Road test: Lotus Elise Cup 250

  • We drive the quickest and most expensive Elise ever
  • More power, better handling and improved cabin
  • Priced at £45,600 but essential options get it close to £50k

The Lotus Elise Cup 250 represents one of the best-handling cars money can buy. Built in the 20th year of the two-seater roadster’s lifecycle, this is the most powerful Elise ever and features handling improvements to ensure it corners better than anything else in the line-up.

So what’s new?

The 1.8-litre supercharged engine has been redeveloped for better throttle response, so it’s livelier than ever with instantaneous power delivery. This motor is actually built by Toyota, but Lotus’s engineers do significant work to make it match the character of the Elise.

Power’s up to 243bhp while torque climbs to 250Nm between 3,500 and 5,500rpm. That means the 0-62mph dash takes just 4.3 seconds and top speed is 154mph. Peak power arrives at 7,200rpm, indicating you really have to work the engine hard to get the best out of it.

It doesn’t sound as interesting as many modern sports cars, but you’ll forgive it when you push the right-hand pedal and feel how fast it is.

Those performance figures are played against very low running costs for this sort of car. Fuel economy is a claimed 37.7mpg, while CO2 emissions of 175g/km mean VED band H at time of publication, or £200 per year after paying £285 in the first year. We can’t think of anything that’s this fast for such little annual outlay.

Stiff but stunning suspension

While we’re on the pragmatic side of things, this isn’t a car for long journeys. The seats only adjust forward and back and they’re very firm - meant for track driving really, just like the suspension, which is more at home on glass-smooth surfaces than the average rutted B-road.

But there’s enough compliance there to make this Elise a stunning car to drive, both on the road and the track. Unlike the overwhelming majority of modern cars, its steering does without any form of assistance whatsoever. That means it’s very heavy at low speeds but uncannily communicative once you’re moving. It’s an experience unrivalled by almost anything else on sale.

It’s a similar story with the Cup 250’s cornering skills, which are up there with the very best. The front tyres are wider than the 220’s so it’s got more grip at the front end, which inspires more confidence to drive quickly. All four corners get special track-focused tyres that are about as aggressive as it’s legal to use on a road car, so the amount of adhesion is startlingly high, but it also corners flatly and changes direction instantly. This car is a lot of fun to drive.

Not much kit, but what did you expect?

Don’t expect a lot of kit, though. Lotus is all about lightweight sports cars, so there really isn’t anything on board to corrupt the driving experience. There’s a nod to the Cup’s price, however, with an extra smattering of leather and Alcantara in the cabin to make it feel a bit more premium.

You’ve got a choice of just 12 optional extras including cruise control, a hi-fi, a quick-release steering wheel and racing harnesses. There are two packs as well – the Leather Pack adding more cow hide and the Carbon Aero Pack (as seen in the pictures) changing all of the aerodynamic body parts to carbonfibre. The latter ensemble costs another £4,000, bringing the cost of this car up towards £50,000.

Verdict

There’s nothing else on sale quite as capable as the Elise Cup 250 in the right environment, but it’s clearly flawed in other situations. Our advice would be to save a bit of cash and go for a cheaper version unless you’re the sort of die-hard enthusiast who’ll notice the extra horsepower and handling talents on a race track.

If you are that kind of driver, you’ll be grinning from ear to ear. Make sure you go for the Carbon Pack too. It’ll save you another 10kg but it’ll also help your Elise to retain its value better.