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First drive: Lotus Elise Cup 250. Image by Lotus.

First drive: Lotus Elise Cup 250
The fastest production Elise yet might just be the best...

 



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Lotus Elise Cup 250

5 5 5 5 5

Lotus concentrates all its added lightness know-how into the venerable Elise and creates the fastest production variant of the car yet, the Cup 250. It's an incredibly focused machine and therefore not to all tastes, but if you want to sample one of the very best, most entertaining chassis set-ups on sale today, then it's the Cup 250 you'll be needing. It is sublime.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Lotus Elise Cup 250
Pricing: Elise range from £29,900; Cup 250 from £45,600; car as tested £50,850
Engine: 1.8-litre supercharged four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: rear-wheel drive, six-speed manual
Body style: two-door, two-seat roadster
CO2 emissions: 175g/km (VED Band H, £300 first 12 months, £210 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 37.7mpg
Top speed: 154mph
0-62mph: 4.3 seconds
Power: 246hp at 7,200rpm
Torque: 250Nm from 3,500- to 6,500rpm

What's this?

A glorious last hurrah for the Lotus Elise as we know it? Possibly. The Series 1 lasted five years, from 1996-2001; the Series 2, a decade. This Series 3 iteration has been around since 2011, but in essence, it's really just a facelifted S2, which makes it 15 years old and therefore ripe for an overhaul in the new Lotus era, headed by CEO Jean-Marc Gales. The Exige and Evora are evolving into disparate, more powerful vehicles and so the Elise, with its 1.8-litre Toyota VVT-i supercharged four-banger and extruded aluminium chassis, seems like an old friend rather than anything cutting edge.

However, let not familiarity breed contempt, because this Cup 250 is the fastest and most hardcore Elise yet seen. Power is ramped up from the old Cup 220's accurate output of 220hp, to 246hp (250 sounds better, doesn't it?) at a higher rev point of 7,200rpm, while torque stands at 250Nm across a useful 3,000rpm band in the mid-range. Externally, not much has changed with the basic Elise shape of the Cup 250, although you can't fail to notice the large wing and aggressive diffuser at the rear, the wider side sills and that jutting front splitter. That's an aero pack that generates downforce of 66kg at 100mph and 155kg at the car's 154mph maximum, further improving the Lotus' exceptional road-holding (or track-holding, whatever's your poison) ability.

However, the weight loss programme for the Elise Cup is the main talking point. To achieve a figure of 931kg, among many gram-saving exercises hidden from view, Lotus has fitted a lithium-ion battery (-10kg), carbon bucket seats (-6kg) and a beautiful set of slimmer, ultra-lightweight forged alloy wheels (-1.5kg total). Those rims now wear wider 195/50 R16 rubber at the front (the same 225/45 R17s as before are on the rear axle) to promote grip. Talking of which, the tyres are semi-slick Yokohama A048s, just about suitable for all-weather road use, but prioritised for the high lateral loads of track work.

The weight can be trimmed even further with the £4,000 Carbon Aero Pack that our road-going test cars were wearing, which replaces the aforementioned splitter, skirts, spoiler and diffuser with carbon items for another 10kg saving, bringing the final figure to a scanty 921kg. Of course, there's a handful of other options that can add weight back in, such as the £1,250 air conditioning (+6kg) fitted to the test cars; come on, you really don't need it, do you? If you want air then take the roof of the car off.

Lotus has done quite a bit to improve the Elise's minimalist cabin aesthetic, namely by adding leather trim panels, lots of Alcantara and exposed aluminium, along with switchgear with improved haptics. Nevertheless, it'll still come as a shock to anyone whose diet has consisted entirely of Bluetoothed-up, sound-deadened car interiors with a modicum of space in them. The new carbon seats are magnificent, figure-hugging (especially if you're of the larger persuasion) and set extremely low, but they're also very close together so you'd better know any passengers you carry quite well. And the switchgear is indeed nicer to operate, although there's not a lot of it because there's not a great deal of stuff fitted to the Elise that you need to control. So it'll be too basic for some, yet for us it's perfection - you've got a spot-on driving position and nothing else to distract you from the purity of going quickly. Heaven.

How does it drive?

Good lord. There still seems, in some quarters of the motoring fraternity, to be a sort of snobbery about Lotus; that it's a niche brand that makes oddities of limited appeal, hence the relatively low sales. Yet has there been any other company that has so consistently displayed such exceptional chassis know-how as this one? Maybe Porsche gets close, but that's about it.

The Elise might be getting on a bit, but it still proves that no matter how great current hot hatches and supersaloons are in their multitalented guises, if you want real driving commitment, you need a specialist sports car. There is absolutely nothing wrong with any of the major controls of the Elise Cup 250, save for a six-speed manual gearbox that's at once both pleasingly mechanical and yet also slightly imprecise in its action; it's probably only in contrast to the other dynamic features of the car that it feels a bit clunky.

Lotus' skill with damping is beyond equal. You might look at the short, low and lightweight Elise Cup 250 and imagine the ride on the roads to be frenetic and uncomfortable, but the Hethel company sets up each and every car on the undulating B-roads around its mid-Norfolk factory. And aside from really bad, corrugated washboard road surfaces where the Cup 250 becomes skittish, for the rest of the time it's remarkably composed. You could easily do long distances in it without hardship, as it proves during our drive by ambling through Anglian towns and loping along the dual-carriageway A11 in a confident manner.

The supercharged four-cylinder engine isn't one of the finest-sounding units in the world and neither has Lotus given the Elise a stupidly loud exhaust by way of compensation, but the drivetrain still has a zing to it and really meaningful acceleration. The Elise Cup 250 is one of very few modern cars in the world to do 0-60mph in less than four seconds (62mph takes 4.3 seconds, which remains blisteringly quick) and it feels every bit as lively as that number suggests. Fourth gear has almighty reach, lugging from 20mph to beyond 125mph in one hit, and it's only once you broach the ton - on track, of course - that the modest overall output starts to make itself felt, because there's not that relentless high-end acceleration that you'd get in something with 500hp or so.

A dearth of illegal-speeds urgency is wholly irrelevant with the Elise, though, because thanks to its 927kg mass as tested, once the bends arrive it will have left pretty much anything this side of an Audi R8 V10 far, far in its wake. You can brake late and hard for corners, sloughing off speed at a simply enormous rate with some perfectly modified stoppers that have perfect brake pedal bite for heel-and-toe changes. The limpet-like Yokohamas (sorry, that's a cliché but there's no other way to describe their grip levels) allow for gigantic lateral g to be achieved without any feeling of the car trying to break away. And the steering... oh, glory be, the steering! This set-up is telekinetic; you think, it goes. There is not an ounce of slop in its rate of responses and it is brimming with stratospheric levels of both feedback and feel that other modern cars can only dream of possessing.

On the type of twisting country roads we have in the UK and Europe, there would be nothing to touch a well-driven Elise Cup 250. Only on big, open, sweeping routes would it be caught by anything with a pretence of day-to-day usability, and that makes its apparently steep £45,600 list price seem like Lotus is practically giving these things away. And, to seal the deal, the company's relaxed PR crew then allowed us to go out onto the fabled Hethel test track in the very Elise that was the development car for the Cup 250; the machine that lapped the track four seconds quicker than the old Cup 220 at 1 minute 34 seconds all-in. Twelve laps in total, all on our own - no marshals, no ducks and drakes, no other traffic; just us and 2.2 miles of empty circuit on which to drive the Cup as hard as our talent would allow. Fantasy stuff, but then the Elise went and did its dozen hot laps as if it were popping down to Tesco for a loaf of bread and a copy of The Sun. The brakes didn't wilt, the tyres didn't fade, it didn't feel spiky; and with the more forgiving Sport mode enabled (sharper throttle, negation of understeer recognition, less stringent traction control), it was an utter delight to drive from start to finish.

The Elise Cup 250 is (just about) day-to-day useable, but not in the way that, say, a Porsche 718 Boxster is. The sparse cabin will be too much for some buyers and it's not exactly cheap. But for something that turns the act of driving a car into sheer, unadulterated pleasure, there is nothing from any other manufacturer this side of track-day-only specials that can get close to the Elise.

Verdict

Lots of companies talk about cars you're able to drive to a track day, give a damn good thrashing to out on the circuit, then drive it home again, but the reality rarely matches up to such lofty ideals. However, having seen how the Cup 250 refused to buckle during 12 hard laps of Hethel, while also impressing with its ability to cruise through a 40mph urban zone in sixth gear in comfort, this could be the car that finally achieves the aim. What's clear, though, is that on road or track, the Lotus Elise Cup 250 is dynamically a sparkling jewel and it proves there's plenty of life in the old girl yet. It is absolutely, unequivocally, astonishingly brilliant.

4 4 4 4 4 Exterior Design

4 4 4 4 4 Interior Ambience

3 3 3 3 3 Passenger Space

3 3 3 3 3 Luggage Space

3 3 3 3 3 Safety

4 4 4 4 4 Comfort

5 5 5 5 5 Driving Dynamics

5 5 5 5 5 Powertrain


Matt Robinson - 16 May 2016









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2016 Lotus Elise Cup 250. Image by Lotus.2016 Lotus Elise Cup 250. Image by Lotus.2016 Lotus Elise Cup 250. Image by Lotus.2016 Lotus Elise Cup 250. Image by Lotus.2016 Lotus Elise Cup 250. Image by Lotus.

2016 Lotus Elise Cup 250. Image by Lotus.2016 Lotus Elise Cup 250. Image by Lotus.2016 Lotus Elise Cup 250. Image by Lotus.2016 Lotus Elise Cup 250. Image by Lotus.2016 Lotus Elise Cup 250. Image by Lotus.








 

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