As many British independent companies do, Lotus had its ups and downs, but what can’t be denied is that the Lotus Elise was one of the company’s highest points and most revered products.
Developed under ownership of the genius Romano Artioli and named after his beloved granddaughter, the Elise brought Lotus back to its old ways, offering an immersive, thrilling ride in a simple and light package.
A Quick Overview of the Lotus Elise & Its Legacy
During its production span, the Elise evolved from a bare-bones, fully analog featherweight into a less light, slightly more complicated car—but what made it so great is that it never lost its original spirit in the process. For twenty five years, the Elise was a backbone for the company, and now it’s time for it to step down for the Lotus Emira, the Hethel-based automaker’s final internal combustion sports car.
Even more, the Elise platform spawned a number of offspring. First, there were the in-house derivatives, the Exige and the Europa S. While the latter was a comfier Elise with little to none significance to the brand, the Exige was a closed-top, track-focused Elise that evolved into a V6-powered sports car in its Series 3 phase (while also serving as a foundation for the record shattering Hennessey Venom GT).
As we bid farewell to the car that defined the modern Lotus and helped shape the sports car world as well, let’s take a look at ten greatest Lotus Elises ever built. Here we go!
#1: 1996 Lotus Elise
The inaugural Elise had its teething issues and was modestly powered with just 118 ponies from the 1.8-liter Rover K-Series engine, but nothing beats the original, right? The Elise took the automotive world by storm with Julian Thomson and Richard Rackham’s brave, instantly lovable design and simplicity that contributed to its immersive driving experience.
Tipping the scales at just 1,598 lb, the Elise brought Lotus back to Colin Chapman’s “simplify, then add lightness” philosophy it steered away from during the 1980s. Its featheriness gave the Elise formidable straight line performance, while a well-balanced rigid aluminum chassis granted it phenomenal cornering capabilities.
Needless to say, the Elise was an instant hit in Europe—and now that it’s turned 25, the original Elise could be brought to the US too.
#2: Lotus Elise 111S
For those who found the base model underpowered, Lotus introduced the Elise 111S in 1999.
This variant was named after the Elise’s internal name and as the original car, it was powered by a 1.8-liter Lotus K-Series, but this time upgraded with variable valve timing technology, giving the featherweight a bump to 143 horsepower. Moreover, the original 111S also got shorter gear ratios and uprated brakes, improving both straight line acceleration and all-round performance.
Lotus carried over the 111S badge for the revised, upgraded, and GM-backed Series 2 Elise that appeared in 2000. In addition to the new chassis and improved safety, the Series 2 111S benefited from a retuned 1.8-liter K-Series with a power output of 160 horsepower compared to 120 ponies in the standard version.
#3: Lotus Elise Type 49
The first of many tributes to the great Loti of the yesteryears, the Elise Type 49 was built on the company’s 50th anniversary and it paid honors to the car that changed Formula One forever. That being said, this Elise sported a red-and-white paint job with copper alloy wheels, inspired by the Gold Leaf livery Lotus introduced on the Type 49 for 1968 Formula One season.
A 1997 special, the Elise Type 49 was built in two variants, one being the standard S1 Elise and the other a 111S variant. Lotus delivered a total of 135 examples (92 standard and 43 111S) both in RHD and LHD, and they are already highly coveted by Lotus enthusiasts.
#4: Lotus 340R
The only car on the list without the Elise in its name, the Lotus 340R was an exercise in body and weight reduction of the already-Spartan roadster. The engineers reduced every single body panel to bare minimum, creating a weaponized doorless open wheel roadster.
Beneath the reduced bodywork was a 1.8-liter Rover tuned to produce 177 horsepower, while stiffer springs were used to improve cornering to physics-defying levels. Finally, lightweight wheels got Yokohama A038 semi slicks, rounding off this car as a true track monster.
Lotus limited the production of these superlightweights to 340. Needless to say, they are extremely collectible and still highly hoonable today.
#5: Lotus Elise 111S Type 25
Another special edition celebrating the company’s glory days in Formula One, the Elise Type 25 was based on the 160-horsepower Series 2 111S. As its name suggests, this Lotus Elise mimicked Jim Clark’s 1963 World Championship-winning car, the Lotus Type 25.
At first, Lotus planned to make the Elise Type 25 in just 25 pieces just for the UK market, but at the end it produced another 25 in LHD configuration. This limited run of yellow-on-BRG Elises was adored both for its historic looks and brisk performance, and as such, they now command premium prices over regular 111S cars.
#:6 Lotus Elise 111R
From its launch onwards, the Elise wasn’t available in the United States, but that changed in 2004 with the introduction of the Lotus Elise 111R. For the North American market, the Elise had to go through a slew of changes, the core one being an all-new engine.
The 111R got a Toyota 2ZZGE powerplant instead of the Rover 1.8-liter, marking a new chapter in the model’s journey towards global expansion. From the 111R onwards, the Elise exclusively used engines sourced from Toyota, both naturally aspirated and supercharged.
The addition of forced induction enabled the Elise to evolve forward, embarassing an even greater number of six-figure supercars when in hands of skilled drivers.
#7: Lotus Elise Sport 190 S2
Lotus fiddled with the Series 2 Elise just enough to make it more civilized for daily driving, but that also didn’t stop the engineers from creating the hardcore Elise for those who only truly cared for their trackday times. Thus, the S2 track-focused Sport 190 was born again.
A direct descendant of the Series 1 Elise Sport 190, the S2 variant was also powered by a 190-horsepower 1.8-liter Rover, but this time, the VHPD (very high performance derivative) unit was engineered more carefully, avoiding issues the S1 suffered from.
Keeping up with the trackday theme, the Lotus Sport and Performance division equipped the Sport 190 with close-ratio gearbox, stiffened suspension, uprated brakes, integrated rollover protection, and a fire extinguisher as standard. Lotus produced the Sport 190 in only 33 examples, making this 1,550 lb track toy an absolute classic.
#8: Lotus Elise GT1
In terms of sheer ambition, the Lotus Elise GT1 was perhaps the ultimate Elise ever created. Conceived to replace the Esprit GT1 in the reinvented BPR Global GT Series that came under FIA’s wing in 1997, the Esprit GT1 seemed like a perfect opportunity to put Lotus under the spotlight and market it to a wider global audience.
Like other competitors in the championship, the Elise GT1 was a silhouette race car packing serious power inside. In place of the miniscule Rover, there was a thoroughly redeveloped twin-turbocharged 5.7-liter LT5 V8, the engine Lotus developed for the ZR-1 Corvette.
As the Elise was evolving, it went through a number of safety-related changes that inevitably brought its weight up close to a metric ton. That being said, the Series 3 Elise Cup 220 weighed over 2,000lb, making the original 1,598 lb Elise S1 weightless in comparison.
Engineers at Lotus addressed this weight gain in 2017 by introducing the Elise Sprint, putting the Series 3 car on a proper diet. Through ample use of carbon fiber inside and out, polycarbonate instead of glass and lightweight batteries, the Sprint weighed 1,759 lb. In the process, the team also committed to shedding unsprung weight by means of special forged alloys and disc brakes.
Finally, this superlight S3 Elise could be powered by either the entry-level naturally aspirated 134-horsepower Toyota 1ZR-FAE inline-four or the supercharged 217-horsepower 2ZR-FE from the Elise S/Sport 220.
#10: Lotus Elise Cup 250 Final Edition
Bidding farewell to the Elise range, Lotus unveiled two very special cars in early 2021: the Elise Sport 240 Final Edition and Elise Cup 250 Final Edition. The latter was based on the 2016 Elise Cup 250 and its supercharged engine got a slight power bump from 243 to 245 horsepower, as well as numerous weight-reducing options and an aero package allowing for 342 lb of downforce.
The Elise had so many jewels in its lifespan of 25 years that choosing just ten of them was a proper challenge. As the industry is heading towards electric power, producing a truly lightweight track tool will be hard, so the Elise will be remembered fondly as a true modern classic.
Do you think we missed any great Elise? And which one is your personal favorite and why? Make sure to share your views in the comments below!