Lotus - Elise
The Elise has changed shape considerably since the original car appeared 14 years ago, but the latest version is only a mild tweak of the previous model's styling. Some of that car's aggressiveness has been smoothed away, but what's left is arguably a prettier proposition, even if Lotus has felt the need to jump on the LED running-light bandwagon.
This was always the Elise's forte, and the new car is no exception. The sheer grip at the Lotus's disposal breeds tremendous confidence as does the understeer positioned at its limits. For a mid-engined car the Elise is forgiving too; chicken out of a bend halfway round and you can feel it tidy up the laws of physics beneath you. The lightweight aluminium chassis informs everything - allowing the engine, suspension and brakes to deliver a taut, muscular experience without compromise.
No car as focused as the Elise is going to offer a cosseted experience, but that doesn't mean that the Lotus is uncomfortable. On the contrary, the ride quality is still a work of art and will only be tripped up by the worst of the winter's potholes. Remove the Elise's roof though and you really will feel the wind in (all) your hair.
Because of the rigidity of that aluminium chassis, the Elise's backbone feels like it's carved out of granite; unfortunately, the same cannot be said for every one of the car's components. You get the feeling Lotus continue to put its cars together with pride, but money must be saved somewhere. That said, the gear lever and steering wheel (i.e. the important bits) are a pleasure to handle.
The entry-level Elise's new engine may only be a 1.6-litre but its 134bhp is delivered in a rev-happy, let's-hit-the-redline style that suits the Lotus down to the ground. It'll potter around town, too, but you'll need to drop a couple of cogs to find some pace. The supercharged 1.8-litre engine in the SC pushes the Elise into supercar territory.
Obviously the Elise is a roadster in the traditional sense which means there's ample room for you and a friend. And the roof. Make it a slim friend though; Lotus's racing seats are a tangible reminder that you should be aiming the car for the gym.
Lotus has decided to hang its hat on this benefit, and there's no denying the Elise is a cheap way of running a fast car. The manufacturer claims the new 1.6-litre engine is capable of 45mpg, but if you indulge in the kind of driving necessary to achieve that figure you might as well have bought a hatchback. Best to think of it like this; the performance you're paying for is about as cheap as it gets.
Take performance, handling and running costs into account and you're getting a pretty good bargain. Probably best not to kid yourself though; the Elise is not particularly practical and most buyers will run it as a car for the weekend. In this guise it is superb - if you're stretching your budget, buy a hot hatch.
The stereo is adequate at best. For some reason Lotus insists on still using an Alpine head unit that is as intuitive as a rubiks cube. Fatally, the volume control doubles as the bass and treble control when pushed - which thanks to the Elise's stiffness will be all the time - meaning that you're constantly adjusting the bass when you try and turn the music up.