2022 Lotus Elise Sport 240 Final Edition vs. 390 Final Edition
We take a trip to Lotus’ private test track in Hethel to drive and bid farewell to the Elise and Exige.
Lotus is a pioneering car manufacturer that has had some great successes throughout its history, with their most successful model being the Elise. For many, it defines driving purity and simplifies what you want from a sports car because it’s light, nimble and thoroughly joyous to drive. The latest Elise and Exige Final Editions are cars I’ve been wanting to take to a track, and recently, Lotus allowed us to give them a good thrashing around their private testing facility at Hethel. It’s a place I’ve never been to and so it was a privilege to go there and throw some of the brand’s cars about the place.
Starting with the Elise Sport 240 Final Edition, and you’ve probably guessed it has 240bhp from its Toyota derived, 1.8 litre, supercharged 4-cylinder engine. Apart from an increase in power and a new LCD display for the speedometer, not much has changed.
Initial on track impressions are that you’re greeted by some lovely touch points, particularly from the aluminium-finished, 6-speed manual gearbox that’s just a delight to use at all speeds and is light to operate. The steering is full of feel and weight, and it’s everything you would expect from an Elise. The kerbweight is just 922kg which by any standard is as light as cars get, although, Lotus purists will tell you that it’s around 180 kilos heavier than the original version. The lack of weight means that turn-in is accurate, and because the spring rates aren’t overly stiff, it offers great compliance while giving you a good sense of what’s going on beneath you. The performance is just as good! It will cover 0-60mph in 4.1 seconds and top out at 147mph. The supercharger pulls low down in the rev range and the car loves being taken to the redline. What impressed me about the Elise was its breadth of ability. If you want to learn and understand track driving, then this is a great car for getting to know the limits of grip, but if you’re a racing driver and want to have some fun while setting decent lap times, it can do that too.
Despite being a mid-engine sports car, the Elise is surprisingly lovely to slide. The way it breaks traction and then communicates grip levels throughout the slide is friendly and progressive, and because of the lack of weight, you can pound it for lap after lap without getting the dreaded feeling that the brakes and tyres are going to overheat. The soundtrack is pleasant too, with its growling 4-cylinder barking away and the supercharger faintly whining in the background. My only complaint is that I wish I could hear more of that supercharger.
I hopped out the Elise and into the Exige Sport 390 Final Edition. The Exige has always been the aggressive, track focused model in the Lotus line-up. Like the Elise, it also has a Toyota derived engine, but here it’s a 3.5 litre V6 making, you guessed it, 390bhp.
You can also have it with 420bhp, but trust me, 390 horses is enough! The 390 was formerly known as the 350, but thanks to some changes to the cooling system and supercharger it now makes an extra 40bhp. Performance here is brisker than that of the Elise with a 0-60mph time of 3.7 seconds and a top speed of 172mph, but it’s also a heavier car at 1,138kg unladen. Again, there aren’t many visual changes to mention apart from a sticker to tell you what you’ve bought, and like the Elise, it has the digital speedometer display.
On track, you’re immediately greeted by a vibe that shouts focus because everything feels taught and serious. The V6 engine is quite docile at low revs, but once you switch it to track mode, you’re greeted with a shouty bark. Other people have suggested it sounds boring but I say that’s rubbish. It sounds fantastic! You hear more whine from the supercharger below 4600rpm and then it’s drowned out as the motor roars its way to the rev limiter.
Performance is strong and with peak power available at 7,000rpm, the engine does its best work at high revs. The steering is weightier and the rack itself is quick but not fidgety. When driven hard, you notice how much you have to concentrate. Coming into some of the fast chicanes, the Exige likes to be driven with precision over outright hooliganism, yet, when prodded with aggression and stupidity, you can make it dance and pull off some smoky powerslides.
There are a couple of problems, one of which is a traditional Lotus issue. The gearbox is a tad imprecise especially when driven with more aggression, and you get the sense that the synchros don’t like to be hurried. Also, and this is not what I would call a problem, but it does demand a lot of driver input from a physical standpoint. But the rewards are so strong when you concentrate and work around the way it behaves, and it has that typical Lotus DNA in the way it communicates what’s going on. There’s a tad more understeer, but a slight lift off the throttle gets the rear end rotated in to the corner.
The cars were great fun on track, but fundamentally, they’re still road cars and the Elise is the most joyous of the two. We tested them on a hot summer’s day, and because the Elise’s canvass roof is removable, you get the open top driving experience as well. The ride quality is far more tolerable than you would actually think and has a lovely compliance to it. The performance is usable and the six-speed manual ‘box is a delight to use. What’s more, you feel as though you’re driving a lot faster than you actually are which is very rare to find these days. It’s safe to say that the Elise brings just as much, if not more fun on the public road whereas the Exige is a bit of an extreme machine.
The Sport 390 is still better than I initially anticipated. The shouty V6 doesn’t make a nuisance of itself around town and the ride is on the right side of tolerable, but you can tell that it’s a car that really belongs at a circuit. If you want the compromise between road and track then you definitely want the Exige. It’s a thrill to be in and it’s incredible look at, and as an experience, there isn’t anything else quite like it.
In truth, this isn’t meant to be a comparison test between the Lotus Elise and Exige. It’s more about the brand and where it’s going. The Elise is still the defining car in the Lotus range and one which I hope they will try and recreate in its successor, the Emira. Both cars offer something special and totally unique which you have to respect given Lotus has famously lacked budget and resource compared to other manufacturers. However, now with proper funding the company has the potential to go out there and be the best sports car maker in the industry.
As for the Elise and Exige, production will finish at the end of the year which will truly mark the end of an era. The Elise has been around and has remained relatively unchanged for 25 years now, and if Lotus can continue to capture the magic and essence of it in their forthcoming models, then their future is all but secured. Exciting times are ahead, but for now, we say an emotional goodbye to a true motoring icon.
“You feel as though you’re driving a lot faster than you actually are which is very rare to find these days”
The Elise also gives you open-top thrills!
Technical Specifications 2022 Lotus Elise Sport 240 Final Edition / DRIVES TODAY 10/10
- Engine 1,798cc 4-cylinder
- Max Power 240bhp @ 7,200rpm
- Max Torque 181lb ft @ 3,000rpm
- 0-60mph 4.1 secs
- Max Speed 147mph
- Weight 922kg
- Price £45,500
“What impressed me about the Elise was its breadth of ability”
Technical Specifications 2022 Lotus Exige Sport 390 Final Edition / DRIVES TODAY RATING 10/10
- Engine 3,456cc V6
- Max Power 397bhp @ 7,000rpm
- Max Torque 311lb ft @ 3,000rpm
- 0-60mph 3.7 secs
- Max Speed 172mph
- Weight 1,138kg
- Price N/A
The Exige has a naturally aspirated 3.5 litre V6 engine