Underneath the Lotus Elise's composite fibreglass body panels sits a lightweight aluminum chassis; mounted in the middle of that is a Rover 1 .8-litre K-series engine which drives the rear wheels. It doesn't produce vast amounts of power, just 11 8bhp and 1221b ft, but it doesn't need much more, for the Elise weighs only 730kg and should get you to 60mph in less than six seconds.
It feels quick, although it doesn't sound terribly sporty. The five-speed gearbox gives a slick, precise, direct change and the vented disc brakes are strong with plenty of feel.
But it's not the performance that sticks in your mind, it's the incredible handling given by the fully independent suspension with double wishbones and coil springs all round.
Over tight and twisty country roads where horsepower isn't an issue, there's probably not a car it couldn't keep up with; it's that lithe and precise. It rides well, too, and holds its line no matter how bumpy the road gets.
On the track, it proved surprisingly difficult to get the Elise's tail out and it didn't feel as oversteery as the one we first drove back in issue 35. But it's still devastatingly effective, easy to drive quickly, utterly enjoyable and very safe in real-world driving conditions.
Apart from being bloody awkward to get in and out of with the hood up, the Elise is impressively easy to live with. The hood, although still a little time-consuming, is now much easier to fit than the original. It is completely wind- and waterproof and isn't, excessively noisy either.
The interior is beautifully designed and convincingly built, in a minimalist racer sort of way, with a STACK electronic speedo and tacho with a multi-function LCD readout and a groovy Nardi steering wheel. The race seats are firm, perhaps a bit over-firm on long journeys, but most of the time they give little cause for complaint. A new Elise costs E21,875 and that, say we, is a very fair price. (sic) hasn't got any soft of hood at all, as it's still at the development phase).
Actually, this roofless state isn't too much of a hardship, for despite its wild, Gerry Anderson-inspired design and lack of side windows, the Dare does a very good job of keeping wind buffeting to a minimum. The cabin is impressively calm, although the driving position isn't great.
The Lotus Elise is everything that a modern sports runaround should be. Compared with all the others, it is the easiest to live with and it proves endless fun with out you having to put your licence on the line every time you want to enjoy it.
The other cars included: Caterham 21, Westfield Speedsport, Tommy Kaira ZZ, and Dare DZ.