What's New for 2011
The 2011 Lotus Elise has slightly updated styling and minor feature availability updates. There's also a new Roger Becker special-edition model.
A new Lotus Elise? No, not really. The 2011 Lotus Elise receives a face-lift that aligns it with the 2+2 Evora, but underneath, little has changed. And that could be a good thing, depending on your priorities. Since the diminutive little roadster debuted in the U.S. six years ago, it has seen little in the way of changes. An all-new Elise is in development, but it's at least four years away.
For the time being, the Elise continues to deliver supercar performance without the supercar price. Lotus achieved this by adhering to founder Colin Chapman's key principle to minimize weight as much as possible, both in size and engineering. This allows for a smaller and more economical engine without the sacrifices associated with reduced power. The resulting acceleration and handling makes the Elise one of the most entertaining sports cars on the market.
But the narrow focus on performance has drawbacks of its own. Comfort plays second fiddle to athleticism, as the Elise's ride quality is as harsh as you're likely to encounter. It's also incredibly loud and cramped inside, while entering and exiting the car requires all sorts of unusual body contortions. Creature comforts also fall by the wayside, as common amenities like power steering, a glovebox, cruise control, vanity mirrors and power seats are not even offered as options.
For the rabid driving enthusiast, the lack of niceties won't matter. This approach is even seen as a benefit, since the niceties would only add unnecessary weight. The connection between driver and road is as direct as possible, making all other cars feel numb and disconnected by comparison. In terms of exhilaration, the Elise reigns supreme. That said, many sports car buyers will find the Porsche Boxster Spyder more appealing. This lighter and sharper version of the standard Boxster rings in about $10,000 more than the Lotus, but the extra cash gets you much more comfort and refinement.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2011 Lotus Elise is a two-seat roadster that is offered in two main trim levels. The base Elise comes standard with alloy wheels (16-inch up front, 17-inch in the rear), removable targa-style hard and soft tops, high-performance tires, air-conditioning, power windows and locks, a leather-trimmed Momo steering wheel, leather upholstery and trim, a trip computer and a four-speaker Alpine stereo system with a CD player and an iPod interface.
The Elise SC adds a supercharger, rear spoiler and unique wheels. However, it lacks the base model's leather seating, iPod interface and extra sound deadening; these can be added back with the Touring Pack. The hardtop is also optional.
A Sport package is available for either Elise and adds unique wheels, traction control (already standard on the base Elise), Bilstein dampers and sport seats. Stand-alone options include paint protection film, black-painted wheels and diffuser, a limited-slip differential and a selection of limited and lifestyle paint colors.
A special Roger Becker Edition Elise debuts for 2011, honoring the recently retired head of Lotus vehicle engineering. This model includes the Touring and Sport packages, along with the limited-slip differential. It will only be offered in a handful of colors with a black leather interior.
Powertrains and Performance
Every Lotus Elise is powered by a 1.8-liter inline-4 Toyota engine (Yamaha did the actual engineering). The naturally aspirated version in the standard Elise produces 190 horsepower and 133 pound-feet of torque, while the supercharged version increases output to 220 hp and 155 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual is the only transmission available.
In Edmunds testing, an Elise SC accelerates from zero to 60 mph in a brisk 4.9 seconds, while handling proves exemplary with a 72.4 mph run through the slalom. Fuel economy is also impressive, as the car records an EPA-estimated 21 mpg city/27 mpg highway and 23 mpg in combined driving. The Elise SC is rated just slightly less at 20/26/22 mpg.
Since the lightweight Lotus Elise has been designed for all-out performance, safety equipment is as minimal as federally mandated rules allow.
Antilock brakes are included on the base model, as is traction control, but neither side airbags nor stability control is available. The most effective safety devices in an Elise, as it stands to reason, are an attentive pilot, the car's quick reflexes and the chassis' sturdy construction.
In Edmunds brake testing, the previous Elise SC with the Sport package came to a stop from 60 mph in a very short 110 feet.
Interior Design and Special Features
The 2011 Lotus Elise interior has everything you need and nothing you don't. It's a harsh cabin with exposed metal, very little sound insulation (even with the Touring Pack) and barely enough room to accommodate the average-size male pilot. The cabin is so narrow that the passenger sits shoulder to shoulder with the driver, while the proximity of the engine behind their heads requires shouting to hold a conversation. Weight savings are taken to extremes with the Elise, as even the passenger seat lacks any sort of fore/aft adjustment. Instead it's bolted directly to the floor.
Those taller than 5 feet 10 or wider than a medium build may have difficulties with entry and exit, particularly if the soft top is in place. The wide door sills, low steering wheel and on-the-deck seating position require plenty of practice to transition to and from driver to pedestrian without looking like a complete oaf. Most find that the best method is to slide in feet first, then fall into the seat.
Once seated, the driver and passenger are snugly held in place by very aggressive side bolsters. Seat padding is noticeably thin, but the contoured seats manage to provide a surprising amount of comfort even so. Taller and wider folks will find the cabin about as accommodating as a straitjacket, as they bang their knees and elbows into every unforgiving surface.
The 2011 Lotus Elise is the most raw sports car you'll find on the U.S. market today (outside of its Exige stablemate, that is).
The manual steering is direct and precise, throttle response is immediate and the firm brake pedal inspires confidence. The stiff suspension and short wheelbase relay a wealth of information to the driver's posterior, making it easy to feel the car's balance and adjust accordingly. At its ultimate cornering limit (which is terrifyingly high), the Elise becomes rather twitchy, requiring very smooth, deliberate inputs. Otherwise, the rear tends to snap free from adhesion.
Power delivery low in the rev range is more than adequate for most drivers, but the real fun begins when the engine's variable valve timing kicks in around 6,500 rpm. In the upper range, the engine unleashes a torrent of horsepower accompanied by a fierce wail all the way to the 8,500-rpm redline.
All of this visceral performance comes at the expense of comfort, however. Potholes are the Elise's worst enemy, as they send powerful shockwaves throughout the chassis and into your spine. Bigger ruts will have you concerned that you broke something. Bumper-to-bumper traffic is also a major concern for drivers, as the lack of space to stretch out, combined with the loud and unforgiving cabin accelerates the onset of fatigue. Likewise, low-speed maneuvers in parking lots require a significant amount of effort due to the lack of power steering and the miniscule steering wheel.