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Lotus Elise (2010) first drive review

Published:19 April 2010

The new 2010 Lotus Elise. A facelift, if you look hard enough
  • At a glance
  • 5 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 2 out of 5
  • 5 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5

By Ben Barry

Contributing editor, sideways merchant, tyre disintegrator

By Ben Barry

Contributing editor, sideways merchant, tyre disintegrator

You’ll struggle to spot the difference, but this is the third-generation 2010-spec Lotus Elise. The basic chassis, brakes and dimensions remain unchanged, but the styling is subtly tweaked (the headlights are the stand-out change, but many of the panels are gently finessed) and the base model now has a 1.6-litre Toyota-sourced engine located amidships and a six-speed gearbox to replace the last generation1.8-litre that hooked up to a five-speeder.

Performance of the 2010 Elise is similar, but the price goes up by £900 and the S drops off the base model’s name – it’s just a Lotus Elise these days. Does what it says on the tin.

More money for a basic, smaller-engined Elise? Boo!

Don’t worry, the R model that sits above the base Elise still features a 1.8-litre lump (an all-new, more sprightly one too with 189bhp), and the 1.6-litre engine gets very similar performance to the old, lower-power 1.8 that used to reside in the S – it has 9lb ft more torque, does the same top speed, but takes 0.4sec longer to get to 62mph.

The more efficient engine and new gearbox bring another bonus however – fuel economy improves from 37.2mpg to 45mpg, while C02 falls from 179 to 149g/km.

What’s the new Lotus Elise like to drive?

Much as it’s always been, with that taut, direct feel to everything. Even before you set off you notice how firm yet comfortable the seats are (and they were still comfortable after more than two hours at the wheel), and how thin and firm the small steering wheel rim is.

On the go, the steering is instantly responsive, the throttle pedal buzzes with energy, the brakes are immediately feelsome and the ride is extremely firm with a layer of elasticity to smooth off any harsh edges.

Purists will be relieved to know the steering, brakes and suspension specs are unchanged from the old car. ‘We experimented with different settings,’ says executive engineer Matt Becker, ‘but we just kept coming back to the same thing. It works, why change it?’

But the gear change has been improved, thanks to improved mounting and lower friction cables. It snicks home cleanly, directly and satisfyingly.

I bet the new Lotus Elise 1.6 is slow, though?

Not at all – there’s plenty enough poke here to give yourself a scare if you’re that way inclined. It’s also very flexible, pulling from 1000rpm in fourth with reassuring vigour, and, when you push harder, revs eagerly. Slot sixth and you’ll see a relatively relaxed – for a bare bones sports car – 3000rpm on the dial at 75mph.

Don’t, however, go expecting tail-out fun – there’s not really enough power to trouble the rear wheels, and you’re more likely to experience the light scrub of understeer than a hint oversteer.

Any black marks against the facelifted Elise?

The Elise’s unassisted steering is as good as ever, but it’s so quick off the straight ahead that a little more weight in those very first degrees would be more reassuring. The accelerator and brake pedals, too, could be a little closer for easier heel and toe antics – it’s far from impossible in the new car, but it could be improved.

Lastly, the 6800rpm rev limit can feel a little stingy. Perhaps we’ve been spoilt by the high-revving of the Elise 111R and rival VTEC systems, but when you really wring it out you expect a final banzai flourish to 8000rpm that never quite materialises.

Other than that, the Elise delivers exactly what you expect – pared-back thrills where the driving experience takes priority above everything else. It's also a cramped package, with only a small boot that'll gently cook your bags.

Verdict

It wasn’t broken, they haven’t fixed it, so the Elise’s crisp style and excellent chassis remain intact, but the engine is now sweeter and greener, and the gearchange better. Funny that something so simple that’s evolved so little over the years is so well suited to future motoring.

Specs

Price when new: £27,450
On sale in the UK: May 2010
Engine: 1598cc 16v four cylinder, 134bhp @ 6700rpm, 118lb ft @ 4300rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Performance: 6.5sec 0-62mph, 127mph, 45mpg, 149/km CO2
Weight / material: 876kg/composite panels, aluminium chassis
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): 3785/1719/1117

Rivals

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Photo Gallery

  • The 2010 Lotus Elise: not much different on the rear three-quarters angle
  • Roof off, the new Lotus Elise (2010) strikes a familiar pose
  • The new base Lotus Elise now uses 1.6 Toyota power
  • New headlamps distinguish the new 2010 Lotus Elise
  • Lotus Elise (2010): the rear view
  • Engine cover over the Toyota motor is restyled for 2010 on the Elise
  • Lightweight alloys help keep the kerbweight under 900kg on latest Elise
  • The business end of the new 2010 Lotus Elise. A snug cockpit

By Ben Barry

Contributing editor, sideways merchant, tyre disintegrator

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