Joni Mitchell once sang “you don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone”, and had the Elise CR a stereo, I definitely would’ve had Big Yellow Taxi near the top of my playlist.
But this Elise, as I mentioned earlier, doesn’t have a sound system. Nor does it have sound insulation, carpets, cupholders, map lights, central locking and electric wing mirror adjustment.
In the plus column, at least the Elise is wielding an air-conditioning system capable of blowing great gusts of freezing arctic air at you. It’s not clear where Lotus sourced that from, but if I had to guess, I’d say it’s probably from the same place as its 1.6-litre engine: Toyota (the Japanese automaker’s sub-zero air-conditioners are the stuff of legend).
But unlike the surprisingly powerful “chiller”, the Elise’s spartan nature shouldn’t come as anything of a surprise. This second-generation Elise has been with us since 2001 and what you’re looking at is its second facelift. That brings small tweaks to the styling, and added LED daytime running lights and LED indicator lights.
More of note is the recent addition to the Elise range, the CR (for Club Racer) variant. It’s essentially an options pack that, to use the words of the marque’s founder, Colin Chapman, “adds lightness”.
In plainer language, that means deleting stuff, which explains the lack of a stereo and carpets. That also goes some way to explaining the seats, which are simply plastic shells with strategically placed bits of padding.
In spite of the rather extreme-sounding diet, the results of all that aggressive paring are marginal at best. Lotus claims a maximum weight loss of around 20kg, and that’s with the air-conditioning and airbags taken out. That said, the engineers must have had their work cut out, as weighing just 876kg, the Elise probably didn’t have a lot to take out in the first place.
Still, whether you think those chaps in Norfolk laboured in vain is irrelevant, because the Elise’s handling is nothing short of brilliant. The extruded-and-bonded aluminium tub that forms the chassis’ backbone is stiff as anything, and paired with the unassisted steering, the Elise turns into corners with laser-guided precision. The CR also benefits from having Eibach springs and Bilstein dampers, suspension components not found in regular Elises.
All told, the Elise offers up quite an intimate connection with the machinery and going back to driving a “normal” car immediately afterwards can make the latter feel incredibly distant.
The price to pay for all that (in the comfort stakes, at least), is surprisingly low. Part of the Elise magic, aside from the telepathic handing, is its superlative levels of ride comfort. It’s certainly firm, but there’s an underlying suppleness that takes most of the edge off even the worst road surfaces.
That said, while its chassis may be near-faultless, its engine leaves something to be desired. Despite how it has a fairly brisk-sounding zero to 100km/h time of 6.5 seconds, the 136bhp/160Nm mustered up by Elise’s 1.6-litre motor can feel a little thin.
However, while the Elise is a lot easier to live with than the razor-sharp weapon that is its bigger brother, the Exige, it still isn’t the easiest car to recommend to someone not of a rabid driving enthusiast bent. This can make its $237,037 asking price seem a little steep.
It’s a bit of a one-trick pony, but man alive, does the Elise do a cracking job of it. Other tricks, well, you’ll have to make up for yourself, so it’s handy if you sing well, or at least know plenty of songs to hum. But if you find yourself missing the little things and singing/humming Big Yellow Taxi, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
ENGINE 1598cc, 16-valves, inline-4
MAX POWER 136bhp at 6800rpm
MAX TORQUE 160Nm at 4400rpm
GEARBOX 6-speed manual
0-100KM/H 6.5 seconds
TOP SPEED 204m/h
CONSUMPTION 15.9km/L (combined)
CO2 EMISSION 149g/km
PRICE INCL. COE
$237,037 (after $5k CEVS rebate)