For 2008, the Lotus Elise gets revised gauges and a few new accessories, as well as a limited-run California Special Edition and supercharged 220-horsepower Elise SC version. The Elise is a compact, lightweight sports car meant for track driving. As such, its competitors generally boast more comfort but fewer at-the-limits performance attributes.
LED taillamps are standard, and the air conditioning system can be deleted to save weight. Traction control and a limited-slip differential are optional. Lotus also builds the Exige S coupe, which shares platforms with the Elise.
Based in Norfolk, England, Lotus was founded in 1952 by Colin Chapman. Group Lotus has a formidable reputation for engineering innovation and racing victories.
Countless cars are described as "aggressive," but the Elise truly looks the part, with its huge air intakes behind the doors, long sloped headlight covers and ground-hugging stance.
Lotus says the Elise was the first production car to have a bonded, extruded aluminum chassis; it weighs just 150 pounds. Composite body panels are used, and the entire car weighs slightly less than 2,000 pounds — about 300 pounds less than a Toyota Yaris hatchback. A black cloth top is standard, and a body-colored hardtop can be installed.
The coil-spring suspension can be optionally equipped with Bilstein shock absorbers. Standard eight-spoke cast-aluminum wheels hold Yokohama tires that measure P175/55R16 in the front and P225/45R17 in the rear. An optional Sport Package adds wider front tires and lighter wheels (56.2 pounds for all four, versus 70.4 pounds with the standard wheels). AP Racing supplies the twin-piston front brake calipers, while Brembo provides the single-piston rear calipers. All four discs are cross-drilled to resist brake fade. The optional Track Pack includes an adjustable track suspension and an adjustable front anti-roll bar.
California Special Editions look a bit more upscale, with a silver-painted grille, body-colored air inlets and new wheels. They come in red or yellow, with a matching hardtop. Fifty such models are planned for the U.S. market.
Two occupants fit in composite sport seats. An aluminum gearshift knob and handbrake sleeve help keep the Elise's weight down and complement the aluminum chassis. The driver faces a leather-trimmed Momo steering wheel, and the backlit gauges have been revised for 2008 to incorporate an LCD screen that displays essential vehicle information. Air conditioning, a CD stereo and power door locks are standard. A starter button fires the engine, and an immobilizer alarm is installed.
The optional Touring Pack includes full-leather seating, power windows, an upgraded stereo and a double-insulated fabric top. The California Special Edition includes all that along with two-tone leather, a custom shift knob and extended carpets.
Under the Hood
The Elise has a Lotus-tuned 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that incorporates variable cam timing and lift technology — most VVT engines vary the timing only — to produce 190 hp. Peak horsepower is achieved at 7,800 rpm, and the engine delivers 138 pounds-feet of torque at 6,800 rpm. A C64 six-speed manual gearbox is supplied by Toyota, and Lotus engineers designed its shift linkage mechanism. The drivetrain powers both the regular Elise and the California Special Edition.
The Elise SC's supercharged engine makes 218 hp at 7,800 rpm and 153 pounds-feet of torque at 5,500 rpm. Lotus says the Elise SC will sprint from zero to 60 mph in just 4.4 seconds, compared to about 4.9 seconds for the Elise. Gas mileage is in the low 20s, which is much better than you'd expect for a car this quick.
Dual front airbags and antilock brakes are standard. By an industry-wide federal mandate, a tire pressure monitoring system is now standard.