2006 Lotus Elise Solar Yellow. Click image to enlarge
Originally published April 17, 2006
Review and photos by Grant Yoxon
Duluth, Georgia – Motorcyclists know all about power to weight ratio. It doesn’t take a large engine to move a machine that weighs less than 200 kg very quickly. For example, the Suzuki GSX-R’s 998.6 cc engine will power the 166 kg (366 lbs) bike and rider to 60 mph (96 km/h) in just 2.9 seconds, and 0-100 mph (160 km/h) in 5.5 seconds.
There may be “no replacement for displacement,” as American muscle car enthusiasts are fond of saying, but taking the weight off can be an effective way to go fast without piling on the cubic inches.
This was Colin Chapman’s philosophy. The founder of Lotus Motor Cars was well-known for being able to find the loopholes in a rule book. His experiments with aerodynamics and weight reduction resulted in Formula One successes in the 60’s and 70’s. From 1958 until Colin Chapman’s death in 1982, Lotus won 79 Grand Prix championship races and seven Constructor’s Championships.
The philosophy that guided Colin Chapman still guides the company he left behind. Lotus has remained steadfastly dedicated to building innovative, lightweight cars that are fun to drive. And the Lotus Elise, the most successful sports car in Lotus history, is the epitome of the philosophy.
This is one fun car to drive.
Weighing just 902 kg (1984 lbs), the Elise is capable of 0-60 mph times of 4.9 seconds and a top speed of 241 km/h (150 mph). Under the hood, or the trunk lid in this case as the engine is located just behind the driver and ahead of the rear axle, is nothing more exotic than a Toyota 1.8-litre 4-cylinder engine. Yes, it’s the same engine that powered the recently departed Celica. The only difference is the engine management system, which was developed by Lotus in-house. The high-revving four produces 190 horsepower at 7,800 rpm and 138 ft.-lb. of torque at 6,800 rpm.
The transmission is also sourced from Toyota, with a shift linkage re-engineered by Lotus for quicker, more positive shifts. But building a great sports car is not as simple as pulling an engine and transmission off a Toyota parts shelf. The truly innovative features of the Elise are the chassis and body. The latter is moulded of a glass-fibre and polyester-resin composite material. It is light, strong and paints up well. The chassis, constructed from 27 aluminum alloy extrusions, is stunning in its simplicity. There are no welds and only a few mechanical fasteners. It is held together with bonding techniques borrowed from the aerospace industry. It weighs just 68 kg. And yet it is strong and extremely rigid.
As a driver, you sit within the chassis, which is evident throughout the interior. It is a minimalist approach to interior design that is both practical – there is no additional weight from unnecessary trim pieces, at least in base trim – and artful. The side rails of the chassis form the interior side panels. The foot wells are all aluminum and the passenger’s feet rest on an aluminum cross brace. The lower portion of the dash and parcel shelf is also aluminum. Other pieces – the window handles and the door hinges, for example, are pure sculpture.
2006 Lotus Elise. Click image to enlarge
While there are very few fasteners used in the Elise, those that are used are visible. There is no attempt to hide trim fasteners. The HVAC seems placed on the parcel shelf for convenience. The radio controls look aftermarket. You could say this is less than one would expect in a car costing close to $60,000, but to my mind and others who have seen the car or the photos, these oddities work with the overall concept of the car as a purpose-built machine. They are industrial camp, engineering art.
An optional ‘Touring Pack’ adds leather door trim and full carpet set (as well as leather seats, electric windows, upgraded stereo, storage net behind the seats and additional sound insulation), but these just cover up all that beautiful aluminum.