by Joe DeMatio

photography by Charlie Magee

(portion of article excerpted from Track Meet; If you really want to enjoy your car to the max, there's no place better than a track. Here are The Best Track Cars in America, and here's why track day sar egoing to be the next big thing.)

The insect like Elise might not be pretty-Sherman quickly dubbed our lime-green example "The Locust" but to drive it is a beautiful thing. It all comes down to weight or, in the case of the Lotus, the eye-opening lack of it. At only 1980 pounds, the Elise is several hundred pounds heavier than the original, British-market version, but it's still a heady half-ton lighter than almost anything else on our roads. Thus, even though it has relatively modest discs, wheels, Ores, and engine power, its braking, lateral grip, and straight-line performance are on par with much more powerful but heavier cars that aren't nearly as much fim to drive.

On the track, the mid-engined, aluminum and-composite roadster rivals the Caterharm for the purest driving experience. Toyota7s 2ZZ-GE 1.8-liter dual-overhead-cam four sounds better here than it does in any Toyota, and its 190 horsepower is plenty for a sub-5.0-second run from 0 to 60 mph. The brakes are effective (70 to 0 mph took only two feet more than in the Porsche 911), and the handling is the closest thing to a go-kart's of any road car in America. It takes a really tight comer for the Elise even to hint at understeer; most of the time, turn-in is as clean and neat as a Martha Stewart jail cell. The biggest revelation, though, is the steering, which is so direct, so perfectly weighted, and so utterly wired to your brain, it just about makes you want to weep when you consider the slop-filled mechanisms for turning that afflict most other road cars.

At a base price of $39,985, the Elise, which goes on sale this month in the States, is hardly a bargain ride, especially when you start tacking on a few options, such as our test car's $795 "lifestyle" paint; the $2480 Sport package, which stiffens the springs by ten percent and supplies lighter wheels; the $1475 hard top; or the $1350 Touring package (leather, carpet, sound deadening, etc.). Although the lithe little Lotus rides quite well on the street, few owners will want to mix with SUVs on the daily freeway commute. It will be a blast during back-road forays to your favorite local track, though, and once there, you'll discover for yourself exactly why the Elise has been such a sensation in Britain and why suddenly roadsters such as the BMW Z3, the Porsche Boxster, and even the Honda S2000 seem positively barge like in comparison. -