► New Lotus Elise Cup 250 tested
► More power, grip and downforce
► A thrilling car, on road or track
The Lotus Elise is 20 this year. Happy birthday! Its reward for surviving two decades? Yet another special edition. Over the course of the Series 1 and Series 2 there have been 36 separate versions of this likeable British sports car, but this one – the new Cup 250 – is the fastest to date.
It replaces the Cup 220, is limited to 200 cars a year and represents the ultimate Elise. Well, for now, anyway; the firm’s CEO, Jean-Marc Gales, told us that there’s an Elise replacement already in development – but we’ll have to wait until 2020 to drive it. In the meantime we can expect yet more from this platform.
That bodes well, because despite its near-£50k list price (once you’ve factored essential options), this is an absolute belter of a driver’s car. This is the first Cup model to be available as a roadster, too, so you can get a suntan on the way to your trackday.
So what’s the recipe for this Elise?
It uses the same supercharged 1.8-litre Toyota motor found in the 220 Cup, but with a significant improvement in power and torque delivery thanks to a smaller pulley on the blower and revised engine mapping, done in-house at Lotus’s Hethel factory. There are beefier power and torque curves on the dyno graph, which translates to extra flexibility out on the road.
But it’s also fast. Very fast. With some heat in the tyres and a perfect launch, this Elise takes off like a prodded grasshopper. Its six-speed manual ’box is perhaps a little agricultural, but shift with conviction and you’ll find a selection of ratios that are well matched to the engine.
It’s a shame that the Elise’s supercharged engine still doesn’t sound particularly fruity, though. It’s purposeful in a four-pot sort of way, but we’d have preferred a little more theatre – perhaps some more volume from the ’charger. It sounds faintly like a kitten. We’d have preferred a puma.
You’ll want to flick the car into Sport mode to get the best from it; throttle response is noticeably sharper (presumably at the expense of CO2 emissions, the quoted figures of 175g/km are unusually low for this type of car…) and the stability control system allows more lateral body movement when you chuck it into a bend.
What happens when you show it a corner?
That’s where the 931kg Elise really shines. On the standard Lotus-specific Yokohama AO48 tyres (an inch wider at the front end than the 220) there’s a titanic amount of grip on offer – far more than you’ll ever need on the road – and the steering is truly remarkable. It’s totally unassisted, offers a supremely slick action and a degree of feedback so fizzing with feel that to better it you’d have to get behind the wheel of a dedicated track car – or even a high-end kart.
Looking at the spec sheet, you’d be forgiven for thinking a limited-slip diff is conspicuous by its absence, but this featherweight – thanks to peerless traction and manageable low-end torque – simply doesn’t need it. There’s meaningful aero on board, with Lotus claiming the front splitter, rear diffuser and wing add 66kg of downforce at 100mph. We wouldn’t dispute that. It feels demonstrably more stable at those sorts of speeds than you’d expect. It’s a confidence-inspiring thing.
We proved its handling capabilities by venturing onto the test track at Hethel. Lotus claims the Cup 250 is a massive four seconds quicker around here than its predecessor – amazing considering we’re now talking 1min 34sec for a full lap. Race drivers would kill for that sort of improvement.
What’s the Cup 250 like on circuit, then?
With laptimes in mind, Sport mode was engaged, the traction control switched off and the speed dialled up to maximum. The way this thing changes direction can only be compared to a well set-up race car. It switches direction instantly and with pin-sharp precision, and you’re able to use your right foot to dance the Elise around the racing line.
We noticed a very slight moment of understeer when pushing hard through low-speed corners, but that’s absolutely not a problem: not only does it make for safer on-the-limit handling for inexperienced drivers, but the front anti-roll bar’s adjustable too. You can dial it out, in other words, when you’re acclimatised to the car.
The carbonfibre bucket seats are hard and only adjustable forward and back, so they’re not the most comfortable, but it’s difficult to dislike the low-slung driving position. On track we’d have preferred harnesses to keep us firmly positioned in the cabin, but they’re on the options list anyway – and conventional three-point inertia reels are far more easy-going on the road.
Considering the amount of track time we enjoyed, it’s fair to say the Elise's AP Racing twin-piston brakes are pretty much immune to fade and there’s plenty of feedback through the pedal. They’re progressive too, so the 250 Cup remains tractable on the road.
Is this a race car for the road, then?
Sort of. You might find the suspension on the crashy side of firm when tackling the likes of unexpected potholes and motorway expansion joints, but there’s enough give there to make this a stunning B-road blaster.
The cabin’s quality has been uplifted too, which is a good job for a car at this price. There’s extra leather and Alcantara, while the switchgear for many of the driving controls (including that critical Sport button and the equally entertaining traction control-disabling switch) have been clustered on the right-hand side of the steering wheel.
If you want to bolster your car’s residual value (and/or channel your inner Colin Chapman), spend £4k more on the Carbon Aero Pack to save a further 10kg – as it provides the downforce we mentioned above.
If you love Lotus, love sports cars and love trackdays, you’ll love this. It’s eminently capable as a circuit-only car (with one or two of the 12 available options), and still tolerable enough on the road – although, admittedly, the price will keep everyone bar enthusiasts at bay. On a sunny day on your favourite country road or at a circuit, however, it’ll be hard to beat.