Hungry U.S. sports car enthusiasts have had to go to bed without dinner year after year while their European counterparts dined on hearty helpings of high-performance, fun-to-drive super cars, and that hunger has left U.S. enthusiasts with a bad taste in their collective mouths.
Now, after months (well, more like years) of a diet that consisted primarily of begging and pleading for crumbs of information, U.S. sports car aficionados are getting to sink their teeth into what may be the “world’s finest sports car.” If you think that sounds like marketing hyperbole, then you haven’t had a chance to drive the car that will easily serve-up a tasty dish of whoop-ass to sports cars costing two, three, and four times as much.
The course de jour is, of course, the Lotus Elise. Lotus is known worldwide as not only a manufacturer of some of the finest sports cars available, but also as an automotive engineering and research group from whom nearly every major car manufacturer in the world has commissioned work. The Elise embodies the diverse palette of talents that is Lotus.
The Elise has received many industry awards and accolades for its unique mix of design and performance. It showcases the Lotus design philosophy of achieving performance and efficiency through light weight. The Elise chassis is extremely strong, yet very svelte (under 150-lbs!), due largely to its extruded and bonded aluminum construction.
In January 2003, Lotus officially announced what had only been a rumor for many months before — the Elise was coming to the U.S. Known to insiders as the “Federal” Elise, this model will determine the future of Lotus Cars USA. The Elise supplants the Esprit as the bread-and-butter of the firm, with only a few “2003.5” Esprits remaining and only 39 Esprits slated to be built for the U.S. market as 2004 models.
In what may be the latest and most juicy morsel of news, Lotus has officially announced the engine choice for the Federal Elise: the 1.8 liter 4-cylinder 16-valve Toyota 2ZZ-GE engine with the VVTL-i (Variable Valve Timing and Lift-Intelligent) system. The Federal Elise’s 2ZZ-GE motor is based on the engine used in the Celica GT-S, but has undergone Lotus’ own special brand of tweaking and will produce 190 HP and 133-lb/ft. of torque in stock form.
The engine is sure to be a spicy little screamer, with a 8350-RPM floating redline (8000 sustained RPM redline), and will be mated to a 6-speed close-ratio transmission from the European-only Celica T Sport. (Ed note: this is NOT the same 6-speed transmission from the U.S. Celica GT-S.)
According to insiders from Lotus, the Toyota engine was selected for many reasons. Lotus has a good relationship with Toyota, the motor is high-tech, compact, lightweight, has good power density, is reliable, and mates well with the platform of the Elise (key factors to keeping with the Lotus design philosophy). And while Lotus won’t publicly confirm this, practically every enthusiast already knows that the aftermarket performance enhancement possibilities for this engine could be extensive. The thought of a sub 2000lb vehicle with more than 200hp is enough to make this writer’s mouth water.
The top speed is quoted by Lotus as being in excess of 140 mph. No official 0-60mph time has yet been published, but Roadfly has been assured it will be “under 5 seconds.” Exactly how much under will continue to remain a mystery until samples of the Federal Elise are available for testing.
Although the official gear ratios have not yet been released by Lotus, Roadfly believes they will be as follows:
1st gear 3.17:1
2nd gear 2.05:1
3rd gear 1.48:1
4th gear 1.17:1
5th gear 0.92:1
6th gear 0.82:1
Final drive 4.53:1
As mentioned earlier, we have been promised that the car will weigh less than 2000 lbs, despite having to meet certain legislative requirements in the U.S. with which the European model is not saddled. This will make the Elise one of the lightest, street-legal cars imported and available in the U.S.
In addition, the Elise will come with Lotus’ world-famous attention to corner-gobbling handling. From its very beginnings in racing, Lotus has concentrated on its handling capabilities and not just on straight-line performance. This is one of the major reasons for Lotus’ history of racing victories. In tests of the European Elise, it has out-handled everything this side of a Ferrari costing five times as much, besting the best the world has to offer. The U.S. Elise will be primed to meet or exceed that mark.
Does all of this make you crave (read: “need”), an Elise? Better start calling your Lotus dealer now. Even with the first deliveries still some 9 months away (as a 2005 model), many dealers already have waiting lists that far exceed expected first year production. However, Lotus Cars U.S.A. is working with its dealer network to expand and to ensure that the highest level of sales and service support are available throughout the country.
Keep an eye on Roadfly for the latest on the U.S. Elise and for an in-depth test drive report as soon as press cars are available. Until then, sharpen the knives, put out the best table linens and prepare for a performance-feast like no other. The Elise is finally coming to dinner and is sure to leave even the hungriest enthusiast feeling fulfilled.
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