This is it, then - after 25 majestic years, the Lotus Elise is finally due to depart this mortal realm. And Lotus decides to sign off on its little legend with the absolute best of the best road-going roadsters, in the form of the Sport 240 Final Edition.
In the Metal:
Let not familiarity breed contempt. While the Elise has been around for 25 years and has barely changed in that time, it's still a cracking-looking car. The proportions are so right, and the colour used here, Azure Blue, is a proper one to pull on the heartstrings of a devoted Lotus aficionado: it is the same paint as used on the first production Elise that featured in media images back in 1996.
Visually, the Final Edition is marked out by badging on the front wings and to one side of the rear bumper, while it sits on ten-spoke forged alloy wheels (16-inch front, 17-inch rear, with 195/50 R16 and 225/45 R17 Yokohama V105 tyres, respectively) that save 0.5kg of unsprung mass at each corner when compared to the wheels on the Sport 220 this car replaces.
Yes, this Final Edition has seen a moderate uplift in power from the old 220hp derivation of this four-cylinder engine, with an additional 23hp taking it to a peak of 243hp here; Lotus simply tidies the badging to '240' as a result, mainly because 243hp (PS) is 240bhp in the company's preferred power metric. Propelling just 922kg of car, the performance is rapid: 0-100km/h takes 4.5 seconds, while the top speed is a respectable 237km/h.
Other than that, the Final Edition has the new leather-and-Alcantara-clad steering wheel with a flat bottom, a sharper TFT instrument cluster and the option of more weight-saving materials to trim even more mass from the Lotus' slender frame.
There's a plaque denoting the Final Edition's special and limited-build status beneath the passenger-side air vent and that fabulous exposed-linkage gearbox is retained, but otherwise this is the 'bare essentials' interior of the Elise as we have come to know and adore across the two-and-a-half decades it has been on sale.
Allow me to slip into the first person here for a second. I drove this Elise Sport 240 Final Edition for around 40km; not the longest, most exhaustive test-drive in the world, then. But as I've driven quite a few Elises before in my time (I'm a lot older than the car is and I'm not being pensioned off yet...), I wasn't expecting anything to come to light here that I didn't already know about this singularly brilliant little roadster.
Except, I was nearing the end of the test when I realised I had been smiling broadly for the entire drive. Not just a little bit; a great big beaming grin was plastered over my chops and had been from the start. And it's not as if I drove the doors off the little Lotus for the entire circuit, because it was on the public road.
But that's what the Elise does to you. It delights you on the broadest possible levels because it's so brilliantly executed. And this Sport 240 is the distillation of everything Lotus has learned in building this model across a quarter of a century.
So, while it still won't ever make the greatest noise in the world, thanks to the Toyota-sourced 1.8-litre supercharged engine in its midst (it's a fine enough soundtrack, but not a patch on the bigger 3.5-litre V6 models in Lotus' own stable; and yes, they're also Toyota-derived engines, I know), everything else the Elise does is exceptional.
Such as the crisp, unfiltered steering, which is the very definition of 'telekinetic'. The magical - and there's no other word for it than that - damping, which allows a short-wheelbase, mid-engined, lightweight car to ride with the grace and elan of a five-metre-long executive saloon swaddled in sound-deadening. The exquisite front-end grip and rear-end balance, which means you can coax the Elise into neutral-to-oversteer stances on the road without ever feeling like it is going to snap and bite you in the bum if you do so. The downright glorious exposed-linkage gearbox, which click-clacks through its ratios in such a satisfying and marvellous manner that you'll sit there in the car, engine off and stationary, simply pushing the lever back and forth like a stupefied young child with an expensive new toy. The performance, which is belting for a 1.8 four-cylinder with a 'mere' 243hp; peak horsepower would be better replaced by power-to-weight in your mind, because 264hp-per-tonne is proper hypercar stuff in these hefty-construction days.
Is the Lotus Elise positively geriatric in automotive terms? Yes, of course it is. Does that mean it can't pull off extraordinary dynamic feats in its dotage, like one of those nonagenarians who can somehow still run a marathon? Not a bit of it. The Sport 240 Final Edition, if you get to drive one, will continue to rank as one of the greatest all-round driving experiences you will enjoy in any car, period.
What you get for your Money:
Yes, despite the fact that you'll have to go to Northern Ireland if you want to buy any new Lotus, this car gets full marks. This is the cheapest Elise you can buy, and you will not get a finer, more involving driving experience from any other car at anything like this sort of money, in truth.
Not only that, but you're buying a Final Edition, which should protect its value better than other Elises for obvious reasons in the years to come, and we also reckon it's the best model we've tried this side of the uncompromising Cup 250.
Finally, Lotus says this is the best-equipped Elise yet. Which is perhaps a relative term, a bit like saying 'the least distressing stint spent in a gulag' in some regards, but it's another feather in the cap of this sublime little soft-top.
This is a genuine 'we've just got some dust in our eye, that's all... no, YOU'RE crying' moment for us - the end of an era for a car that was, and we do not use this phrase lightly, game changing. Lotus served up the Elise in 1996 and reminded everybody that more power, more grip and more fatness did not always necessarily add up to a more nourishing driving experience; in many ways, the Elise encapsulated company founder Colin Chapman's 'simplify, then add lightness' mantra better than any other car the genii at Lotus have served up over the decades.
We fully accept that the Elise cannot continue into a new era, with ever-more stringent safety and emissions regulations looming, but that still doesn't make its passing any easier to swallow. Especially when you drive a vehicle as complete, as gratifying and as wonderful as this Elise Sport 240 Final Edition. You know what to do, folks - the clock is ticking. Get one ordered. Stat.