2021 Lotus Elise 240 Final Edition | PH Review
Hethel's lightweight legend bows out in style
By Dan Prosser / Sunday, May 23, 2021 / Loading comments
We got off to a good start, the Lotus Elise and me. A few months after passing my test I’d paid a couple of hundred quid for one of those trackday experiences at my local circuit, Castle Combe. A slightly ratty Series 2 Elise with a stringy gearshift became the first proper sports car I ever drove. But it was also my first time on a full-size track and that must have been overwhelming, because I remember very little about the car itself.
Three years later I started in this line of work and, visiting Hethel for the first time, I had another opportunity to drive an Elise on track. This was before the great Geely-led Lotus rejuvenation, before the factory had been overhauled and the test track resurfaced. This was when you still had to avoid potholes while tackling the fastest corner on the circuit. I hear it’s quite different now.
Over the years that followed I tried Elises on the road and started to understand what it was that made them special. How agreeably they addressed a poor road surface, the clarity of their steering, that sense of there being no inertia whatsoever. But they seemed tinny in normal driving and getting in and out was annoying, and I always considered myself a Porsche Cayman man instead.
Had Lotus allowed its little icon to slip beneath the surface this year as it, the Exige and the Evora all make way for the new Emira, perhaps that would have been the case for the rest of time. But Lotus was never likely to do that. Instead, it has produced Final Edition variants of the Elise/Exige siblings, and it will – quite rightly – shout them from the heavens as it bids farewell to two of its most celebrated models ever.
And that’s how I found myself driving an Elise again this week, the first I’d awkwardly folded myself into for several years. Was it the car itself, the roads I drove it on or the sunny weather that greeted us? I don’t know, but I arrived that morning a Cayman man and left later that day wondering how I might put an Elise Sport 240 Final Edition on my driveway. As a thing to drive on the road in amongst other traffic and without fearing for licence or liberty, I would now choose the tiny Lotus over any modern supercar. It wasn’t good, or brilliant, or superb. It was magical.
The Elise Final Edition comes in two flavours. The first is the more road-biased Sport 240, tested here, and the second the Cup 250 for buyers with trackdays in mind. The version I drove replaces the Sport 220, its extra horsepower, peaking at 243hp, coming by way of recalibration work to the supercharged 1.8-litre four-pot. There are other minor upgrades like a TFT display in place of dials and a new steering wheel with a flat bottom, as well as plaques and badges here and there. New paint colours have been made available, too. I suppose you’ll buy one of these in the hope it’ll some day become more sought after than the rest, given it was the last of its type, and not because Lotus went to any extraordinary lengths to make it altogether better than any other Elise. Because it hasn’t.
At 922kg this Elise is almost 200kg heavier than a very early 1996 car, although it’s only 10cm longer and no wider. With the removable roof in position, you still have to contort yourself to clamber into its cabin, but once through that small aperture the cockpit feels fairly roomy. The thinly padded seat presses a little firmly against my spine, but otherwise the seating position is very good.
Depending on how you’ll use your Elise Final Edition you can have leather, carpets and Alcantara like this car, which makes its interior feel welcoming and warm, or you can go full road racer with no carpets, no A/C, carbon fibre trim, lightweight glass and a titanium exhaust. I must have gone soft over the years because I’d have the plush carpets and suede-like upholstery every single time.
I’ve always liked how subtly these Lotuses wear their supercharging. You just aren’t aware of the engine receiving any extra help. In fact, it delivers its power and torque in such a linear fashion that it feels like a bigger naturally aspirated engine. There’s fizz at the top end but also enough muscle through the mid-range that you aren’t forever shifting down a gear or two just to get the car moving. The gearshift itself is good with a resolutely mechanical throw, the metal linkages and levers and cogs jinking around at your say so. In a Porsche you feel as though you’re pulling on bone and nerve and tendon, but here it’s all hardware.
What I liked most about the drivetrain, apart from the fact its output is perfectly judged for what’s reasonable on the public road, is that it’s so easy to ace your upshifts, nail your blipped downshifts and even pull away and come to a stop skillfully. It’s the kind of engine and gearbox combo that flatters a driver, making operating it at everyday speeds a real joy.
But in truth, what makes this car so special is its chassis. For all that’s changed over the years, that’s as true now for the Elise as it was in 1996. There’s the steering, of course, unassisted and so wonderfully detailed in corners. It isn’t unbearably weighty at parking speeds either and there’s just enough play in it around the straight-ahead to prevent it from being hyperactive. Meanwhile, the skinny tyres generate enough grip and precision that you hustle the car confidently, but they chew into the asphalt only so hard, meaning you can toy with the car on its limit of grip knowing it’ll give up its purchase gradually and predictably. Along with the reasonable power and performance, that makes the Elise enormously rewarding on the highway.
There’s the balance, the poise, the body control, the traction and the strong, easy braking, but actually it’s the ride. The Elise seems to hover just above the road surface, the supple springs and expertly realised damping smothering whatever imperfections in the tarmac you might happen upon. The wheels rise and fall effortlessly over the shape of the road, and there’s just enough body movement to let you sense the chassis working underneath. You can thrash this car if you like and often you will, but the key point for me is that you don’t have to. It’s not like other modern sports cars that dare you to push further and further, only coming to life when you swallow hard and do so. This Lotus is a pleasure to drive right across the spectrum.
In fact, I’m not sure there’s a car on sale today that better plugs you in to the fundamentals of good sports car dynamics than this, at any price. For someone who reviews fast cars it’s like a palette cleanser, a bonded and riveted reset switch. So farewell, little Lotus. I can hardly believe it took me until your 25th and final year in production to understand what you were really all about.
SPECIFICATION | LOTUS ELISE 240 FINAL EDITION
Engine: 1,798cc, supercharged four-cylinder
Transmission: 6-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): [email protected],200rpm
Torque (lb ft): [email protected],000-7,000rpm
Top speed: 147mph
Price: from £45,500
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