2009 Lotus Elise: Radical and expensive...

But oh so much fun! In fact, there are very few cars at any price that can offer as powerful a ride and that’s the main reason for buying an Elise. You can forget about luxury or comfort. Z4, Boxster or Nissan Z buyers, basically you’re in the wrong place. There’s no excess with the Elise, only sport in its purest form, and enough of it to make a Honda S2000 or a Lancer Evolution look clumsy. Simply outstanding!

In other words, the Elise is for purists, which are hard to find these days what with all the gadgets and comfort features loaded into even the sportiest cars. In part, that’s why you don’t see the Elise on the road very often. Of course, the price and the distribution network also help make this Lotus a rarity, but we’ll come back to that.

In Canada since 2005, the Elise has been most successful in Québec. Almost 200 units have been purchased since 2005, or about 40 per year. Fanatical and passionate about their vehicle, Elise owners have formed a club that delights in getting together during the summer to create lovely colourful convoys on Québec roads.

Who’s buying the Elise? High performance and sport capabilities enthusiasts, but also those who are passionate about the brand and pledge unconditional love to its founder, Colin Chapman. Surprisingly, few Elise owners take it for a spin on race tracks, preferring instead to let the beast loose on our roads, where they’re unable to truly use the car to its full capabilities.

Fun at any speed

However, unlike most sports cars, the Elise doesn’t have to go over the speed limit to provide thrills. The mechanical relationship between the car and its driver is actually so direct that simply shifting into second gear is enough to set the heart aflutter. In fact, it all begins the second you slide in behind the wheel, after completing the dangerous task of getting in. Unable to adjust the seatback or the depth of the steering wheel, you quickly find the best possible driving position. And honestly, it’s quite adequate. Now it’s time to press the starter button that sets the 1.8-litre engine in motion. The resulting drone lets the driver know that the time for fun is at hand. You engage the first of the six gears and release the clutch to let the engine, which likes to play rough, express itself. At 40, 60 or 80 km/hr, the driver can already see the benefits of the aluminium chassis, mechanical steering and the suspension that alas, deals very poorly with our roads. You’ll be impressed by the power of the brakes every time you slow down, and the steering is so precise that it’s like you’re at the wheel of a single-seater. And you won’t get tired of pushing the engine at high gear or taking a turn, if only to spin the little three-spoke steering wheel that fits perfectly in your hands. And it’s surprising just how non-existent the roll actually is.

Even after twenty or thirty minutes, the ride is every bit as thrilling, but you’ll truly understand the extent to which comfort was ignored. So forget about soundproofing or a padded armrest. Adjustable lumbar support?  Dream on. Your spinal cord and your jaw work almost as hard as the shock absorbers, just like your forearms if you are driving in town at low speed.

Japanese heart

Lotus developed the aluminium chassis, the suspensions, the brakes…basically everything with the exception of the engine. For that, it’s Toyota that has, since the beginning, been providing the Elise with an engine that used to equip the Celica GT-S and Corolla XRS. Featuring 189 horses but only 133 lbs-ft of torque, this robust and very smooth engine is clearly fond of the high gears. It’s reliable and stingy on gas and needs only a minimum of maintenance. For even more thrills, Lotus is offering an SC version with 29 additional horses thanks to a little supercharger. You’ll say that 30 horses won’t change much, but for a car that weighs around 900 kilos, that’s more than exceptional.

This supercharger, in addition to causing a thrust and a surplus of power in low gear, produces a very unique sound reminiscent of a rotary engine. And good news, despite the added power, technically this engine doesn’t require even another drop of fuel.

The Elise isn’t as charming on the inside as it is on the outside. Sure, it offers wraparound sport bucket seats and a steering wheel that is always nice, but the overall presentation is very modest. Small carpets attached to the floor and a thin film on the rocker panels try to eliminate the impression that you’re getting into a metal box and the dashboard would never be accused of being very modern. The trim is more like that of a custom build, although this aspect is in part responsible for the car’s unique flavour.

The equipment, such as it is, is limited to air conditioning, power locks and windows, a CD/MP3 radio with four speakers and an anti-theft system. A panel...no, a removable softtop that takes shape thanks to the manual installation of two small metallic crossbars also comes factory standard. You just put the bars in the small holes meant for this purpose and presto, you’re behind the wheel of a coupe…

Options, you ask? There are two available packages. First, there’s the Touring Pack that  includes leather seats, steering wheel and door trim, as well as an iPod input jack and a crude cupholder. Next, there’s the Sport Pack that offers the very lax antiskid system, sport suspension (!!), twin oil coolers as well as the ultra-light alloy rims.

How much?

Ouch! At a little more than $60,000 for the Elise, and another $10,000 for the SC model, it’s very expensive. Add to that another $5,000 worth of options, the transport and taxes and you’ll find yourself with a bill of more than $85,000. Bascially, the Elise costs about the same amount as the Porsche Boxster base model and the SC costs about the same as a Boxster S. So it’s tough to justify the price of this car that doesn’t offer any unique technology and even less luxury. To rationalize purchasing this beast even a little bit, the buyer has no choice but to put a dollar value on the pleasure of the ride, which is quite frankly without equal. So perhaps this car’s hefty price tag explains why it’s so uncommon? Definitely. Except that the fact that there are so few in circulation explains its slow depreciation and after all, the Elise isn’t about reason in the least. It’s about passion, and that means that price takes a back seat…

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