First and last: tracing the evolution of the Lotus Elise


There are, of course, Final Edition plaques scattered around and bespoke colours, but otherwise and in mechanical terms, the car is standard. Commensurate upgrades to the Exige are available too.

The S1 Elise now looks from another era. The shape conceived for it by Julian Thomson is more rounded, cleaner and has elements of the Ferrari Dino 246GT, whose owners include none other than, er, Julian Thomson. The S3 shape has a stack more presence and looks modern enough to be brand new, even though it differs little to the S2 shape that was launched 20 years ago. It’s what’s called timeless design. I can’t decide which I prefer because (to me, at least, and for entirely different reasons) both are gorgeous.

I drive the old car first. I’m not sure why; perhaps because it has been a couple of decades and I’m itching to find out whether the feel of the thing is as I remember it to be. Happily, the car is cosmetically excellent and mechanically perfect, so there’s no trying to second-guess what it might have felt like when new. Best of all (and save a sports exhaust that adds no power and slightly later Bilstein dampers in place of the original Koni set), it’s absolutely factory standard. Just as it was the day it first poked its prow out of this place in early 1998.

It’s an easy car to fall into and comfortable once you’re there. The driving position and pedal arrangement are near perfect, too. But there are certain aspects to it that wouldn’t be acceptable today: it’s extremely difficult to depart on a wet day because the footwells are so slippery and not even the most seasoned professional could erect its roof in a rainstorm without ending up as wet as if they had just lain in the bath.

I’m itching to get out there, and so is the little Lotus. With those genius MMC brakes, which work on the principle of adherent rather than abrasive friction and therefore last almost forever, swapping material from pad to disc and back again, it weighs just 725kg, making it more than 20% lighter than the Sport 240. The K-series starts with that enthusiastic bark of old, the gearlever slots into place with the same old slightly imprecise action and we’re off.

At once it seems quick, crisp, eager and together. Even before we’re up to speed, the steering is writhing gently in my hands, flooding my fingers with information and my brain with the happiest of memories. The track is flooded too, but that appears to deter the Elise not at all.



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