Lotus Elise CR driven

* Stripped out version of Lotus roadster * 24kg lighter than the standard car * £600 cheaper, too...

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What Car? Staff
09 June 2011

Lotus Elise CR driven

What is it?

The CR (short for Club Racer) is a new stripped out, lighter and cheaper version of Lotus's roadster.

The back-to-basics reworking has meant Lotus doing away with the central locking, the radio and even the roof. The battery has also been swapped for a smaller one, and what little sound deadening there was has been ripped out.

Even the Elise badge has been traded for decals to save a few extra grams.

All this reduces weight by 24kg about the same as a bag of cement. Not a huge amount, but we're talking about a car that weighed just 876kg to start with, so the CR is actually 3% lighter than the standard Elise.

What's it like the drive? Utterly sensational. The Elise CR is built to be one thing: brilliant to drive, and it fulfils that brief better than just about any other modern sports car.

The margins are small over the standard Elise, but the CR is rawer and more involving. The steering is just as brilliant as ever, giving you astonishing levels of feedback, and the Elise flows beautifully along a typical British B-road. The ride isn't as harsh as you might expect, either.

If we're being picky the 1.6-litre engine could do with more than 134bhp the Elise's phenomenal chassis can handle much more but the CR is rapid enough to get to 62mph in six seconds. You just need to work it incredibly hard to get the best from it.

What's it like to live with?

That depends what demands you place on it. The Elise has always sacrificed comfort for fun, but the new CR version is even more compromised.

It doesn't even have a roof, for example, and the seats are just plastic buckets with wafer thin padding stuck on where it's needed most. That's fine for a half an hour on your favourite B-road, but any longer than that and you might notice you backside going numb.

Nor does the CR have air-conditioning, although it does have electric front windows Lotus says swapping them for manual winders wouldn't have saved any weight.

Safety kit isn't the Elise's strong suite, either, although it does have a driver and passenger airbag and stability control.

Will it break the bank?

The new CR is the cheapest way into a new Elise it costs £600 less than the standard car but £27,500 is still very pricey considering how basic the car is. Any savings are wiped out by the £595 Lotus will charge if you opt for a roof.

The reason is that Lotuses aren't built by the hundreds of thousands. In fact, only 30,000 have been made since the very first generation of the Elise started production back in 1996, so there just aren't the economies of scale that there are with, say, the Mazda MX-5.

The upside is that the Elise holds its value better than just most. The Elise's low weight also makes it one of the most frugal sports cars. Officially it averages 45mpg the same as a 1.4-litre VW Golf and emits just 149g/km.

In reality, this lighter CR version is marginally more efficient than the standard car, but because Lotus hasn't re-submitted the car for the official EU tests (doing so would have cost the company a lot of cash) the official figures don't reflect this.

Should I buy one?

If your number one priority is driving pleasure and you don't give two hoots about creature comforts, then the Elise should absolutely be on your shortlist. We'd stick with the standard car rather than the CR, though. It's just as much fun, but is more comfortable and much better equipped.

If you're considering an Elise as anything other than an occasional car, though, make sure you're fully aware of the compromises. For the same money you could, for instance, have a much better equipped Audi TT Roadster. Or you could save yourself £10,000 and have almost as much fun in a Mazda MX-5.

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