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THE GOOD LIFE Driving


had a humble Rover engine and Vauxhall in- dicator stalks, but the Elise was a pioneer, and it was sensational to drive. Weight was the key: it was built using extruded aluminium in a new process developed by Lotus. Think of toothpaste squeezed out of a tube, only this is hot alloy, squeezed through a hole to emerge in a T-shape, a U-shape, whatever shape you need. These extruded lengths are cut to size and then glued and riveted together to make a strong, ultra-lightweight box or ‘tub’ at the heart of the car. At launch, the original Elise weighed just 730kg.


B


ut soaring innovation at Lotus has often gone hand-in-hand with finan- cial trouble, and over the decades the


company has needed rescuing by the likes of Toyota, General Motors, Bugatti and Proton. In 2017 the Chinese technology group, Geely (pronounced ‘jee-lee’), bought a stake in both Proton and Lotus, adding both to its growing automotive portfolio, alongside Volvo and EV start-up Polestar. Geely’s vision for Lotus lies in electric cars, sharing Volvo and Polestar battery technology of course, but also tapping into that famous Lotus innovation. The rejuvenated company is now led by a new MD, Matt Windle, 49, who started his career at Lotus before moving to Tesla and Volvo. Under his watch, Lotus will soon launch the Evija, the electric hypercar unveiled in 2019, and in 2022 the company is due to reveal its first electric SUV. That’s right: the lightweight sports car company is building a five-door, school-run, family van. Purists might be horrified, but Chapman – always a dealmaker – would no doubt have jumped at the chance, if it had kept his beloved company afloat. And there’s another new model coming down the track, codenamed Type 131. This will be a petrol-engined two-seater, filling the big gap in the range beneath the £2 million Evija. To make room for the 131 on the pro- duction line, Lotus has announced that 2021 will see the end of Elise production, after a 25-year run. Two ‘Final Edition’ models have been launched to mark this end of an era: the Elise 240 Sport and track-focused 250 Cup. But what does a 25-year-old sports car feel


like, in a world infatuated with the new and the novel? Well, climbing into the 240 Sport Final Edition is very different to the first Elise. The original left much of that aluminium tub exposed in 1996, creating a bare metal box


The 240 Sport Final Edition is as fun to drive as the original Lotus Elise


The Elise has


always been about steering feel, ride and poise – and it still is. Nothing travels down a


bumpy backroad like an Elise


that felt like an industrial meat locker on a cold winter morning. Over the years, the Elise has become more comfortable – and consequently a little heavier – but the 240 Final Edition is now a cosy cocoon of stitched Alcantara, a tiny capsule that sees driver and passenger shoulder-to-shoulder in floor-level sports seats. Lotus has added new features to the Final Edition, partly to make it special, partly to justify the £45,500 premium price. There’s a new digital instrument binnacle and a new, flat-bottomed steering wheel. Be- hind the cabin the engine has been tuned to boost power by 23bhp to 240bhp. That engine is no longer a Rover unit, it’s now borrowed from the Toyota Corolla; but


as with all Lotus cars, the genealogy isn’t important. The supercharged 1.8-litre four cylinder is revvy and willing, the Toyota six- speed gearbox is precise and satisfying, but the engine isn’t the main attraction. The Elise has always been about steering feel, ride and poise – and it still is. Nothing travels down a bumpy back road like an Elise. Even though the steering has no power assistance, it feels light and fluid in your hands, jiggling with transparent communication from the front tyres. You can really feel how delicately the Elise sits on the road, skimming the surface rather than crashing over it. The Elise fizzes with a loose-limbed, gymnastic energy, and when you turn, you immediately sense the lack of inertia in its willingness to swerve, like a spooked cat escaping a dog. It’s addictive fun, and the Elise still feels fresh and modern because this kind of organic zeal never goes out of date. By any measurement, this car just doesn’t deserve to die: as other cars have got heavier, more digital and more sterile over the last 25 years, the Elise has become even more special and relevant, as a raw, lightweight, analogue driving experience. It’s tiny, the Elise: a little plastic-bodied


weekend car that feels knee-high when you stand next to it. But it’s also a giant: a pio- neering standard bearer for purity and en- gagement. Lotus has an exciting future ahead, but the world will be a poorer place without the Elise. Buy one while you still can. S


JORDAN BUTTERS


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