Ever since my best friend in High School had a 1986 Fiat Bertone, I have had a fondness for mid-engine sports cars. Such a bare bones and unashamedly single-minded vehicle made it a unique contrast to the Mustangs and Camaros that were the typical car selection of a teenage boy in my hometown.
Sure the muscle cars always had more horsepower and straight ahead top speed. But with the engine screaming just behind your ears, it handled the extreme curves of the roads that wind through the mountains where I lived so well that you felt you were ready to compete in a GT road race. Fast forward to the 2008 Lotus Elise SC, a car that does so much right, it may be the best pure sports car in the world.
The Lotus Elise SC is essentially a supercharged version of the entry-level 190-hp Elise. A 1.8 liter DOHC putting out 217 horsepower does not sound especially impressive, but in a car that weighs only about 2,000 pounds it is more than plenty. Weight is a big part of what makes this car work so well. The Lotus-designed lightweight chassis is constructed of epoxy-bonded aluminum and steel rear subframe wrapped in a composite fiberglass body.
The Toyota-engineered engine is coupled with a Magnusson supercharger that gives the Elise SC a top speed of 150 mph propels the car to 60 mph in a respectable 4.4 seconds. The SC has the same engine used in the upscale Exige, but with a different supercharger that Lotus engineers tuned to coax out a similar power output while maintaining 20-26 mpg. In something so small, so light this performance can only be described as thrilling.
Agility is the first test. Not the cars, but yours. As you climb, fall or basically crawl into the Elise you become quite aware of its proportions. The Elise is just 44 inches tall, 73 inches wide and 149 inches long making it shorter than the diminutive Toyota Yaris.
The available options and interior is not overflowing with amenities, though you do get a leather wrapped steering wheel, seats and door trim, AC, electric windows, airbags, antilock brakes and even (gasp) a cupholder. Traction control and limited slip differential are also available.
The white on black gauges that stare you in the face are effective in communicating to the driver that this is a vehicle that you will drive, not the other way around. The driver’s attention is mandatory if you are planning on taking corners at any significant speed. Steering is responsive and precise and the ride is on the very firm side but completely appropriate and befitting the racecar feel of the SC. The driving pleasure of the SC more than overcomes any minor lack of manners or comfort. In fact, the ride is surprisingly pleasant compared to what would be expected of such an overtly racecar oriented vehicle.
For those that are looking for the automotive equivalent of a booty call, the base price of $54,000 is not that much to ask. When’s the last time an impractical $54,000 car was considered affordable? But for a car that delivers like few can, it’s a downright bargain.