1999 Lotus Elise 1.8 16v petrol from UK and Ireland
Awesome to drive, but quality and durability disappoint
Cable for boot/engine cover release (the only method of opening it) broke.
Leaks like a sieve in anything heavier than drizzle.
Strong smell of petrol when the tank contains more than an indicated 30 litres.
Car looks and feels generally tired at 50k. Rattles and squeaks everywhere, the odd clonk from underneath, steering not as sharp as it used to be.
Sudden clutch failure at 11,000 miles.
Gear linkage became detached.
The K-series engine hasn't missed a beat, consumes no oil or water and returns 42 mpg average. Lacks top end welly, but the acceleration up to about 80 mph is enough to see off most other things on four wheels. Lotus dealers are attentive and professional, but seem to be capitalising on charging Lotus servicing costs on what is a bog standard Rover engine. The chassis may be advanced and clever, but it doesn't need any more maintenance than a conventional one.
Handling is astonishing. Not as forgiving as my old MX-5, but with an immediacy and directness like no other car, and with limits that really take some exploring on the public road. Best steering I've ever experienced. Unassisted brakes are terrifying on first encounter (if you've ever been towed you'll know), but are fine once you get used to them. The difference in fun and sharpness between this and the MX-5 is like the difference between the MX-5 and my previous Golf again. It's that good. Get it on a track and it's in its element, as am I for that matter.
Shame about the poor build quality. Feels very "loose" recently with many of the interior fittings either broken, worn or loose. Some play around the dead ahead on the steering which wasn't there 10,000 miles ago. Disappointing after a (much cheaper) MX-5 which did 88,000 miles and still felt as good as new. Hood has never been truly watertight although it's so bad now, it's barely worth putting it up. If Mazda can make an unfailingly watertight hood on a £14,000 car, why can't Lotus on a £20,000 one?
Once you're in the car (no small feat with the roof up, it's like getting through a letterbox), it's surprisingly comfortable. Noise levels are high-ish, but pleasant in quality, and the seats support well. Equipment is poor in order to maximise weight saving, although I think the minimalism is a key part of the car's appeal. It has a decent heater and a stereo - what more do you need?
If it were better built, I'd buy another tomorrow, but as it stands now, I'll probably not.
Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Don't Know
Review Date: 9th May, 2004
26th Dec 2004, 15:15
Update on original review:
Now on 55,000 miles and more quality issues are appearing.
1) Headlamp mounting brackets have corroded to the extent where one on the nearside has snapped. This means the headlamp is no longer mounted securely. The cost of replacing these brackets is comparable to replacing a complete headlamp on most family saloons.
2) The hood leak has become so bad that I get a waterfall effect when opening the door after even moderate rainfall, as well as a drenched drivers seat and a windscreen that has more water and condensation on the inside than out. Being told "they all do that" by every expert who looks at the car does not help. I repeat, Mazda can make watertight hoods on the massively cheaper MX-5. Lotus has no excuse.
3) The passenger window alignment started to look incorrect, accompanied by a rattle from the door. On removing the door cars one of the three bolts which should have been holding the window mechanism to the door fell out into my hand. The second was rattling around inside the door, and the third was just clinging on with about 2mm of thread. Window realigned and bolts threadlocked and refitted. Seems OK. For now.
4) There is a strong waft of hot coolant every so often which penetrates the cabin and the general area around the car. No apparent leaks and no fall in level, but it's not my imagination.
5) The alarm has packed up, although the immobiliser still works.
Fun as the Elise is, it's clear that owning an ageing one will be a test of willpower and commitment (and bank balance) to rival any classic British or Italian sports car. I have decided that the car will go this Spring, once the latest list of problems are resolved.
26th Mar 2005, 19:02
Just wanted to thank you for the very detailed and comprehensive review.
Thanks to your review I understand I better go look for something else to replace my old reliable MX-5.
Guess it will be the Opel Speedster 2.2 (Vauxhall VX220) then.
27th Mar 2005, 07:56
I am about to buy one here in Ireland, but I'm not so sure now.
Na I will get one just cause noone else around has one. Ha!
Its going to be a 1999 model so wish me the best.
I hope the Irish weather does not affect me too much AAAAaaaaaaa!
4th Sep 2005, 17:17
I have just bought a 99 Elise (10 days ago) only 26k on the clock.. already the passenger window has decided to part company with the runner and I have noticed minor leaks when it rains or washing it.. but... and it is a BIG, but.. the car is fantastic.. and all I could of wished for.. many a time (yes already) I have had a bad day at work or fall out with my girlfriend, yet you get in the Elise and drive your worries and cares away.. 10 minutes of proper driving and you forget everything.. buy one..just remember you get what you pay for...