Full 2008 Lotus Elise Review
What's New for 2008
The supercharged Elise SC debuts for 2008, boasting a 218-horsepower version of the standard Elise's 189-hp four-cylinder power plant. All Elises for 2008 get a new instrument display with a trip computer, along with revised options packages.
Lotus Elise is a pretty name, isn't it? If we were celebrities, we'd put it right up there on the crazy baby name list with Kal-el Cage and Suri Cruise. Actually, Lotus Elise Edmunds is much better -- at least our celebaby would be named after one of the coolest cars around.
The 2008 Elise is a one-of-a-kind, lightweight sports car for purists who yearn for the closest thing to a telepathically controlled track special you can find on the road. While other exotics rely on massive engines, space-age materials and high-tech technologies to hustle them down America's twistiest roads, the Elise utilizes an age-old principle -- the lighter, the better. Now there's a mantra celebrities can get behind.
Despite a mere 189 hp generated from its Toyota-sourced 1.8-liter four-cylinder, the base Elise still manages to go from zero to 60 mph in 4.9 seconds. Credit a curb weight of 1,984 pounds, which is a minor miracle in this era of perpetually pudgy vehicles. By comparison, a Mazda Miata weighs 2,498 pounds and has only 170 hp aboard. For 2008, a slightly detuned version of the supercharged four-cylinder found in the Lotus Exige S makes its way into the more street-going Elise SC, which boosts thrust up to 218 hp and 156 pound-feet of torque (versus 133). This power increase means a 0-60 drop to 4.4 seconds, a number matched by the 420-hp Audi R8.
However, we're not sure if those few 10ths of a second are enough to warrant the Elise SC's $8,000 price premium. That's because 4.9 seconds is still pretty darn fast, and quite simply, the Lotus Elise would be a riot even if it was powered by several hamsters running on a wheel. Referring to "go-kart-like" handling has almost become cliché, but if there was ever an apt car for that phrase, it's the Elise. Body roll is negligible, grip is exceptional and every subtle turn of the steering wheel has an immediate effect on the roadster's heading and attitude. Like kids named Dweezil and Moon Unit, this is a car that demands your attention. Yet every second you're behind the wheel, you're rewarded by steering that involves you in the process so directly (there's no power steering) you'd swear your fingers were touching asphalt.
Unlike grown-up celebrity children, the Elise does not come fully loaded. Quite the opposite, really, as the spartan interior is little more than two chairs bolted into an aluminum tub with some trim pieces tacked on for effect. A Touring Pack adds leather upholstery, additional sound insulation and a cupholder, but nothing can hide the fact that this Lotus is a throwback to a different motoring time. This is a weekend toy, and even then, the distance traveled on any given weekend will be limited by the Elise's miniscule interior and cargo space. Getting in and out of the "cabin" is especially difficult with its huge sill and low-slung seats. But it's this lack of creature comforts and amenities that allows the Elise to be both a lightweight handling star and cost about $46,000.
Therefore, the 2008 Lotus Elise presents quite the trade-off. But if you view it strictly as a grown-up's toy -- a second or third car to add to a collection -- no other sports car can touch its level of high-speed thrills and driver involvement for such a low price. Now, isn't that a better namesake than Superman's Kryptonian birth name or whatever Suri means? You bet your Moon Unit it is.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 Lotus Elise is a two-seat roadster with a targa-style removable soft top. It comes in standard and SC trim levels, although the two cars only differ in engine, rear spoiler and wheel design. Standard equipment includes 16-inch front wheels and 17-inch rear wheels with high-performance tires, Lotus/AP Racing & Brembo brakes, HID xenon headlights, air-conditioning, power windows and locks, leather-trimmed Momo steering wheel, aluminum handbrake and shift knob, trip computer and a four-speaker Alpine stereo with CD player. The Touring Pack adds leather upholstery and interior trim, interior storage net, thermal- and sound-insulated soft top, additional sound insulation, floor mats, a cupholder and an auxiliary audio jack. The Touring Pack is only available in four special colors. The Sport Pack includes lightweight silver alloy wheels, a track-tuned suspension with Bilstein dampers, traction control (stand-alone also), sport seats and a subsequent 20-pound weight reduction. Stand-alone options include a limited-slip differential, a body-colored hardtop and a variety of special color choices. An extremely low-volume California Edition will be available that features special exterior colors and interior trim.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2008 Lotus Elise is powered by a 1.8-liter four-cylinder that produces 189 hp and 133 lb-ft of torque. The SC model utilizes a supercharged version of the same engine spruced up to 218 hp and 156 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual is the only transmission available. Lotus claims a 0-60-mph time of 4.9 seconds for the regular Elise and 4.4 seconds for the SC. Because of its super-lightweight body and small four-cylinder engine, the Elise is one of the most fuel-efficient high-performance cars around. EPA fuel economy estimates are 21 mpg city and 27 mpg highway for the Elise, and 20/26 mpg for the Elise SC.
Don't expect much more than federally mandated safety equipment on the 2008 Lotus Elise. An antilock brake system is included, but neither stability control nor side airbags are available. Traction control is optional.
Interior Design and Special Features
Creature comforts are kept to an absolute minimum, with accommodations being little more than two sport seats bolted into an aluminum cockpit. Secondary controls are few and far between. For 2008, the gauges have been redesigned to incorporate an LCD screen and trip computer.
Getting into and out of the diminutive Elise can be an adventure, particularly if you're taller than the average bear. The wide door sills, low steering wheel and butt-on-the-floor sport seats require some contortionist movement -- which is made worse if the top is in place. Tall drivers also might find their knees heavily interfering with the shifter -- they can add this to their "sucks to be tall list," along with airplane coach seats and helicopter rotors. Those of shorter stature fare better and will find the Elise to be the most in-tune driving environment one can enjoy.
The 2008 Lotus Elise's non-power steering feels as natural as anything we've ever driven. Braking is handled by AP Racing two-piston calipers up front and Brembo single-piston calipers in back (11.5-inch rotors all around), and 60-0 braking distances under 110 feet are commonplace. Handling is nothing short of extraordinary. Not only does the Elise exhibit superb balance and grip through the turns, its exceptionally low curb weight allows it to react to driver inputs much faster than other cars. In addition, it transmits every ripple in the road to the driver's hands, feet and seat -- a quality that makes it highly engaging to drive on a back road or on the track, but taxing during highway travel. This year's SC model, which brings more power to this tiny go-kart of a roadster, lends the car an extra level of rear-end throttle control that's lacking in the less powerful standard Elise.