2021 Lotus Elise Sport 240 Final Edition review – admirable if not lovable
How we didn't fall for one of the best road cars ever made
You're probably sick of hearing about how Lotus is killing off its mainstream models to pave way for new – unannounced – cars later in 2021. But it's quite big news. Sorry.
The bell is soon going to toll for the Elise (at least in its current form), so we spent a week driving the Lotus Elise Sport 240 Final Edition on the road to see what we'll be missing.
Watch the video below to see a large man squeezing into the lightweight sportster, or read on for less bearded thoughts.
What is it?
It's the third generation of Lotus' lightweight, aluminium-chassis'd four-cylinder-powered sports car. This one has a 240hp supercharged 1.8-litre engine mated to that classically satisfying six-speed manual gearbox. On paper it rips to 62mph from a standstill in just 4.1 seconds, hits 147mph flat out and costs £45,500.
It's the stuff of dreams, isn't it?
There's absolutely no doubt the Elise is a legendary car, and it still feels it today. Although this third-gen car weighs 922kg, you can get it below 900kg with some carbon-fibre options. And yes, that's 200kg or so heavier than the very first Elise, introduced back in 1996 – you have safety and emissions to blame for the added weight.
In the context of 2021's new cars, however, the Elise still feels like it'd float away on a gentle breeze – and that light weight really does impact every single facet of the driving experience.
Lightweight forged wheels are standard on the Sport 240 Final Edition
For a start, the unassisted steering is direct, full of feel and darts the Elise into corners with the merest of twitches. It's only at a standstill that you wish for power steering – but the upsides massively outweigh that negative. You'll find the steering wriggling and writhing in your hands on a bumpy road, yet the chassis flows so well with the Tarmac that the Lotus always seems to track straight and you don't find yourself fighting to go in a straight line.
The ride is equally impressive. The Elise's tiny stature and track-ready stance bely a car that's soft on its springs, and one that leans noticeably as you lob it into corners. This softness is actually a great ally. Not only does it help you judge the amount of front and rear grip (the Elise will understeer before it oversteers, so you're never in danger of spinning backwards into the scenery), but it makes it a pleasant daily driver.
Picking up the pace
Point-to-point on a bumpy road, you'd have to be incredibly brave to keep up with an Elise. It hunts around bends without breaking a sweat. We found this sheer grip and tenacity makes it feel a little joyless unless you're happy breaking the speed limit – it's clearly impressive but we got more driving fun from the much-firmer and shoutier Exige. The Elise in comparison feels a bit clinical, and part of that's also down to the humdrum drone of the four cylinder engine.
The engine's punchy but somehow not thrilling
Speaking of the engine – the Elise is very quick. However, it never feels quite as rabid or shocking as the 4.1 to 62mph figure suggests. Perhaps it's a combination of a flat engine note that doesn't exactly yelp to the redline, or the smooth supercharged delivery – but we'd advise against getting this Elise if a thrilling engine is on your list of desires. Again, an Exige's V6 trumps it.
What about the rest of it?
The interior's not as barebones as you'd expect, thanks to some Alcantara on the sills (which form armrests) and door cards. The non-adjustable steering wheel always seems to be in the perfect place, with most of the adjustability coming from the seat slider. The pedals are perfectly placed and weighted for blipping your downshifts, although the brake pedal does feel a little soft on your initial push.
The wheel feels amazing… and then you start driving...
Don't forget that the Elise is a convertible – you just need to roll the fabric top in from each door and then unclip the two compression-fit metal bars that run front-to-back across the top of the cabin. Things get a bit blustery at motorway speeds, but on a backroad blast a topless Elise is an incredibly magical place to be.
With the roof up the Elise is reasonably noisy at motorway speeds, but not as bad as you might expect. You can still hear the standard-fit Sony head unit, although a conversation needs to be done at a louder-than-usual level.
Final Edition cars get Lotus' swanky new digital dash. It's clear and does the job perfectly
That said, you could happily tour in an Elise, so long as you're happy to make do with a couple of soft bags jammed into the surprisingly wide boot. You won't be bringing back crates of plonk from your favourite Chateau, but you will be doubtless carry home good memories of driving great roads in one of the greatest driver's cars of all time.
Should I buy one?
If you want a new Elise, then yes – now's your last chance. Not bothered about newness? Well, the Series 3 has been around for 10 years now, so you can pick up a used one for less money – although they hold their money outrageously well, so they'll never be dirt cheap.
For us? Controversially, we preferred the stiffer, fixed-roof Exige. In terms of engine noise and sense of occasion, it has the Elise licked. You'll pay the same £45,000 for a second-hand Exige, mind you – but if you're in the market for this last-ever Elise, make sure you give its rambunctious brother a drive too.