I'm stumped. It looks exactly the same as the Elise R, so why's it here?
When Rover died the entry level, K-Series-powered Elise went with it along with a loyal customer base that couldn't stretch to a whopping £29,945 (in basic trim) for the Toyota-powered 'R'. Meet the 'S', the new entry level Elise. It's £6000 cheaper than the 'R' and is powered by a distant relative of the trick VVTLi engine, built by Yamaha for the Toyota Celica. The 134bhp, 1.8-litre engine sitting under the rear clamshell is lifted from the current Corolla. Unlike the 'R' it’s not been fettled by Yamaha, meaning different internals, no electronic valve lift and one less cog in the gearbox.
Is this a pared to the bone, hardcore track-special then?
Not really. The Elise has never been exactly luxurious but the 'S' still comes with a stereo, Probax bucket seats, alloy wheels and new LED rear lights. The windows are wind down (hardly a chore in an Elise), the cloth roof is still simple to remove and the cabin is snug despite the lack of carpets.
It's got 60bhp less than the Elise R… won't I be overtaken by invalid carriages?
That's 60bhp less than a very, very fast car. Remember the 134bhp is being applied to an aluminium bonded tub and a kerb weight of only 860kg. This translates to 0-62mph in 6.1secs - that’s faster than the £39k Porsche Boxster S can manage so you needn't worry.
So how do they compare?
The 'S' borrows the damping from the more expensive car. The combination of Eibach springs and Bilstein dampers is superbly compliant over bumpy roads yet allows incredible body control on the track. The steering is spot on - not too nervous as to be tiring but perfectly weighted and very precise. Screw up a corner and you're the one at fault, not the car. Now bring in the new engine and the 'S' emerges as a very sweet little car. There's enough torque to drag the Elise up from next to no revs but hit 5000rpm and its benign character is dumped in favour of a howling exhaust note and sharp increase in acceleration until the 7000rpm redline. It’s an addictive zone to be in. The gearbox ratios have been selected to best exploit the new engine. You can trundle around in fifth (you hardly miss the lack of a sixth gear) or stick it in third and keep the engine buried towards the limiter. Regardless the engine never loses its manners and remains refined despite the abuse.
What else do I need to know?
The 'S' is on sale now for £23,995. If you're in the market for one you might want to consider desirables such as air con (£1295), traction control (£395) and a driver's airbag (£1995 as part of the 'touring' pack). Suddenly that basic price has swelled a little.
Keep it simple and the Elise 'S' is a desirable and very well balanced piece of kit. Just the right amount of power, excellent steering and damping and looks that are nigh on identical to the £30k version. Unless you can really justify the extra performance (and expense) of the 'R' you’re better off with the Elise S and £6k in your pocket.