Colin Chapman’s famous motto “simplify and add lightness” comes through clearly in the design principles of the Lotus Elise. Despite being underpowered, the featherweight shines on road courses, even with narrow tires and small brakes. Not only can a svelte sports car accelerate well with an anemic powerplant, but low weight reduces braking distances significantly and allows for lightning-fast change of direction. However, it takes a talented hand to exploit the performance of the nimble-but-twitchy Elise. It might not be as easy to clock a quick lap around the Nurburging as, say, a Nissan GT-R, but when it works, it’s an immensely rewarding experience.
The group of hotshoes known as OneLapHeroes, whose Miata we featured recently, have shown just how effective a lightweight, mid-engined Elise can be by marking an impressive 8:09 lap amidst traffic. Keep in mind that their Elise is not exactly the potent machine that the most modern iteration has been. This first-gen comes with a Rover-sourced 1.8-liter K16 — an engine that makes a whopping 135 horsepower. Even when aided by a set of cams and an exhaust, the little powerplant still has its hands full generating wheelspin. In fact, the only time the revs seem to spike is when an abrupt change in direction initiates a slide.
The short wheelbase and midship layout make the Elise fidgety and nervous, but it’s a level of hyperactivity that a vigilant, skilled driver enjoys, especially since that means a willingness to change direction. The minute amount of steering input needed to get the Elise to turn is staggering — it almost seems as if the driver, Gabriele Plana, merely has to imagine the car turning and it does. “Turning by telepathy” could be another Lotus slogan.
Only twice does the Elise step out of line. At 3:40, an unmatched downshift locks the rear wheels in the middle of a quick corner, but it’s gathered up quickly and the relentless charge continues. The most dramatic moment occurs at 8:08, when some lift-off oversteer at high speed seriously ups the pucker factor, but the slide is quickly caught and all ends well. However, those two instances show that, despite having an anemic engine, the Elise, with its cornering capability and sensitivity to weight transfer, is a car capable of making even the best drivers smile, and even wince a little.