It's a little known fact that I learned to drive in a Lotus (and a Nissan Bluebird, but don't tell). Over the course of six years, my father owned a couple of Lotus Elite and an Eclat. I'm ashamed to admit the Eclat was one of the few with an autobox, but to this day, I cannot explain why. Even more inexplicable was his decision to allow his 17 year-old offspring to get behind the wheel of such a righteous automobile. Still, I wasn't going to discourage him!
So here I am, too many years later, behind the wheel of another Lotus, this time the new supercharged Elise SC. It follows the supercharged Exige S 240, but the Elise makes do with 218hp since the inclusion of an intercooler would have compromised rear visibility. This, of course, leaves the door ajar for tuners who can overcome the packaging problem to squeeze more power from the Toyota 2ZZ engine.
As the most powerful Elise to date, the SC gets an entirely new Magnusson/Eaton M45 roots-type supercharger integrated into the inlet manifold. Its saves 17.6 lb over the Exige blower and was chosen over a turbo because it delivers a linear power curve, from low speed all the way through to the 8500rpm redline. The blower also meant Lotus didn't need to lower the compression ratio. And while they admit the non-intercooled supercharger does become less efficient at higher revs, the variable cam timing kicks in at 4000 and 6200rpm to maintain overall efficiency.
Visually, the SC gets new wheels, a rear spoiler and center-exit exhaust. All 2008 cars also get standard airbags, a revised instrument cluster and anatomical ProBax seats. And in keeping with the Lotus ethos, the seats weigh nothing and are designed for maximum comfort by tipping your hips forward slightly to increase bloodflow to your legs. They're also incredibly supportive.
We got to experience the SC during a day in the mountains outside San Diego, CA. It was an exhilarating experience as seven of us played follow-the-leader with Dave Minter, the Executive Engineer from Lotus Group. And like everybody at Lotus, the ability to drive very fast is a job requirement.
Let's get the dislikes out of the way - it was sometimes tricky to find gears changing down (although probably due to lack of familiarity) and I couldn't find a clock. Everything else is freakin' awesome. I love this car. The extra power actually makes it easier to drive than the regular Elise. The increased torque (peaking at 153 lb/ft at 5500rpm) makes the engine more flexible and means you don't have to work the gearbox as hard.
This flexibility meant you could concentrate on what the car was doing and rediscover the purest elements of driving. Getting behind the wheel requires you recalibrate your seat of the pants dyno. Having been spoiled driving the latest cars with traction control, electro-mechanical steering and adaptive damping, the Elise reminds you how cars used to be - pure, lean and fast.
The hardest lesson was overcoming my expectation of understeer. Since all modern cars understeer to an extent, you learn to anticipate their mass in a corner and drive around the problem. Yet the Elise weighs the same as a 12 year-old boy in wet swimming shorts. Throw it into a corner and it just grips. It was a revelation but it took several hours to fully adjust to the Lotus experience.
The 2014 lb Elise is all about weight, or the lack of it. Being light, it doesn't need a big engine (0-60mph 4.4sec), so it's economical (20mpg city, 26mpg highway) and emissions-friendly. It also means the steering is sharper, the brakes are better and the suspension is surprisingly absorbent because it's not supporting tons of steel.
Approaching a rough patch of road at high speed, I braced for the inevitable clatter over the surface, but the Lotus simply rode the bumps. It stayed on line and was totally unruffled. It did what suspension should do. I was astonished. The steering not only responded precisely to my inputs, but to road imperfections as well. It was telling me what the front wheels were doing with so much detail it took me a while to assimilate everything. So many manufacturers dull our senses with electronic aids, but Lotus really want you to be involved in the decision making process. We were no longer passengers but were drivers once more.
If you've never experienced a Lotus of any kind, we encourage you to climb behind the wheel. While they're sparsely equipped, they're also one of the most focused cars you can buy, yet the SC is flexible enough to be used daily. The regular Elise starts at $46270, while the SC comes in at $54500. However, we'd recommend the $1600 Touring Pack with its noise insulation, leather or micro-suede upholstery, carpets and even an aluminum cupholder. We were also able to sample cars with the $2600 Sports Pack. Aimed more at track enthusiasts, it includes uprated suspension, traction control, twin oil coolers and even lighter lightweight wheels. While perhaps less crucial for the street, it will enhance the ride of your life.