Fans of the highly regarded Lotus Elise have been disappointed for years because the compact two-passenger sports car has not been exported to the United States. This sports car has been on sale in Europe since 1996, and more than 17,000 Elises have sold during that time.
That disparity will change in the 2005 model year, when the Elise is slated to arrive at U.S. dealerships. Vehicle delivery is scheduled to begin in July 2004, and the Elise will replace the long-lived low-production Esprit in the U.S. market.
“American Lotus enthusiasts have been starved for their favorite marque for too long,” said Tony Shute, the company’s head of product planning. This is the first all-new Lotus model for the U.S. market since the 1990 Elan.
Equipped with a six-speed gearbox, the Elise will sticker for $39,985. Lotus promises a 0-to-60-mph acceleration time of less than 5 seconds. A Touring Pack includes full leather seating with perforated trim, power windows, a CD/MP3 player and a double-insulated soft-top. The Sports Pack includes larger forged-aluminum-alloy wheels, specific Yokohama A048LTS tires and a track-tuned suspension with adjustable ride height.
According to a Lotus spokesperson, the Elise combines the company’s purist “performance through lightweight” mantra with comfort and style that appeals to women. Currently, 38 dealerships in the United States and Canada handle Lotus sports cars.
Based in Norfolk, England, Lotus was founded in 1952 by Colin Chapman. Group Lotus has a formidable reputation for engineering innovation and racing victories. “We’ve always been disrespectful,” the company advises, in the sense of irreverence. “Thus we earned respect.”
Countless cars are described as “aggressive.” The Elise truly looks the part with its huge air intakes behind the doors, long sloped headlight covers, ground-hugging stance and businesslike demeanor.
Lotus says the Elise is the first production car to have a bonded, extruded aluminum chassis; it weighs just 150 pounds. This is also the company’s first computer-designed model. Composite body panels are used, and the entire car weighs 1,975 pounds. A black cloth top is standard, and a body-colored hardtop will be offered when the car goes on sale.
The four-wheel-independent suspension consists of Eibach coil springs and Bilstein monotube gas shock absorbers. Eight-spoke cast-aluminum wheels hold Yokohama Advan Neova AD07 LTS tires measuring P175/55R16 in the front and P225/45R17 in the rear. AP Racing supplies the twin-piston front brake calipers, while Brembo provides the single-piston rear calipers.
Two occupants fit in composite sport seats of the snug interior. The leather upholstery has cloth inserts. Extruded aluminum pedals and an aluminum gearshift knob and handbrake sleeve help keep the cars’ weight down and complement the aluminum chassis. The driver faces a leather-trimmed Momo steering wheel. Air conditioning, a CD stereo and power door locks are standard. A starter button fires up the engine, and an immobilizer alarm is installed.
Under the Hood
A Lotus-tuned 1.8-liter, 16-valve four-cylinder engine that incorporates Toyota’s Variable Valve Timing and Lift with intelligence (VVTL-i) technology produces 190 horsepower — that’s more than 100 hp per liter. Peak horsepower is derived at 7,800 rpm, and the engine delivers 138 pounds-feet of torque at 6,800 rpm. A C64 six-speed-manual gearbox is supplied by Toyota, and Lotus engineers designed its shift linkage mechanism.
Dual front airbags and antilock brakes are standard. Side-impact airbags are not available.