old and new Elise and Exige


April 2008

I have been driving the car for several weeks.  I have autocrossed it and entered an open track session.  People are asking what the differences are between the Elise and the Exige S 240.  There are differences because this is a new model year with significant changes between 2005 and 2008.  There are differences because of changes made between an Elise and an Exige.  And there are differences because the Exige S 240 has significantly more horsepower.

exige thunderhill

Comparing a 2005 Elise and a 2008 Exige

  • No rattles!  It is obvious that Lotus has spent some time removing the creaks, groans, and rattles from the new car.  I spoke of my first drive home in the Elise, some 500 miles, and about rattles would come and go.  The new Exige did not have one rattle!
  • Drive by wire seems to work well.  The throttle is linear, which is very unusual.  Normally, driving around I use less than 30% of the throttle.  When I want to use the remaining 70% it is usually full throttle.  Now it seems as if there is more throttle at the low end and it accepts full throttle easily. 

    Trailing throttle is strange.  Gas is cut off completely when the throttle is closed.  There is significant compression when there is no gas.  Neutral throttle bucks a couple of times before understanding what is needed.
  • The new instruments are fantastic.  The numbers are white on black with red needles.  These are always lit.  On the old instruments, I was unable to read the status panel at the bottom because of poor contrast.  The new status is easily read, both in direct sunlight when the numbers appear black on red background, and in darkness, appearing as red on black background.  Unfortunately it is no longer possible to adjust the brightness of the lighting while the car is in motion.  In fact, the documentation about how to adjust the brightness is not available and it took an enterprising owner to discover the method.

    There are some other changes like the immobilizer does not blink a confirmation of disarming but rather just does not blink again indicating it is armed.  The three stage gear change lights work well and are definately needed.  Mine doe not have the time display but it will be coming in a future revision of the software.

    The tire pressure monitoring system has an indicator on the dash, lighting a light when there is a problem.  Unfortunately the fuel gauge is also changed at intervals to indicate in words there is a problem wtih the TPMS.  This is not bad if it would limit the intervals to startup or for five minutes after startup, but mine is reminding me of a problem every 30 seconds or so.  The motion in the instrument panel indicates there is a problem and I am getting used to the motion in the status area.  I will grow numb and will not recognize a future problem.
  • The security system has changed.  It no longer beeps at disarming to indicate an attempted intrusion.  It does not flash the dash light at disarming.  It does unlock only the driver's door at first click and requires a second button press to unlock the passenger door.  The key and remote are now one piece, but the unit is still large.  The key has a Lotus logo!  It seems the remote has a greater range but this was not tested.
  • The non-touring package radio is one of the worst radios I have ever heard!  It was not worth the effort of installing.  Both the unit, Alpine, and the speakers, are terrible.  I removed one front speaker in anticipation of replacing it and noted an improvement in the sound!
  • The foot pedals are different.  (This change as well as the drive-by-wire happened in 2006.)  I worked extensively on the pedals of my 2005 Elise and was able to get closer to being able to control both the throttle and the brake at the same time.  The new pedals have some big improvements, including more space between them and less of the dead travel in the brakes.  I can drive the car with my normal shoes and not catch the edges on the adjacent pedal.  (I do not have been feet.)  The travel in the brake pedal before braking takes hold is gone and the car now brakes immediately.
  • The biggest and most welcome change is the new gear shift.  Several changes have been made making the experience improved.  The shift console is attached to the car and reinforced.  It no longer moves sideways and does not require the spacer and extra bolt as for the Elise.  Of more importance is the new shift cables.  The movement is more precise and the slop, the movement before things happening at the transmission, is greatly reduced.  Gear changes are much more precise and the vague feeling is gone.  The change has a notch feeling to it and confirms the change is happening.
  • Subtle changes abound.  The texture of the sill material is different, grabbing the pants material as I slide into the seat.  The buttons feel more positive.  The horn is still too soft and still gets honked in error as I roll my palm during hard cornering.  I hate electric windows, having to turn the car on to roll them up or down.
  • Exige Thunderhill

Comparing an Elise to an Exige

  • The Exige has some obvious differences from the Elise.  There is the added bling factor of the rear wing, splitter, and side scoops.  Even the grille behind the front wheels and the grille window contribute to a more aggressive look.  I look forward to taking off the aero devices but worry about the effect (more later).
  • There no rear visibility, at all, none!  The charge cooler obstructs vision and makes me wonder why there is an rear view mirror at all.  I removed it and found the unobstructted view out the front to be amazing.  With practice, I am able to adjust the side mirrors so as to see within nine feet of the rear of the car, sufficient for most driving.  Only when I must reverse out of a parking spot, do I need to exit the car to make sure there are not objects to hit.  I once considered a reverse monitor and camera but am now used to the mirrors and where I must look so I do not miss it.
  • The finish of the fiberglass is very different.  The Elise has a smooth finish and the panels are straight, especially at the edges.  The Exige shows waves in many of the panels and the edges turn up or show a bend just before the edge, as if shrinkage has affected the surface.  Paint is similar.
  • Handling is very different but this is expected.  The different brakes (more later), suspension, limited slip, and power all conspire to make the Exige more aggressive.  The width of the front wheels, reduced by half an inch, and the torque sensing, limited slip differential make the car understeer more than before.
  • How do I clean behind the front grille?
  • Exige thunderhill

Comparing the Elise to an Exige S 240

  • The Exige comes with the optional AP Brake kit.  I believe the larger brakes destroy the nature of the car.  This kit should only be installed if the owner is going to be doing some serious racing.  The brakes do not have a linear response, grabbing too quickly and hard on application and not letting the driver back off to trail brake into the corner.  The pedal pressure difference is slight between the two and will require an expert to modulate.  The brakes will not clear 15 inch rims, preventing the use of 15 inch fronts and 16 inch rear wheels, the fast setup for the Elise.  The antilock brake calibration does not work well with the larger brakes.  The cycle time and release portion of the cycle do not match the pad and piston characteristics, preventing the ABS from working as well as it did with the Elise.  In the first autocross, I was able to run off course under braking, even when coming to a stop!  I never had any braking problems with the Elise, even on track.  While to be avoided, entering the ABS was not a disaster.  I am easy on brakes, using them hard and for a short duration.  I prefer the Elise brakes for both track and autocross.
  • Absolute power corrupts absolutely.  The power is very addictive, yet it is difficult to describe.  I agree it does not take much skill to accelerate down a straight.  However being able to play with the throttle and actually steer the car is new.  Before I could almost mash on the accelerator and not get into trouble.   No longer.  Now I understand the need for traction and launch control. 

    Under hard acceleration, the front end lifts, a lot.  The car scrabbles for traction and requires concentration as control becomes a problem. Sure the pressure in the back is exciting, but there is so much more happening.  Remember the three stage shift lights?  Things happen so quickly you need a warning that it is time to shift.  Accelerating from a stop requires a shift before three seconds and another soon after.  Before in the Elise, things could be planned.  Not any more.