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What Car? says

3 out of 5 stars

For Excellent performance and handling

Against Horribly impractical; no creature comforts

Verdict An awesome car to drive, but the roof is murder

Go for… An early 120bhp model

Avoid… Newer versions, as prices are still high

Lotus Elise Open
  • 1. Head gaskets can blow, so look for warning signs like oil in the coolant and check under the oil filler cap for water or a white residue
  • 2. Insist on a long test drive - the suspension can wear very quickly and you need to know if it has
  • 3. Radiator hoses have a habit of leaking, so check them thoroughly and keep an eye on the temperature gauge
  • 4. The clip-on roof can leak, so check it thoroughly
  • 5. Forget any thoughts of practicality - there's almost no room for luggage at all
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Lotus Elise Open full review with expert trade views

Some people buy sports cars for entertainment, some for the image and some because they've got more money than sense. For those who are interested in having the maximum amount of fun at the expense of everything else, the Elise is an excellent, and relatively cheap, car.

Few cars handle as well as the Elise. It has unbelievable grip and superb balance, making any corner a joy to push through. The steering, meanwhile, is a lesson to other car makers in providing feedback.

Performance is terrific, too. Despite having relatively puny engines, the Elise's light weight means that you don't need much power to provide blistering speed. And, that's exactly what you get.

There are downsides, though. There's no room for luggage, the roof is fiddly to take on and off, creature comforts and safety kit are pretty much absent, and it's difficult to get in and out. If you enjoy your driving, though, you just won't care.

Trade view

Martin Keighley

Strong enthusiast following keeps values high. Accident damage-prone

Martin Keighley
Valuations expert,
What Car? Used Car Price Guide

Pick an early car - which is what we recommend - and the choice is very simple. Your Elise will be powered by a 1.8-litre Rover-sourced engine, which knocks out 120bhp. This may not sound like a great deal but the Elise's lightweight design means that performance is excellent regardless. The 0-60mph sprint will still be covered in 5.6 seconds.

The more powerful 111S was introduced a bit later and uses a 143bhp version of the Rover engine, making it even quicker.

After the car was face-lifted (2000), Lotus brought out the Elise 111R. Instead of the old Rover block this version used the 189bhp engine from the Toyota Celica. Predictably, the 0-60mph time was cut to 4.9 seconds. That's plenty fast enough for most of us.

The later base-level Elises also used Toyota power, this time with 134bhp.

Trade view

James Ruppert

Avoid track day cars, prefer practical Sports Tourers, ’04 111R

James Ruppert
Used car guru

The Elise is quite an exotic car, so you won't pick one up for peanuts. It's also fairly sought-after, which again doesn't help used prices. However, if you're prepared to settle for the oldest 120bhp model, which is perfectly adequate, then you won't part with a fortune.

Running costs won't be cheap, but if you're buying an Elise, raw driving pleasure is obviously more important to you than fuel economy. That said, the oldest car will still return a very reasonable 39.8mpg, ranging to 32.1mpg for the later 111R.

Insurance bills will make for grim reading, because all versions have a group 20 rating.

Servicing costs will also be horrific. Not only will each visit to the dealer be pricey, but there will also be a lot of visits to make. The Elise needs to be serviced every 6000 miles.

Trade view

Martin Keighley

Strong enthusiast following keeps values high. Accident damage-prone

Martin Keighley
Valuations expert,
What Car? Used Car Price Guide

People who buy sports cars are usually prepared for some reliability issues, and Elise owners should be no different. The suspension can wear very quickly if the car has been driven hard, and let's face it, it probably has. The clip-on roof can leak, too.

Immobilisers have experienced troubles in the past, so check the service history for signs of electrical glitches. Radiator hoses have a habit of leaking, so check them thoroughly and keep an eye on the car's temperature gauge.

Most worrying, though, is that head gaskets can blow, so check under the engine cover thoroughly to make sure you're aren't buying a car that's on the way out. Look for oil in the coolant and check under the oil filler cap for water or a white residue, both sure signs of trouble.

Trade view

James Ruppert

Avoid track day cars, prefer practical Sports Tourers, ’04 111R

James Ruppert
Used car guru
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