Lotus Elise S Cup (2015) review

Published:12 January 2015

Lotus Elise S Cup
  • At a glance
  • 5 out of 5
  • 5 out of 5
  • 3 out of 5
  • 5 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5

By James Taylor

CAR's deputy features editor, automotive design graduate, Radical champ

By James Taylor

CAR's deputy features editor, automotive design graduate, Radical champ

How many homemade spats and spoilers have you seen stuck to Lotus Elises in track day paddocks? Lotus Motorsport’s engineers reckon they’ve seen quite literally hundreds of aftermarket bodykits over the years, of wildly varying quality. Since the demand’s there, they reasoned, it makes sense to do their own, and do it properly.

The bewinged Lotus Elise S Cup is the fruit of their labours, and the most track-focused Elise since the bare bones 2-Eleven.

What differentiates the Elise S Cup from a regular Elise S?

Downforce. Lotus describes the S Cup as the road-going version of the Elise S Cup R, a race-ready car launched last year that’s eligible for various championships under the Lotus Cup umbrella, but the main thing it shares with the racing car is its aerodynamic bodykit.

Aside from a few key tweaks to make sure it passes type approval regs – slightly blunter radii on some of the pointier corners, that sort of thing – the extravagant front spoiler, broad surfaces alongside the sills (complete with aircraft-style ‘No Step’ warnings), rear wing and gigantic diffuser are more or less identical to the race car.

They really do generate significant downforce, too: 66kg at 100mph (compared with 5kg in a regular Elise), 104kg at 124mph and 125kg at 140mph, if you’re interested. The clever bit is, while normally you’d pay a big penalty in drag for those kind of figures, Lotus has managed to keep that down to an increase of only 8%.

Another by-product, of course, is that this Elise exudes a fair bit more visual attitude than its wingless siblings, especially combined with our test car’s ‘Toxic Green’ paint job. Technically you could remove the roof panel, but Lotus would rather you didn't. It's best to think of this car as a coupe.

The Cup is a full three seconds a lap faster around Lotus’s Hethel test track than an ordinary Elise S. And that time all comes from the aero – in the engine bay it’s the same Toyota-sourced 1.8-litre supercharged four-pot with 217bhp. The negligible drag increase means top speed only falls to 140mph from the standard car’s 145mph, with 0-60mph remaining a brisk 4.2 seconds.

Anything apart from the aero kit?

Aside from the bodywork addenda, the Cup also gets beefed-up track control arms to better cope with clobbering kerbs on track, different seats (more on which later) and some extra bits of grey suede inside.

Depending on which options boxes you tick, you can turn it into a proper racing car if you want. The wiring loom for fire extinguisher, kill switch and the like is already in place, and all the other bits – roll cage, harnesses and so on – are a biro stroke away.

Or go the other way – our test car was fitted with air con (a £1250 option) and the ‘Comfort Pack’ (Halfords-spec stereo, central locking and extra sound deadening, among other bits and pieces – £1200).

What’s it like on the road?

It’s still an Elise, so there’s the same lovely non-assisted steering and fluid ride quality, even on the Cup’s firmer suspension (the same setup as the Elise Club Racer, with an adjustable front anti-roll bar). Far from an uncompromising racing car, it’s quite compliant.

Apart from the seats. Although the Cup’s grey fabric seats look great, and are positively luxurious by contrast with the Club Racer’s plastic shells covered with strategically placed bits of mouse mat, they’re just as uncomfortable. Either that or I’m just the wrong shape for them, as I was still nursing a bruised back for days afterwards.

That rear wing dominates the rear view mirror and begins to get to work from speeds as low as 60mph. Only thing is, after an entertaining blast around Norfolk back roads I couldn’t help but feel I’d have had just as much fun in a regular Elise.

And on the track?

The track is the Cup’s natural habitat, of course, and none more so than Lotus’s own Hethel test circuit.

Mario Andretti famously described his ground-effect Lotus 78 F1 car as feeling ‘like it’s painted on the road’ but the sodden January weather during our test was enough to make any car’s colours run. It was very slippery out there, but the occasional chilling mid-engined twitch through fast corners aside, the Cup was incredibly benign.

There’s a safe understeer balance on turn in, quickly quelled with a lift, and, in the wet at least, as much oversteer as you want on corner exit courtesy of the electronic differential lock. We were on regular Yokohama road tyres rather than the sticky road-legal track tyres also available – probably for the best.

The brakes are fantastic, powerful, fade-free and with forensic levels of feedback through the perfectly weighted and positioned pedal. That petite steering wheel, which you guide with your wrists rather than your arms, is lovely too. In fact, everything about the Cup makes the driver’s job easy from the annoying three-stage shift-up lights, which actually mean you need to take your eyes from the road for longer than a plain old red line would.

A huge rooster tail of spray shadowed the Elise around the track and afterwards we discovered curious clear patches in the road grime along the car’s flanks where the winglets had cushioned the airflow.

Verdict

The S Cup is a reminder of just what a delicious driving experience the Elise is, especially in this distilled track-focused form. The only thing standing between it and a five-star rating is the price. £43,500 is quite a lot of money for an Elise, whichever way its aero kit slices it.

But the committed trackday-goer might just be tempted. It’s about as fun as driving gets.

Specs

Price when new: £43,500
On sale in the UK:
Engine: 1796cc 16v 4-cyl, 217bhp @ 6800rpm, 184lb ft @ 4600rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Performance: 4.2sec 0-60mph, 140mph, 37.5mpg, 175g/km
Weight / material: 932kg / aluminium
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): 3824/1850/1117mm

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Photo Gallery

  • Lotus Elise S Cup takes its aero kit from Elise S Cup R racer
  • That diffuser really is quite big up close
  • Vanes near the wheels help keep airflow parallel to the body
  • Born in the mid '90s but still feels fresh
  • Extra bits of grey fabric trim part of S Cup spec
  • Seats are less comfortable than they look
  • Great if you're the right shape
  • Hardtop's intended to stay in place, but can be removed
  • Lotus Elise S Cup is huge fun on the track
  • Elise S Cup is up to three secs a lap quicker round Hethel than a regular Elise S
  • Lotus Elise S Cup
  • Aero kit also makes the S Cup look a bit more threatening

By James Taylor

CAR's deputy features editor, automotive design graduate, Radical champ

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