Blipping the throttle on a 3-2 downshift as I chased the six-car train of Lotus Elise SC’s ahead of me, we blasted towards another of the countless switchback turns found in the mountains surrounding Pala, California. Had we been stuck in rush hour traffic in Los Angeles, surrounded by transport trucks and SUVs, I would no doubt have been lamenting the Elise’s cramped interior and lack of a GPS navigation system, but with fresh mountain air and miles of twisting and undulated roads ahead, I was grinning from ear to ear and loving every minute of this 8000 rpm corner carving thrill ride.
|1. Fastest and most powerful Elise ever: 218 horsepower, 0-60 in 4.4 seconds.
2. Surprisingly economical: 20 (city) and 26 (highway) MPG.
3. New features include anatomically designed Probax seats, a progressive shift light system, and an intelligent ignition key and security system.
JUST ADD LIGHTNESS
Tipping the scales at just 2,006 lbs in an era where the curb weight of most sports cars has skyrocketed well above the 3,000 lbs mark is nothing short of remarkable. Of course the astonishingly low mass of the Lotus Elise SC does come at a price (no, not the $54,990 MSRP, which is a bargain for an exotic mid-engine sports car that’ll sprint from 0-100 mph in just 10.7 seconds while achieving over 20 mpg). Although Alastair Florance, Group PR Manager for Lotus Cars in Norfolk, England, claims he’s able to pack all his camping gear into his Elise and still have room for the wife, this is not a car designed to haul golf clubs, large suitcases, or more than a few days worth of groceries. But of course that’s not the point of a speed machine as focused in design and purpose as the Elise SC. The point of this sublime little two-seater is pure driving joy, achieved by simultaneously cheating gravity and physics thanks to its lightness and its remarkable handling dynamics, a fact driven home colorfully as our train of Elise SC’s tore through another tight bend in a blur of Solar Yellow, Chrome Orange, Laser Blue and Candy Red.
Although the Elise SC is unique in its commitment to lightness, there is no shortage of top-off two-seater competition in its price range. The 310-horsepower Porsche Boxster S ($56,700), 300-horsepower Mercedes-Benz SLK350 ($51,825), and 330-horsepower BMW Z4 M Roadster ($52,400) all offer more power, space, and luxury. But compare the Elise’s power-to-weight ratio and performance numbers against any of these much heavier German roadsters and you’ll begin to truly understand the value of Lotus’s “add lightness” philosophy. The Elise SC comes in at just 9.2 lbs/hp, while the Boxster S rates at 9.84 lbs/hp, the SLK350 at a portly 11.06 lbs/hp, and the Z4 M Roadster at 9.69 lbs/hp. As a result, the Elise SC is considerably faster from 0-60 mph (4.4 seconds for the Elise SC, compared to 5.1 seconds for the Boxster S, 5.4 seconds for the SLK350, and 4.9 seconds for the M Roadster) and is a class-leader at the fuel pump as well (20/26 mpg for the Elise SC, compared to 18/26 for the Boxster S, 18/26 for the SLK350, and 15/23 for the M Roadster).
Inside, the Elise SC is very much in keeping with earlier Elises, and that’s to say purposeful but basic. The anatomically shaped Probax seats are remarkably comfortable even after spending an afternoon thrashing about on rollercoaster mountain roads, but the minimal padding and tight confines of the Elise’s cockpit may not suit larger drivers or anyone accustomed to the heavily stuffed and fully adjustable seats. There is a single cup holder below the HVAC controls, but one glance at the otherwise uncluttered interior of the Lotus tells you everything you need to know about it – the Elise SC is about one thing and one thing only: a pure and uncomplicated driving of the most sporting kind.
JUST ADD POWER?
Having driven the normally aspirated Elise, I can tell you that what really separates the new Elise SC from its older brother (introduced to the American market in 2004) is the M45 Eaton supercharger Lotus engineered to fit in the tight confines of the engine bay without need of an intercooler. Boosting output from 189 to 218 horsepower may not sound like a huge change, but on the road it makes for a far more flexible driving experience. The added torque lower in the rev range means that for the tighter turns on these back country highways I have the option of leaving it in 3rd gear and letting the torque pull me out of the corner or downshifting to 2nd gear and using the high rpm horsepower to blast out of the corner with a primal shriek.
If cruising Rodeo Drive and filling your trunk with shopping bags is your idea of a fun weekend drive, then the Lotus Elise SC isn’t for you. But at the triple digit speeds we’re blitzing these Nurburgring-like roads at, the supercharged Elise SC makes perfect sense. The carefully tuned suspension soaked up the bumps incredibly well, even tackling the occasional cattle gate without upsetting the little roadster’s composure. Power delivery is seamless, and just like its less powerful naturally aspirated sibling, the steering wheel, shifter and pedal positioning are exactly where they should be for performance-oriented driving. As a result, the thrills the 2008 Lotus Elise SC deliver are far better than any high-horsepower heavyweight sports car could have hope to offer in such an environment.
Razor-sharp handling Lightweight chassis pays dividends in every performance category Supercharger broadens powerband, making every gear more versatile
Difficult to get in and out of Limited cargo space Tight interior not well suited to larger drivers or passengers