the level of a Porsche or simular, you have to ask yourself, would it still be a Lotus? Would it still be that raw performance through lightweight philosophy that Colin Chapman, founder of Lotus always strived for all his life?
I feel that Colin Chapman should he of been with us today, would be proud to see what the Elsie has evolved to in the present day in this modern market where we demand more luxuries but the Elise R has still remained common to its key design as a raw sports car. As I drive back into the city I am happy in the thought that the Lotus boys have produced a car that is capable as a overall good daily driver and is still an absolute hoot to drive on the more demanding roads when you want to come out to play for that spirited Sunday drive or that track session you’ve promised yourself, and still one of the world’s best sports cars sensible levels of money can buy.
Spec as tested: Elise Touring Plus Pack, Elise Sport Pack, Lotus Traction Control, LSD, Metallic Paint option.
Base Price: $94,990
Price as tested: $120,000
Positives: Best road & track car bang for your buck, Lotus Road handling and dynamics
Negatives: Un-interesting Exhaust note, a little more power.
Rating of out five: 5
Words and photography by Mark Bedford