Eight years with a Lotus Elise: Here’s what I learned
It's a dream car for sure, but what's it actually like to live with an Elise for the thick end of a decade?
Alex Goy is a freelance motoring journalist who writes for the likes of Motor1, Carfection and CNET.
I’m lucky enough to have spent eight years (shy a couple of months) in the company of 2005 Lotus Elise 111R in a rather fetching shade of yellow. Rather than wallow in the fact that one of the best handling cars ever built is no longer in my possession, I thought it best to throw eight years worth of musings together. [NB: Some of these pics are mine, others are old Lotus press shots. Mine are the phone snaps...]
It really, really isn't a motorway cruiser. But it looks after your bum
What’s that? A lightweight British sportscar isn’t good at hacking up and down the motorways of the world? What a thing to say! Fact is – it gets so noisy in there you can’t hear the radio, which you really want to hear because the 189bhp four pot makes a hell of a drone at highway speeds. The seats, though they look like they’ll do your back in, are actually as comfy as you like. Not a numb buttock in sight. But I’ll add that at night, in the rain you’ll wish the wiper went one speed faster, and the headlamps were brighter than a glow worm in a jam jar.
The ‘Lots Of Trouble Usually Serious’ thing is BS
I was told that the car would fall apart, go on fire, never start, and generally make life a misery if I even deigned to turn it on and think about driving it simply by virtue of it being a Lotus. This was not the case. Thanks to the Toyota-sourced 1.8-litre lump in the back there were no engine woes at all.
At no point did any trim fall off (though one heater knob screw worked itself loose, but once fixed it didn’t do it again), and it didn’t go on fire. In fact, the only major problem was that if left for two weeks without driving the immobiliser would run the battery flat. Solution? Drive the damn thing. Or get a battery isolator.
It’s chuffing quick
Back when it was new the 111R was supposedly capable of a sub 5.0-second 0-62mph run and 150mph (ish) thanks to its jazzy 1.8-litre Toyota motor. That’s… punchy. Thanks to the R’s silly cam, once it came on song it would just FLY. Utter magic. Especially in the twisties where keeping the motor revving and within its powerband became an addictive game.
Nothing handles like a Lotus
About halfway through my time with the Elise (named Apis, the Latin for ‘bee’, after its yellow body/black roof combo) I was running a Land Rover Defender for work. It was big, slow, and would only get round a bend if you used the power of prayer. Getting out of that and in to the Elise was an almost daily ‘eureka’ moment. *That* is how steering should feel. *That* is how a car goes round bends. Nailing a series of country lanes in an Elise is the most fun you can have on four wheels.
You can fit a weekly shop in it
My friends mocked me for having an Elise as a daily driver. They laughed at how hard it was to get in and out of (there’s a knack to it), they laughed at how hilariously small the boot was, they even laughed at the fiddly roof mechanism. But for the vast majority of my time with the car I was single. This meant any sort of weekly shop/big trip was easy. Ready meals and booze don't take up too much space. Fill the boot? No worries, put your stuff in the passenger footwell. You’d be amazed at how much beer you fit in an Elise if you really need to.
The scariest thing about it is getting a small ding
When I bought the Elise I was told not to put anything small, mobile, and heavy in the boot. This was because if it rolled around and struck the inside of the glass fibre bodywork it could give the super pretty but super delicate clamshell a pinhole fracture and a whole new rear end would be required. This was enough to have me barely use the boot for three years. You can't just repair a dent in it, you need a new panel entirely. If I’d have made a hole in it… that was on me and I'd accept it.
Other people, though... If one berk on a bike, or someone looking at their phone knocks in to you and damages the car’s front or rear clamshell and you’re looking at a big bill and a big wait for a fresh clam to be made.
This is not me
Mid engine cars tend to come with massive blind spots because of where the motor is and how the car needs to protect you. The Elise is no different. You’ll learn to look long and hard before making any manoeuvre. Its blind spots could hide a small country.
Also not me: my steering wheel was on the other side
It still turns heads
By the time I got my mitts on it, the Elise was approaching a decade old. By the time I sold it eight years on it was knocking on 15. Seeing it every day you forget that it’s a bizarre shape, and that its yellowness, on a bright day, could blind people. When I used to drive it around London people would stop, take pictures, and generally fawn over it because it’s so... strange.
The weekend before I sold it I did a big road trip all over the UK to see friends I’d not seen in an age. After my last stop in oh-so-glamourous Bingley I needed to brim the car before heading back to London. At about 00:30 I was standing in the petrol station, knackered, and wanting to be in my own bed. All of a sudden a car pulls in and stops. It doesn’t go to get fuel, or even to have a cheeky slash round the back of the little shop. It just stopped. All of a sudden a lad leaps out of the passenger side and runs towards me with a big friendly grin on his face. “Mate! Is that an Elise?!” I nod. “Ah MATE! I love me cars and I LOVE the Elise. It’s so cool! What’s it like to own one?” I take a moment to think… “Exactly as good as you think it is, chap.”
It's an appreciating asset
The dealer I bought it from couldn't wait to get it. He's selling it for £4k more than I paid for it. Basically I had a car for eight years and only paid for consumables. Something to think about.
It was a magic eight years. It’s a wonderful car. I’ll forever remember it fondly. Most of all, though, I hope whoever has it next enjoys the crap out of it and drives the knackers off it. Because that’s what it’s for.