Finally, coming soon

by John Reffie

Sports-car aficionados love the Lotus Elise. Introduced in Europe in 1998, it's a light, edgy machine that harks back to the glory days of Lotus's past, helping to restore the company's stature as a maker of great sports cars.

The Elise is no poseur: It's a genuine, fast, agile, light sports car. The Lotus is difficult to climb into (there's little room in the cockpit), it has few luxuries, and the elements of its bare aluminum chassis are visible. But, dude, does it perform! Stomp on the gas, and the rorty 1.8-liter four-cylinder MG engine, located just aft of your head, shoots the car forward despite producing under 160 horsepower. Why? Because the car weighs less than 2000 pounds. The steering is go-kart quick, as are most of the Elise's reactions.

In order to enjoy this purposeful roadster, just pick a winding road and double the "suggested" speeds for corners. Avoid long straights, as it's no fun driving at high speed in a straight line. The beauty of the Elise is that you don't need to break the speedometer-just pick the right twisties, and you can drive on the limit.

Although it might sound as if the Elise is a d iff icu It-to-d rive race car, it's actually a car you can jump into and feel right at home. There's no stalling because of a stiff clutch, no missed gears because of a balky shifter. Okay, the ride isn't exactly cushy on rough roads, but on smooth ones, it's fine. Yes, it's noisy, but pleasant. Yes, the top is difficult to get on and off; after all, it's a Brit. Yet in a rainstorm it doesn't leakamazing! It even has some storage space behind the engine.

We were driving a Britishspec Elise in California. The good news is that-finally-a U.S.-spec Elise will be un eiled at January's 2004 Los Angeles auto show. Lotus hasn't divulged full details - the U.S. model, but does say the Elise will be further refined with a more powerful fourcylinder Toyota engine (2ZZ-GE, much the same as that which powers the Celica GTS) producing 190 horses coupled to a six-speed transmission. The ragtop will be improved, and the appropriate safety gear added. Lotus promises it'll retain its benchmark handling, performance, and driving dynamics.

Looking for a real sports car that draws admiring looks from anyone who's awake? The Elise could be for you.