Used 2010 Lotus Elise Review
The 2010 Lotus Elise remains one of the sharpest canyon and track weapons ever produced, but comfort and convenience are merely an afterthought. Depending on your styling preference, you may want to wait for the face-lifted 2011 model.
Ultimate performance typically comes at a cost. In the case of most exotic cars, that cost is monetary. For the relatively affordable 2010 Lotus Elise, however, it comes in the form of reduced comfort and convenience. If you can live with that, though, you'll find the Elise to be the most nimble and elemental car on the road today.
Thanks to a curb weight of less than 2,000 pounds, the Elise delivers a driving experience equitable to a street-legal racecar. With a minimal amount of weight to deal with, the Elise can post handling and acceleration numbers that are up there with other exotics costing many times the Lotus' sub-$50,000 base price.
Like a racecar, though, the Elise is so narrowly focused on performance that other concerns are secondary. The Elise's ride is incredibly harsh, with every imperfection in the road surface being amplified before it finally reaches your spine. Road noise is also a problem; even with the targa top up, the cabin is so loud you practically have to shout to hold a conversation. Compounding matters, the Lotus Elise's cargo capacity is comically small and it's lacking amenities like a glovebox, cruise control, vanity mirrors and power seats.
The payoff for all this pain is quite considerable, though. Few cars can deliver the kind of excitement that the 2010 Lotus Elise can. Even its closest competitors will feel numb and disconnected by comparison, and those rivals are quite impressive in their own right. The newest combatant to enter the ring is the Porsche Boxster Spyder, a lightened and sharper version of the standard Boxster. The Porsche is $10,000 more than the Elise, but with that extra coin comes additional comfort and refinement. In the end, deciding between these two roadsters comes down to what you're willing to sacrifice for performance and exhilaration.
trim levels & features
The 2010 Lotus Elise is a two-seat roadster that sports a removable targa-style cloth top. It is offered in a standard trim level as well as the supercharged SC model. Standard features include alloy wheels (16-inch up front, 17-inch in the rear), high-performance tires, xenon headlights, air-conditioning, power windows and locks, a leather-trimmed Momo steering wheel, a machined aluminum shift knob and handbrake, a trip computer and a four-speaker Alpine stereo system with CD player. Besides the supercharged engine, the Elise SC adds a rear spoiler and unique wheels.
Most options are grouped into convenient and sensible packages. The Touring Pack adds a bit of comfort and polish with leather upholstery and interior trim, a storage net behind the seats, a thermal- and sound-insulated soft top, additional sound insulation, floor mats, a cupholder, a storage tray divider and an auxiliary audio jack. Opting for the Sport Pack adds lighter alloy wheels (wider up front) with stickier tires, an even stiffer suspension with Bilstein dampers, traction control, sport seats, twin oil coolers and a lighter curb weight (but only by 20 pounds).
Individual options include traction control, a limited-slip differential (with mandatory traction control), a body-colored hardtop, clear film paint protection and a choice of special body and interior trim colors.
New for 2010 is the Performance Value Pack that includes the Touring Pack items, a hardtop, traction control, an upgraded Alcantara interior, sport seats, silver or black 16-spoke wheels, a matching rear diffuser, the Sport Pack suspension, twin oil coolers and a harness bar.
performance & mpg
All Lotus Elises are powered by a 1.8-liter inline four-cylinder engine that is sourced from Toyota and Yamaha. The standard Elise produces 189 horsepower and 133 pound-feet of torque, while the supercharged version increases output to 218 hp and 156 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual is the only transmission available.
In testing we managed to accelerate an Elise SC from zero to 60 mph in 4.9 seconds. Thanks to the Elise's superlight weight and slippery aerodynamics, the EPA estimates mileage at 21 mpg city/27 mpg highway and 23 mpg in combined driving, with the Elise SC rated at 20/26/22 mpg. These fuel economy ratings are impressive for a car with such high performance.
Since the 2010 Lotus Elise has been designed for light weight and all-out performance, safety equipment is as minimal as federally mandated rules allow. Antilock brakes are included and traction control is optional, 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.
The 2010 Lotus Elise is the most communicative and raw sports car you'll find on the market today (outside of its Exige stablemate, that is). The manual steering is direct and precise, throttle response is immediate and the well-weighted 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 limit, which is terrifyingly high, the Elise becomes rather twitchy, requiring very smooth and deliberate inputs. Otherwise, the rear tends to snap free from adhesion rather violently.
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 not unlike a turbo boost, 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 accelerate 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.
The 2010 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-sized male pilot. The cabin is so narrow that the passenger sits shoulder to shoulder with the driver and the close proximity of the engine to their heads requires voice levels just short of 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 inches 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 sliding in feet-first, then falling into the seat is the best method.
Once seated, the driver and passenger are snugly held in place by very aggressive side bolsters. Seat padding is noticeably sparse, but the contoured seats manage to provide a surprising amount of comfort. 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.
edmunds expert review process
This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.
We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.