Lotus Elise: A Slender Joy
Cramped, cold and in need of a chiropractor... it was a dream drive.
Recalibration. You’ll never get in one without accepting that everything you know about your road car is about to be re-written. The acceptance is rather casual. A want and desire for such a pure driving experience lingers in all of us, but with the fading shine of a dusty watch left at the back of the garage, we can forget just how special it is.
Balance, hair-trigger throttle, not a single ounce of unnecessary energy. If the lotus Elise needed to be described in a line that would be all she wrote. A constant feel of the road surface as if it was possible to brush your hand over the tarmac is unforgettable when you step out and drive anything else. However, cars have much more to their personality and their charm than just the mechanical prowess of their creators. The Elise would surely be a dog if it had to take on a living form, not a large dog, but one stout enough to be used on a hunt. The exact breed would be tough to nail down, it would need a snout that could tell it exactly what was around a corner whilst not needing to know because it paws were so agile a change of direction at full tilt would be nothing more than a hiccup to its top speed.
There is an elephant in the room, and that is fitting in it, my attempt was heroic, finally managing to answer the question on every 8-year-olds lips: could a giraffe fit in my living room?
"The fun factor is unworldly for the uninitiated"
Extracting myself after 50 miles reminded those watching - quite an audience had gathered to see my very long frame extract itself - of the time they bought a cat flap only to see their beloved paws get stuck halfway through and spend the afternoon loudly protesting such an embarrassment, followed by a furball in the slippers.
But what a journey it was, despite having to drive the entire way with my head tilted and being completely unable to operate the clutch without being arrow straight, it was still joyous. A passenger was beyond question, and sadly this meant that I ruined the perfect balance that one of Lotus’ engineers had so brilliantly dialled in.
Although they may take pride that someone proportioned for a BMW 8-series is able to get in their car and not throw the whole thing so out of line that it is simply undrivable. Aside from the appreciation of chassis dynamics and the way in which the car manages to polish every corner there is something much more basic that Lotus has achieved here. A throttle that feels so natural and so alive that I got out with genuine sadness that I would be returning to the rubbery pedal of my ride home, very few cars bring a sense of anticipation with the flex of an ankle like this, its immediate, trusty and a reaction speed faster than a squirrel that just saw a fox. The pedal itself is a crisp unit that almost seems out of place anywhere but attached to a race car. OK, the speed isn’t going to worry many of the hero hatchbacks in a straight line but you would swear blind that you were going, double or even triple your speed. The fun factor is unworldly for the uninitiated. It really does illicit excitement that is tough to find an idiom for. The only other vehicle that has done such a convincing job for me was the Vauxhall VX220, an even shorter ride in that one, I actually think I was driving less time than escaping it in a parking bay (hands and knees in the end).
The compromises exist in spades, fortunately not in reliability, but owning one as a sole mode of transport should come with a health warning. The spartan interior fits with the ethos of the drive, nothing is wasted in here, the optional extra of a cupholder protrudes from dashboard incongruously. Staring at you, making you feel guilt for adding a couple of kilos of weight just because you desire refreshment. A cold morning will see you shiver for a while, but this time should be used to ask yourself whether you really feel it necessary to test your driving skill on a set of cold tyres. The gear knob may as well be made of dry ice for the first ten minutes.
The seat is the only real gripe, the tiny bucket is probably perfect on a track for someone with a slender stature, but on the road, that perfect feel is corrupted by the pitted tarmac of British B-Roads. Lotus can't do anything about the lack of funding for road repairs in certain areas of the country, but the option of a 'comfy' spec seat would be great, especially for bigger drivers. Then again, this may just result in the constant whisper of sacrilege to go with the stare from the cupholder. The Elise is a cracker, sadly they aren't a more common sight on a sunny Sunday in May.