Lotus Elise S review
The Elise formula is over 15 years old - here's the latest iteration.
Kyle Fortune
Kyle Fortune

Published on June 7, 2012

Updates to the Elise mean the same brilliant poise and agility with more torque and lower emissions. Now if only Lotus could sort out the cramped interior and tight access, the Elise S really would be the perfect sports car.

In the metal 3/5

Familiarity does little to quell the appeal of the Lotus Elise. It has the same basic shape and dimensions as the original, but with sharp creases, edgier headlamps and numerous scoops and vents making for an assertive, attractively styled sports car. Its proportions have always looked right, with its squat, wide stance and pinched doors highlighting its mid-engined layout.

Those doors access an interior that delights in its simplicity, the joy of the bare metal part of the Elise's unique appeal, though with a sticker price matching several Porsche models it's difficult to stomach some of the other materials used. It is as cramped as it has always been too; which is fine if you're driving, but not so great as a passenger. Likewise, even with practice it's not the easiest car to get in and out of.

Driving it 5/5

It's always worth a bit of effort getting in the Elise and this S represents that more than ever. Prod the starter button (why not just a key Lotus?) and there's little suggestion of the potency of the engine behind you. The numbers say the supercharged 1.8-litre unit delivers 220hp and 250Nm of torque. That torque figure has increased significantly over the old car and it's delivered earlier in the rev range. That's apparent as soon as you pull away. It's a muscular engine, and the Elise S's low mass results in the sort of easy performance you'd expect from something with double the number of cylinders.

It's only got four though, so the soundtrack isn't great, but the performance is spectacular. There's no need to wring out every gear like you did in the old S, as short-shifting before the second or third shift light glows results in spectacular pace. It's a different feeling Elise, this, with serious performance - 100km/h arriving in just 4.6 seconds, which demolishes the similarly priced Porsche Boxster 2.7's 5.8-second time.

That increase in performance is, of course, backed up by one of the finest judged, most faithful and entertaining chassis known to man. Anyone who thinks their car steers well needs to try an Elise, as the level of feel, precision and weighting is unsurpassed by any assisted - electric or hydraulic - system in any of its rivals.

The small, contoured steering wheel writhes in your hands as the Lotus seemingly floats over bumps, yet retains impeccable control in the bends. Few (if any) cars can deliver the phenomenal balance that Lotus imbues the Elise with, and the S's engine is the perfect accompaniment to that inherent balance. Add a brake pedal that's loaded with feel and the package is near perfect. Only the slightly disappointing gear shift quality (something the Elise has never done well) is a chink in the Elise's otherwise considerable appeal.

What you get for your money 4/5

Brilliant it may be, but the Elise S is expensive, especially as much the same perfect poise is available in the 1.6-litre Elise for considerably less outlay. Obviously it's not as quick, but it's got all the driving purity if ultimate speed isn't on the agenda. You'll pay for air conditioning too.

Worth Noting

It might be fast, but it's economical as well, the Elise S returning 37.5mpg (7.5 litres/100km) on the official combined economy cycle. Saving fuel has never been so much fun.


The Elise S is a brilliant reminder that simple is best, and Lotus does simple better than anyone. The S is fearsomely quick yet hugely forgiving and entertaining. It's not cheap, though it feels it inside. Despite that, it's about as perfect a sports car as you could ask for.


Tech Specs

Model testedLotus Elise S
Engine1.8-litre supercharged four-cylinder petrol
Transmissionrear-wheel drive, six-speed manual
Body styletwo-seat roadster
RivalsBMW Z4, Caterham 7, Porsche Boxster
CO2 emissions175g/km (Band E, €677 per annum)
Combined economy37.5mpg (7.5 litres/100km)
Top speed233km/h
0-100km/h4.6 seconds
Power220hp at 6,800rpm
Torque250Nm at 4,600rpm