Lotus Cars deserves both your attention and your respect. The Norfolk company doesn’t just build some of the finest sports cars on the planet; it is also, in its Lotus Engineering guise, one of the foremost motor industry technical consultancies in the world.
As a car manufacturer, though, it has never managed to make the leap from niche player to middle ground. While owners seem to love the cars with uncommon enthusiasm (and I should make it clear her that I am a serial owner of Lotus classics, so fall partly into that trap), the cars are either too focused or insufficiently glamorous to attract many buyers from Porsche, Aston Martin or Ferrari.
Give the company £500m and I feel sure it could make that leap. That isn’t much in car industry terms, but is sufficient for the canny minds in East Anglia to turn that corner. And now it might actually happen.
Lotus has (yet another) new owner. Geely, the Chinese automotive company that already owns Volvo and the London Taxi Company, is close to finalising a deal with the Malaysian Proton car business, which has owned Lotus for the past two decades.
So it’s not like Lotus is suddenly falling from British hands. That happened 31 years ago, initially with General Motors, then Toyota, Bugatti and Proton. The portents with Geely are good, too – if the company’s revitalisation of Volvo is anything to go by.
Lotus currently has two product lines. The Evora falls mid-way between sports and supercar, but it’s the more affordable Elise and its derivatives that generate the bulk of the sales.
If you know anything about Lotus at all, you’ll be aware of its compact Elise roadster. In one form or another it’s been around for 20 years, fettled, honed and updated year-on-year. Even pre-Geely, there’s been an all-new Elise on the near horizon, but for now Lotus is launching a rather special model to build on its heritage.
The Elise Sprint is a super-lightweight Lotus that harks back to the days when founder Colin Chapman’s mantra was that getting weight out of a car was the way to maximise performance and provide exceptional handling.
So, carbon fibre panels, lightweight carbon race seats, a lithium-ion battery and forged alloy wheels contribute to a 40kg reduction, plus a power-to-weight ratio unequalled in any car below £50,000. There’s a muscular new look to the front of the Elise, while at the rear the light clusters are reduced from four to two, which saves weight and makes the 2017 Elise distinctive, too.
Delve into the options list and you get more exposed carbon fibre, including a tightly engineered door sill that makes it a touch easier to get in. Even so, Elise egress has never been the most elegant manoeuvre with the roof up.
The interior adds some real drama. The exposed mechanical gear change is a piece of engineering theatre. Machined aluminium with exposed precision bearings, it looks racecar-purposeful, with a pleasing snick-snack every time you shift gear.
The delight of any Lotus is the delicious steering, suspension and braking ability. There’s nothing else on the market that can match the Elise’s tactility here, and although improvements due to the drop in weight are harder to quantify, the 217hp supercharged 1.8 litre is simply draw-droppingly quick.
The benchmark 62mph is reached in 4.1 seconds, which is supercar fast, all accompanied by a revised exhaust system designed to provide customer-pleasing vocals.
In every way, Lotus Elise Sprint is a sublime experience. A car to put in your garage and take out on sunny days? Why not? Long-term, you almost certainly won’t lose much money. It’s an easy purchase to justify to your peers. And, most importantly, you’ll have a whale of a time driving it.