Changes afoot at Lotus. A new top man. New people all over the shop, come to think of it. And now, the first changed product under the new regime: the 2010 Elise.
Step forward Matt Becker, who now works exclusively for Lotus Cars rather than Lotus Engineering, and who has been put in charge of whole vehicle validation. In short, that means he's responsible for everything about the way new Lotuses drive and feel. All of which seems entirely sensible to me.
“We did a three or four-week program to improve the ride and handling [of the Elise],” he says. “But in the end we kept coming back to the same setting, which is as it was before.”
So, some things don't change. That's fine by me. The old Elise S – considered by many to be the pick of the Elise range – drove as well as any small sports car.
There's a point where sports cars are just too fast and too grippy to enjoy exploiting on the road. The base Elise had just the right gap between its abilities and that point.
It's a gap that hasn't reduced with the 2010 model. What's different now is that the “S” moniker has been dropped (the base Elise is now just “Elise”), as has the 1.8-liter Toyota-sourced 1ZZ engine, replaced by another British-built Toyota unit: a 1.6-liter 1ZR motor that develops (more or less) the same 134hp.
The engine is a tad taller, so a new rear deck joins some other subtle styling modifications that also drop drag by four percent. That, along with the new engine's efficiency and a leggier – than the old 5-speeder – 6-speed gearbox means that economy is the sort you'd find on a supermini – 45mpg on the combined cycle.
The virtues of an 1,930lb curb weight keep on giving, too. Zero to 60mph takes six seconds dead.
But to access that level of performance, you do have to work the newest Elise harder than ever before. Peak power arrives at 6,800rpm, past peak torque of 118lb-ft at 4,400rpm. Still, it's a sports car, so putting in the effort
is kind of the point.
You'll be working it in a lower gear than you might think, too. Fourth on the 6-speed unit is where you'd not have been surprised to find fifth or top not so long ago. Less than 4,000rpm at 70mph in top wouldn't have felt out of place when the Elise was introduced 14 years ago, yet today there are still two more gears to go.
What's more of a pleasure than ever before in an Elise is, finally, the process of changing gears. The lever still flops about a bit in each gear and the console it's attached to wobbles a little if you shake it. But it has been stiffened and lower-friction cables have been used.
The shift quality still isn't the greatest, but swapping cogs in an Elise is, for the first time in my memory, something approaching enjoyable. Clutch take-up and the engine's response are smooth, too, as is the car's willingness to attain and hold high revs.
That ride and handling? Still wonderful, of course. Nothing else rides so well yet is so agile and willing. Nothing touches the deliciousness of the Elise's unassisted steering, either.
Some changes, then, but the same outcome. The base Elise is still the best small sports car you'll get your hands on.