There’s a good word that sums up the Elise, and that word is ‘connected’. In a world where cars are more and more divorced from both driver and road, the lightweight Elise is a sportscar that still delivers the best seat-of-the-pants feel this side of a Caterham.
Better than before, in that it now won’t actually cripple and deafen you in the first 30 miles. Just getting into the thing is a hilarious business, and once inside the ergonomics are terrible – the Elise is very focussed, so heaters and radios are added in later. Much easier entry and egress with the roof off, but it’s a pain to replace quickly if there’s a snap rain shower.
The Elise isn’t actually that shattering when it comes to out-and-out shove – it’s more to do with the purity of the driving experience. That said, it’s not slow; nowadays the Elise is powered by a Toyota 1.8 with variable valve timing that produces 134bhp in basic 1.8 S form, 189bhp as a 1.8R and 217bhp in the supercharged variant. That gives 0-62mph times that drop in a similar order; 5.8, 5.2 and 4.4, with top speeds that rise accordingly; 127mph, 147mph and 150mph.
The Elise manages to walk the fine tightrope between enthusiast’s machine and look-at-me poseur mobile, with probably a little more of the former. So it’s cool, but not as cool as an Exige.
Modern Elises feel like they could be taken to a track and abused without falling to bits, but then there’s not that much inside to break. Don’t be worried if the aluminium tub creaks and rattles a bit – there’s little sound deadening and most of the interior is bare metal. The pop-in-pop-out roof bars sometimes have dodgy seals too – but that’s not a big worry.
The Elise makes even a trip to the shops an adventure, with steering so feelsome it’s like running the palm of your hand down the tarmac itself. You can feel road cambers that you won’t have a clue about from the helm of any sports saloon, and when the car starts to reach the limits of its considerable grip, your bum will telegraph the situation to you well in advance.
If there was a sliding scale of practicality with 1 being the worst and 10 being the best, the Elise would be somewhere around -2 with the Lamborghini Diablo SV and the TukTuk motor tricycle. There is a boot behind the engine, but it tends to cook whatever is stored there. Squashy bags are OK, but space everywhere else is at a premium. And don’t expect to arrive and be able to emerge gracefully – unless you’re 5ft tall, the Elise will strip your ego bare.
Not a bad choice if you want a tidy driving experience and you still want to be able to use your face and heart afterwards. The engines are clean and that means 27-percent company car tax – fancy that – though insurance is high at group 20 all round. Economy is also pretty reasonable given the Elise’s performance potential – the 1.8R will get 32.1mpg and the 1.8 an even better 34mpg.