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Lotus Elise SC (2008) review

Published:10 January 2008

Lotus Elise SC (2008) review
  • At a glance
  • 5 out of 5
  • 5 out of 5
  • 2 out of 5
  • 5 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5

We’ve been subjected to some rather tenuous special edition Elises in the past, but this is a bit different. The fastest, most powerful production version of Lotus’s baby sports car yet, it’s essentially an Elise R (formerly the 111R, now renamed) fitted with a supercharger to provide an extra 28bhp.

So it’s got the engine from the Exige S?

If only things were that simple. Yes, it uses the same basic 1.8-litre Toyota engine, but the Exige is fitted with an intercooler that sits on top of the engine under the fastback. The Elise though has a flat engine cover meaning the intercooler won’t fit. So Lotus reengineered the car to work without an intercooler. Incredibly, the non-intercooled engine produces the same 217bhp as the intercooled car as well as 156lb ft of torque. Those figures don’t represent a massive on-paper improvement over the 189bhp and 133lb ft but the torque curve is fuller and and the peak shifts from a silly 6800rpm to a more usable 5100rpm. And remember, the Elise is incredibly light, so although the 870kg SC is 10kg heavier than the R, it still has a better power to weight ratio: 250bhp versus 220bhp per tonne.

A bit brisk is it?

Let’s get the numbers out of the way before dealing with the more important stuff. The top speed climbs just 3mph to 150mph but the 0-60mph figure is slashed from 5.2sec to just 4.4sec (the blown Exige on stickier rubber manages 4.1sec). Extend the comparison to 100mph and the SC extends its lead: 10.7sec plays 13.0sec. But that only tells part of the story. The real meat of the R’s power comes in with a bang at 6200rpm, lasting until the limiter cuts in 2000rpm later. It’s not slow below that point but can be frustrating on the road where it’s difficult to access that urge. The SC is far more progressive and the noise of the supercharger muffles the coarse din of the engine. It doesn’t feel heroically fast at low revs, but is far stronger than the R in the midrange, the place you’ll spend most time. And the point at which the variable valve gear kicks in to maximum power mode now takes place lower down, between 4000-6200rpm. So you no longer need beat the throttle senseless to make progress although as peak power doesn’t arrive until nearly 8000rpm, you’re still rewarded for doing so.

Does it still feel like an Elise though?

Yes, because it’s essentially an R underneath the skin so it’s no surprise to find that they drive very similarly. The steering is still the finest of any road car on sale in terms of hardwiring you into the action. Light yet incredibly communicative, it tirelessly ferries back data from the front wheels while the thinly padded seat allows your bum to sense what the rears are up to. The SC’s wheels are half an inch wider at both ends so there’s fractionally more grip than before. Too much throttle still mostly washes the front end out and there’s so much traction that the optional traction control just isn’t necessary. But as ever, a cheeky lift of the throttle will trim your line or punt the whole car into a broadside pose to taste. Trying to get back on the gas to really ride out a slide though and there’s sometimes a pause before power comes back in, something you also feel if you short shift but then immediately apply full throttle.

How will everyone know I’m in the fastest ever Elise?

Apart from those wider wheels, there’s not much to differentiate the SC from lesser models visually, just a rear spoiler that curves its way round the rear of the car onto the back quarters, not unlike the wing fitted to the 111S versions of the first generation Elise. Inside the SC adopts the same changes as all Elise models for 2008: a more expensive looking dash covering, easier to read white on black gauges and a starter button. Moving from the options sheet to the standard kit list for all models are standard airbags and the brilliant Probax seats that mould to the shape of your body.

If it makes the same power, surely the Exige will adopt this engine too?

Not so. The intercooled engine has more scope for further tuning which is useful for racing versions of the Exige and there’s also a power pack for Exige road cars that lifts power to 240bhp, giving it an advantage over the Elise SC. But some would-be Exige S owners will be disappointed that they can’t have their cars without the intercooler. The thing is so big it completely blocks rear vision. British law demands there be an internal rear view mirror present regardless, but every time you glance in it you just get an eyeful of blackness.

And the price for this Norfolk missile?

An SC without options weighs in at £32,550 which, for the performance on offer, sounds pretty spectacular value, particularly in the context of the £445 pricier, significantly slower, uglier, less fun and not much more refined Europa. I say without options because it’s likely that many customers will add air conditioning and/or a hardtop for £1000 apiece, spend £300 on traction control or go for one or both of the option packs. The Touring pack brings leather, sound insulation, carpets and driving lights for £2000; the Sports pack uprated springs and dampers, traction control, oil coolers and lighter wheels for £1500. Some of these cars are going to have Lotus dealers’ tills ringing to the tune of nearly £40,000, which sounds expensive. But even a basic car is £4000 more expensive than the Elise R.

Verdict

Is it worth the extra money? It’s a massively exciting car to drive and the performance is more usable but there’s just something appealing about the purity of an Elise with a naturally aspirated engine that we prefer. And I think the R is probably the visceral experience.  In fact we’d go a step further than questioning whether it’s worth going for an SC over an R. Because to our mind, while they’re both great cars, the best Elise is the one that’s closest to the spirit of the original. And that’s the humble Elise S. Wind up windows, 134bhp, five gears and £23,550. You really don’t need anything more.

Specs

Price when new: £32,550
On sale in the UK: Now
Engine: 1796cc supercharged 16v 4cyl, 217bhp @ 8000rpm, 156lb ft @ 5000rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual, rear wheel drive
Performance: 4.4sec 0-60mph, 150mph, 33mpg, 202g/km CO2
Weight / material: 870kg/aluminium
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): 3785/1719/1117

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Photo Gallery

  • Lotus Elise SC rear three-quarter
  • Lotus Elise SC engine
  • Lotus Elise SC front three-quarter
  • Lotus Elise SC rear three-quarter
  • Lotus Elise SC wheel
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