By on February 9, 2013

Remember TTAC’s Future Writers Week? You chose the writers. The writers wrote. The stories are in (well, most of them …). Here is the first one. Do you like it? Tell us. The stories will be published in the sequence in which they arrived in TTAC’s mailbox.

I thought I was hard-core. People who complain about the Lotus Elise’s lack of creature comforts or suspension compliance are wimps I thought. Many of us would agree that pure driving pleasure outweighs most other considerations. The Elise is the ultimate test of this idea.  Buy or by the hour? Let’s do the test.

I had lusted after the Elise ever since seeing one in Europe in the late 1990‘s. Everything I had read about it perfectly meshed with my ideas about sports cars. After owning a ’91 Miata for almost ten years, owning the Elise was the next logical step. When I first sat in one in 2005 upon its release in the U.S., I knew I would own a used one someday. The styling was to die for, the cockpit was starkly beautiful in its own way, and the mechanical-feeling shifter was a joy.

Renting The Elise

Around 2007, my wife and I rented one in Vegas for the day and drove it hard for many miles on great twisty roads. It was my favorite bright red color and drove like a dream. As both a driver and passenger, I was pleasantly surprised that the car was not as rough or noisy inside, as I had been led to believe.

In 2009, after owning several Porsches and various BMW’s, I again rented an Elise in Vegas. Another red beauty, this time for 4 hours. I spent the entire 4 hours driving with only a 15-minute break for food, and loved every minute of it. Again, I had no issues with the noise or the firm suspension.

Renting verdict: Can’t possibly have more fun when paying by the hour.

Buying The Elise

Forward to 2012 and I finally bought an Elise (bright red of course). On the 5 1/2 hour drive home through Pennsylvania from the private seller’s house I had a great time but I also noticed that the interior noise level & ride were more intense than I remembered in Vegas. Hello reality — in the Northern Virginia / DC area where I live the roads are nothing like the smooth Vegas roads. Are there any other negatives? There sure are.

Big Negative #1: Parking Paranoia

Physically, I was the perfect Elise driver: I’m only 5’6” tall and very skinny, so climbing in & out of the car was no big deal (but hugely entertaining watching others try), and I fit well in the narrow seats. These seats however started to become a bit painful on my back after a few months of daily driving. Yes, I drove the car almost daily into DC to work (only one way during rush hour) and actually parallel parked it sometimes on those mean streets. I had fabricated a front license plate bracket to screw into the front tow hook hole and mounted it when parking to avoid tickets. Once I returned to my car to find this front place bent as someone had backed into it but luckily no damage to the all-one-piece front fiberglass clamshell piece.

Big Negative #2: Interior Noise Levels.

The engine sound was enjoyable but loud even with the stock exhaust — especially on the overrun. I would even sometimes shift to neutral to enjoy the silence while coasting to a stop. Sounds wimpy I know but we’re talking almost-daily driver here in heavy traffic and it was still just a massaged Toyota 4-banger not some exotic powerplant.

Complementing the engine sounds were massive amounts of interior road & wind noise. The soft top leaks air quite a bit at highway speeds and combined with the engine made the stereo pretty much unlistenable on the highway.

Big Negative #3: Unbelievably Bad Stereo

Anything above crawling speeds made the stereo virtually unlistenable. I immediately upgraded the stock front speakers which helped some, but it was still just a mess. I know that in a car like this listening to the stereo isn’t really the point but in a daily driver it’s a bit different. Many owners upgrade the audio but with such high interior noise levels this seems pointless.

Big Negative #4: Unbelievably Rough Ride

As mentioned, on my two Vegas joyrides I had no complaints, but on the rough streets in my area it was shocking how shocking the bumps were. Hitting large bumps or potholes produced such a loud & jarring shudder that I began to (rather unsafely) dodge such hazards at the expense of level-headed driving. Such bumps made me think that the car was being damaged every time — this feeling did not go away with familiarity even though I knew that the car could (probably) take it. It was just so unsettling to have the whole car crashing around me sounding like it was about to break in half.

Big Negative #5: Rough Road Handling

It is said and often written that “The Elise is one of the best handling cars ever made.” Any enthusiast has read such words many times, and yet my experience was quite different. The stiff suspension, low weight and short wheelbase are ideal for the track or smooth roads. However, in the real world of crumbling roads, mid-corner bumps would case the rear end to bounce sideways, thus eroding my confidence in the car’s abilities. Combined with the lack of stability control, the skittish rear end put a damper on some of the fun factor whenever I would push the car a bit. I have owned and driven many other sports cars and the Elise just didn’t make me feel like I could push too hard in my normal driving. For those of you wondering, the car had low miles, was never tracked or crashed and after purchase I had my dealer check all suspension bolt torques which were fine. One possible caveat is that the fairly new rear tires were not OEM but were some obscure brand I’d never heard of installed by the original owner. To me this would only apply to cornering grip and not bouncing around in a corner however. Cornering grip was still outstanding on smooth surfaces.


Big Negative #6: Wind Noise With the Top Removed

The Elise has no topless air management whatsoever. I’ve owned & driven many convertibles and the Lotus has the worst wind-management I’ve ever experienced. With the targa soft top removed, highway driving is almost unbearable from the wind noise unless you put the windows up. Removing & installing the top is just enough of a pain to encourage you to leave it on most of the time, and when removed, it’s difficult to stow in the trunk so it takes up the passenger footwell.

I owned the Lotus for about 7 months and am very glad I did, but the driving experience along with the practicalities (Parking! Fiberglass body! Backaches!) just weren’t working for my driving in my area with heavy traffic & poor road conditions.

I still think it’s one of the best-looking cars ever made, and I loved the shift feel (which is strangely criticized by many owners on the LotusTalk forum). I also enjoyed the unique interior and overall “exoticness” of the car along with the direct unfiltered mid-engined driving experience.

Buying verdict:  Definitely not a hassle-free marriage

The Final Verdict

Elise is fun by the hour, but a drama queen in daily life. I highly recommend renting the Elise when visiting Vegas or LA, but owning it should be approached with caution…

Jeff Snavely lives in Northern Virginia (suburban Washington DC) and is a military musician by trade. A lifelong car enthusiast, he has owned many used cars over the years – mostly German along with a few Saabs and some Japanese as well.

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74 Comments on “Exotic Cars: Buy, Or By The Hour? Today: Lotus Elise. A Future Writer Story...”

  • avatar

    I know what you mean about dodging potholes and feeling like the car might break in two if you hit one going at a decent clip. My 05 Miata is the EXACT same way. I wonder if that is just a trait of all convertibles.

    By the way, I like how the article was approached – It is nice to read a detailed review of the car that only an owner can do. I liked the detailed negatives – usually lacking!

    Enjoy the beautiful car!

    • 0 avatar

      ” I wonder if that is just a trait of all convertibles.”

      the car roof is part of the unibody. imagine the car being a truss in your roof. Now take off the top chord of your roof truss and you know why a convertible is a bit unstable. The same with rollover-death, no matter how much technology they put in to make up for the missing roof.

      The Audi TT seems to be a better choice if you want a fun car but want to use it daily. It has great aerodynamics to cut down noise with the top down. i also imagine it being more comfortable to sit in.

      Of course, real men drive rugged sports cars :)

      • 0 avatar

        My old 99 Miata had that same feeling. Adding a roll bar and frame bracing helped, but certainly didn’t fix the problem. After a decade of using the Miata as my daily driver, I glacially came to the conclusion that convertibles are best enjoyed as weekend warriors.

    • 0 avatar
      thats one fast cat

      Great article, and I have to give a solid +1 to the Miata owners (lowered 93 with turbo kit and all the ‘fixins) view of this — great for going for a fast drive, but going into DC is a no go. Love or hate him, LaHood was right: “our infrastructure is just one big pothole).

    • 0 avatar

      Likewise, loved the evaluation, warts and all. Now, anyone contemplating buying an Elise can do it eyes wide open. And they may still go for it.

      When you can get guys like me who pass you going the other way in their S2000’s, and are jealous of you, you’re on to something. S2000’s also ride harshly. My biggest complaint came from passengers in my Honda, they hated the ride. Same complaint for the sound system, OK for news and traffic, pretty bad for quality mp3’s.

      As Ishwa wrote, enjoy the Elise as long as you can.

      • 0 avatar

        The S2000 is an absolute limousine compared to the Elise. Even a lowered S2000 on coil overs with a half assed aftermarket supercharger is a great road trip car. I drove 8000 miles in 11 days in one (I was younger, but still). And for pleasure, not to prove myself, Iron Butt Style. Air management is good, ad if you hit a rough patch of road, you can feel it, but it doesn’t sound like the “frame” of the car just snapped in half.

        For pure pace on narrow, tight roads; the Elise is where it is, though. It’s narrowness alone makes even the narrowest two lane feel as wide as a race track, allowing you to push until it starts moving around a bit, where doing so in a regular sized car have you halfway in the ditch half the time, and way across the center line for the remainder.

    • 0 avatar

      Well, Jeep Wrangler 2-door is a convertible, when equipped with a softtop, and I’m quite confident that it can take D.C. roads. So convertibles are not all the same these days. Seriously, remember how enthusiast crowd laughed their belly buttons off at Murano convertible? See who’s laughing now. Possibly not Mr. Ishwa or Mr. Snively.

  • avatar

    The trials and tribulations of owning a true sports car. I have some of the same issues, albeit less so with my Z4 coupe. Living in Buffalo its my fair weather ride, but the ride, especially with the sport suspension and run flats is very harsh on our pock marked streets…especially in spring right after our harsh winters. The car also tracks poorly on uneven paving.
    But…It has a great stereo, with the THX certified Carver amp. Room is sufficient…I’m 6′, 180 lbs, the car souunds great….and most importantly it looks awesome!

  • avatar
    Charles T

    Whenever people complain about the MR2 Spyder not being hardcore enough, they point to the Lotus Elise as the ideal of what it should have been. From this article it sounds like the opposite is also true: all the real-world downsides of the Elise are at least mitigated and at most eliminated in the Spyder.

    • 0 avatar

      I have a Spyder and no, it doesn’t. Especially in DC commuting, it sucked. it sucks in Florida commuting too. it’s loud, especially at highway speeds, the stereo still sucks, there’s no storage space, it jiggles on rough roads, it’s tiny in traffic, etc. the top does just drop which is nice but the wind at highway speeds is terrible, this is no Mercedes, BMW, or Porsche convertible. It’s a wonderful weekend toy like the Elise, but no better for DD use. It doesn’t look nearly as sexy as the Elise though. Way way cheaper though.

      • 0 avatar
        Charles T

        I have one as a daily in Boston, and it’s just fine. It’s loud at speeds above 60, yes, but everything else I find perfectly fine. The size is an advantage because you can park in and squeeze into gaps nobody else can, and it’s surprisingly compliant over the worst of New England frost heaves. With a small piece of chassis bracing, jiggling is diminished. After putting in the stereo out of a newer-model Scion, and replacements for the worn-out factory speakers, I’m fine on that front too. I don’t really find a need for storage space 95% of the time, but even with the small bins it’ll hold a fair amount of groceries if you use them all. Now if you’ll excuse me I’m going out into the post-Nemo aftermath with my snow tires and taking full advantage of the MR layout.

      • 0 avatar

        I agree with you and I would be fine with it too, but I am betting you would be fine in an Elise as well. I wouldn’t say the MR2 mitigates or eliminates the “reasons” in the article. That is all I am saying, that it IS a compromise, and some people are more willing to make the compromise to daily drive a sports car that wasn’t intended to excel at long commutes into cities with lousy roads.

        What bracing did you use to get rid of the jiggling?? I am about to invest some money in the chassis and suspension, and I am trying to figure out what to replace/upgrade to make it feel stiffer and not so “old”. I hear bushing help a ton, but I am not sure which ones to replace. I am planning to ask Sajeev eventually… :)

      • 0 avatar
        Charles T

        I don’t think I’d be okay in an Elise, as the sills are much wider than the Spyder and the rear visibility is even worse than the Spyder’s with the top up. It is definitely a compromise, and we all have different levels of tolerance for it. Mine is effectively a city car, and I’m sure I’d object to it much more if I was revving its nuts off on the freeway every day.

        I got what they call the “Breastplate” from Corky and Company ( ), a piece that replaces some very inadequate stock pieces underneath the passenger compartment. I haven’t touched the bushings yet, but replacing the shocks all around made for an enormous difference, as mine was still running on the originals at ~95k and they had absolutely no rebound response whatsoever at that point. Shocks and bracing were good enough for me in terms of tightening it up; my last bugbear is interior rattles, and that may just be something to live with from now on, short of rebuilding the interior plastics with new connectors and sound deadening.

      • 0 avatar

        What does “it jiggles” mean applied to a car? I see it in Consumer Reports and it is always in context that makes it difficult to understand what they mean. Is this the small amplitude but quick oscillations, like on a lowered Civic?

      • 0 avatar
        Charles T

        It’s that sense of floppiness you also get when driving an empty moving truck on bumpy roads, that combination of rattles and the sensation that the back and front of the car aren’t moving in lockstep thanks to a flexible chassis.

      • 0 avatar

        @Charles — Yes, driving IN the city as opposed to TO the city is different, most of my complaints about the MR2 are on the highway. Like I said, sure I could deal with it if I had to, but I prefer not to. I even take ours to the grocery store sometimes, so it can hold stuff, just not as neatly or effectively as my GTI.

        For the inside, I disassembled the entire interior and dynomat-ed everything. That went a long way to quieting the interior. I also strategically placed felt and rubber insulation at other points to manage the rattles, seems to be worth it. I upgraded the speakers but not the stereo, that didn’t help as much. I think it needs a better amp than came from the factory.

        I know Corky’s stuff, I have the Front member brace and Rear lower brace, ready to install along with new dampers all around, I have 76k on my original parts. I have been trying to decide if the Breastplate is enough or if I should ante up for the Midship brace. All that might be enough to restore some of the new car feel to the chassis, but I do not want to do the work twice, and I think replacing the bushings at the same time would be worthwhile. But some of the bushings are much more expensive than others, so it would be nice to know which ones would reap the most benefits. Also, some new components come with new bushings, so I may be better off buying, say upgraded sway bars that include bushings instead of just new bushings for the factory sway bars. In a few months the car is going on the lift while I perform the work, it will take me weeks I am sure! Perhaps I shouldn’t try to make it too stiff though, I don’t want to ruin the handling on regular roads and even when we track it, we don’t “track” it, we take it to the airstrip for cone dodging, and the runways are not smooth either.

        @Pete — @Charles explained it perfectly, the “jiggle” isn’t porpoising on the highway, it is the perceived flex from side to side over bumps or train tracks and such. Combined with interior rattles and general older car looseness it can make the car feel like it’s falling apart.

  • avatar

    Couple things of note: Tires have a great effect on ride quality. Putting on high-quality tires won’t turn it into a Mercedes, but if it came with crappy Chinese donuts on the rear, things could only improve. Also brings up questions about the previous owner- anyone who puts discount tires on an Elise should be looked at with suspicion.

    Second, if there were ever a car that were made for an adjustable suspension that wasn’t a Miata, this is it. I imagine some dampers tuned for the roads in your area would have made your ownership experience much more enjoyable.

    Good article.

    • 0 avatar

      + 1

      My mom had no name Chinese tyre (Hankings) on her G35 coupe and it would leave you with bruised internal organs after a ride over rough roads. After being replaced with some nice Continentals, the ride is amazingly more compliant, still firm, but it doesn’t launch coffee 6 inches out the spout of your coffee cup on every bump anymore.

      • 0 avatar

        Absolutely, We would get people in all the time that had a tire shop put the cheapest Chinese tires on their Mercedes, and then complain that there is way to much noise, and the ride is stiff.

        The tires are the most important part of the suspension since they are the only part that touches the road. Replace those tires with something better, and the ride will improve. You have to decide if you want something a bit softer, or max performance. Any name brand tire will likely be better, but a sport tire will likely make it more comfortable over a ultra high performance tire. Something like the Michelin Primacy HP that the Toyobaru gets criticized for.

      • 0 avatar

        It amazes me that people will insist on snob brands as the only car they will own, yet when the damn thing needs tires, they freak at the $275 per tire for the proper Michelins or Goodyears that the vehicle came with. So they opt for crap, or compromise with Coopers. Don’t even get me started with 90K on a set of struts…it’s pretty interesting that folks will pay for the badge, but won’t pay for what makes the badge what it is. Further proof that many BMW owners would be happy in a Camry wearing Bimmer clothes…

        mBella: That Primacy tire is a great compromise in every area. That it is so good at doing such varied missions is very impressive Yeah, ultimate grip is reduced but sometimes I wonder at the insane grip levels of today’s performance rubber. Sometimes I think earlier release at lower speeds can allow for more fun. When limits are really high, you need serious speed for tail out shenanigans…it can be pretty scary and dangerous to explore the upper limits….leaving the road sideways at 70 rarely has a happy ending.

      • 0 avatar

        I don’t think it’s always stinginess. Goodyear OEM tires are always 2x overpriced vis-a-vis the same class competiton. It’s just the way Goodyear chose to do business.

  • avatar

    That car is still just beautiful, especially in red. I want one, perhaps to replace our MR2. My wife’s loves her Spyder but loves these more, she likes the Elise as much as a Ferarri, which sort of makes it a bargain!

    I think your mistake is treating it as a daily driver, especially in DC. I lived that dream, and no car can do it all there, anything nice gets destroyed between the miles, the roads, and the other drivers/parkers. You would be better off with a good commuter and the Elise for fun.

  • avatar

    The old expectation vs. reality conundrum, rent vs. buy. I know they’re are guys who use exotics as daily drivers, and I say more power to ’em. I need senrenity in my daily drive.

  • avatar

    A wonderful pure handler, but the ride quality and level of noise in the two Elise’s I have been in is really close to my 1985 Corvette with the Z51 “sport suspension” …

  • avatar

    +1 on the tire and damper upgrades, but besides those, on early Elises, the suspension was noisy. Lotus has been reluctant to admit to the problems but have made new dampers and springs available to owners that have complained enough. The latest cars seem are much quieter in comparison. There are three main causes of suspension noise:

    *The sway bar mountings have been assemble dry, causing a light tapping noise. This is easy to fix with some thick grease.

    *The springs touch the damper body causing a ‘cow bell’ noise over bumps. The service manual states that the front and rear road springs were changed to barrel shaped springs to reduce the possibility of the spring fouling the damper body. Also, an upgrade only means new springs (but not new dampers) and a revised top mount for the rear.

    *Damper knock caused by trapped air in the dampers resulting in a sound like someone hammering on the floor.

    Also, try an adjustable sway bar.

  • avatar

    Interesting, real-world review. I own an drive an X1/9, which has less power but many of the same issues. The Exxie’s ride is pretty sweet for such a short wheel base, though…

  • avatar

    I’ve had a sports car in the garage of some sort for many years and I have never considered them a daily driver. Weekends, autocross, summer road trips all are what these cars do best. For the daily driver, I have no problems driving a bit of a beater and have it take all the potholes, work miles and parking damage as long as I have something fun in the garage. Also if you can afford a Lotus, you can afford a commuter.

  • avatar

    I guess this proves that what happened in Vegas should stay in Vegas?

    Sorry, couldn’t resist… but I should have.

    I used a 1991 Miata as a DD for many years and thought it did quite well at the task. Mazda obviously made some more compromises for that use than Lotus and I think they really nailed it. I just added a couple of chassis braces similar to what Mazda added from the factory in later years and it controlled a lot of the chassis flex. Great A/C, decently compliant suspension, reliable, inexpensive to run… even a fairly useful trunk for grocery trips for a single guy. I only drove an Elise once, in Monterey on some nice smooth roads, and was quite smitten. Thanks for the perspective.

  • avatar

    The whole flaw in this story is that an elise is not a daily, maybe at best it’s a backup daily. These cars are for smoothish twisty roads and the track. It is one of the few cars that can be seriously tracked out the box. The consumables at the track wont break the bank either.

    As to feeling skittish, cheapo tires will do that. Run stock Yoko 008’s and the ride is Ok. Put some slicks on it and hit the track.

    As to adjustable suspension that and spring rates make a huge difference, but thats a 2k upgrade.Above 40 mph the ride smooths out anyway.

    What you get in an elise is a car that handles and has feedback slightly better than a porche GT3 for much less cost, that is also far less expensive to operate. If you blow a motor a new one is 4k. If you go crazy you can supercharge it up to 300bhp.

    But a minimalist car is always going to have comfort compromises. the only car i ever drove on the street that had better steering feel was an R5 turbo 2, and that was even less driveable than an elsise.

    Even if you lived with smooth roads, would you want to mix it up with SUV moms and trucks during rush hour traffic. Odds are they would not even see you before they hit.

    The other great thing about an elsie is its a fun small cheeky car, you can drive ridiculously and people just smile because it seems so small and innocuous.Think of it more like a RC car scaled up to put people in.

    Lastly what feels meerly quick through a given set of bends in my elise is already beyond what my M3 can do through the same bends.

    An elise is a two lane close quarter car. Buy a beater for the commute.

    If in life the only sportscar you ever had was an elise, you would have missed nothing compared to any other exotic in experience and fun.

  • avatar

    Your story reminded me of my younger brother’s experience renting a Viper: fun for a weekend rental, but NOT a daily driver!

  • avatar

    Funny how road conditions focus reality. My big heavy IRS Expedition remains the most comfortable rural road cruiser I ever had. Soaked up potholes, expansion joints, pavements joints & seams, patches, occasional tree limbs/branched they weren’t there. My Mustang GT always leaves me thinking I’ll need dental work or a new rim. I like how the writer faced his dream with a healthy dose of reality.

  • avatar
    Kevin Jaeger

    Excellent story. I have a ’94 Miata and I’ve occasionally lusted after a Lotus as well, so I appreciate the perspective.

    The Miata is awesome, but even with it I get tired of the road and wind noise at anything over 50mph. On longer trips I wear earplugs.

    The older I get the more I understand people opting for a Mercedes SLK, but I’m not quite there yet.

  • avatar

    Articles like this are akin to writing “It’s bad to have a motorcycle as a daily driver because when it rains you get wet.”

    Just get a Corolla to go with your Elise and take the one you feel like driving that day.

    Can’t afford both? Then replace the Elise with an X1/9.

    Still too much? Then get a motorcycle.

    Just stop trying to compare a weekend track toy to a weekday commuter appliance.

    • 0 avatar

      I think he wrote a great article in response to a dream that many of have, which is to sink all the money into an exotic and use it on a regular basis, instead of driving a dull-ass Corolla and dealing with an old, finicky X 1/9.

      You may be much more enlightened, but many of us have that dream. We highly value light, interesting cars, and at times convince ourselves that we will have no problem living with them.

      So I, for one, was interested to hear his honest evaluation of how that worked out for him.

      • 0 avatar
        Kevin Jaeger

        Agreed. We often complain about how our favorite cars have gotten heavy and soft over the years. This is a useful reminder to be careful what you wish for. The harsh ride, NVH, and limited space really do take their toll when the car is used more than the occasional joyride.

      • 0 avatar

        I think if you truly value light interesting cars then you simply do live with the compromises required. But that dream of the car that does it all is just that, a dream. I COULD live with my MR2 as a DD, but I wouldn’t want to, it simply is better as a second car. That doesn’t mean I don’t like it it or they designed it wrong, and it certainly doesn’t mean I would trade it for a SLK. I’d just rather use the right tool for the job. It was a well written article, but to me this is like complaining that my GTI cannot haul as much as a pickup or go off road like a Jeep.

    • 0 avatar

      I’d be fun to have an Elise as a daily driver while everyone else with a pulse is driving their compromise. An aftermarket fully adjustable suspension would be just the (E) ticket.

    • 0 avatar

      Go have a cigarette and stop taking your crankiness out on this guy.

      • 0 avatar

        cigarette? No, they make me cough, they cost too much, I can’t smoke where I want to, they shorten my like. Perhaps I’ll write a post on The Truth About Smoking?

      • 0 avatar

        Everything you just said is true about a Corolla, except they CAUSE crankiness too. Recommending a Corolla to an Elise owner is like recommending Islam to the Tea Party. Forget it. Ain’t gonna work buddy.

      • 0 avatar

        Recommending a Corolla to an Elise owner is like recommending Islam to the Tea Party

        That was the quote of the day!!

    • 0 avatar

      I do not follow the point of this critique. The article deals with the way people evaluate the suitability. As such it’s immensely useful, with the detail that’s relevant. It’s nothing like “you get wet on a motorcycle”.

  • avatar

    Methinks the B and B doth protest too much. This is one of my favorite articles in a LONG time on TTAC. I’ve always been curious how an exotic or a hardcore sports car would be as a daily driver. It puts the popularity of 3 series convertibles, SLKs, Audi A5s and whatnot into perspective.

    The roughest car I’ve ever driven was an early 2000s Integra with some kind of aftermarket suspension. I love sitting eye level with Lamborghini drivers, but even the relatively smooth 5 and 78 freeways in Oceanside and Carlsbad hammered me. Can’t imagine trying to thrash it on some rough farm roads up here in the North Bay.

  • avatar

    Try daily driving (during the warm months) a lifted Jeep Wrangler on 33″ tires in metro Detroit. Noisy? Check. Weak stereo? Check. Rough ride? Check. Funny part is that I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    I’m 6’2″ and have a hard time with ingress and egress in the Lotus as well as it’s cousin the Tesla roadster. Somehow I have no problem with a S2000, Miata, MR2 or a vintage MG or Triumph.

    • 0 avatar

      Yep. I’m 6’1, 220 and I sink into a Miata with no issues, yet I find Z3s to crowd me. I could only imagine trying to crunch into an Elise.

      • 0 avatar
        MRF 95 T-Bird

        I once drove a friends Z3 and found it to be fairly comfortable, though seat adjustments could have been better allowing for more travel. The 1st gen MR2 as well as the Fiero fit me OK.

  • avatar

    Thanks for this good article–I enjoyed it. I also want to compliment your use of the photos a la Murilee–intersperse the most important ones inside the article, leave a pile at the end so we can click on the ones we find interesting.

    Some things missing that I’m very curious about–what does a used Elise sell for? How much was the insurance? What does it cost for 4 hours in Vegas?

  • avatar

    But after all that – when you park it and walk away and take one look back – don’t you still feel that twinge. Beauty is it’s own reward.

    Me I’d park and ride. And there are some beautiful roads just outside of DC – I’m sure you’re exploring those.

  • avatar

    This reminds me of my experience with an Evo VIII as a daily driver. Loud exhaust and whining transmission? Check. Harsh, unyielding ride? Check. Audio system that couldn’t be heard at speed? Check. Crappy interior? Check. Part of a club of auto enthusiasts who appreciated what was really an out-of-the-box track car? Check.

    I drove it for five years because my love for the vehicle and its spectacular driving dynamics. But eventually my wife refused to be a passenger in it and I found myself driving it less and less. I still fondly remember my time with it, poor comfort withstanding. After all, I am a petrol head.

  • avatar

    Most MR2 Spyder owners see the Lotus Elise as a natural progression from their car. I’ve owned a red Spyder for 7 years and in stock form it’s definitely a usable daily driver. Sure the lack of trunk space is a problem but you find ways to work around it. Freeway driving can be noisy if there is a lot of truck traffic. But other than that it’s a perfectly usable car.

    The problem I had is that in stock form the suspension is too soft and doesn’t take full advantage of the mid-engine layout and low center of gravity. In other words it’s handling didn’t match the looks and potential of the car. The problem is that when you do add the after-market suspension and bracing to make the car a more capable sports car, you start entering Lotus Elise territory in regards to a lack of comfort. Then you wonder maybe I should just buy the Lotus :)

    • 0 avatar

      Before you say that, have you driven it in DC rush hour commuting? It really is a different world up there, and sure, the stock MR2 Spyder would be “better” than a stock Elise for comfort, but so would an Elise with softer dampers and slightly raised ride height. Like you said, you find ways to work around it if it is important to you to have one, but I don’t think that was the point of this article.

      Personally I wouldn’t bother trying to do the DC commute in any nice car, it just beats the car up too much, and the parking fears he mentioned as Reason #1 applies to any car you don’t want banged up. I did 3 years in a Buick Regal that was already banged up a bit by the previous elderly driver, it was perfect. Any time I took my “better” cars I regretted it.

      • 0 avatar

        DC has a pretty good subway system – I’d save the car for better things.

      • 0 avatar

        The “DC commute” is for people who live outside the city and drive in. If you have ever been there, a tremendous number of workers in DC cannot afford (or choose not to afford) to live in the city. So it is not uncommon for people to live 30-60 miles outside the city and drive in. The entire highway system is designed for this long commute. They do have wonderful trains as well, but only to a couple of areas, the least expensive areas only have highways. I do not mean anyone who lives anywhere near a Metro station, of course those people do not commute in, and yes, they are the in the best situation and in my opinion, the “smart ones”. My wife and I had decided if we ever move back we will live in the city. :)

  • avatar

    Before I wrote this post, I did (apple+f evora) and all I got was not found. If you must have a Lotus, the Evora is the one to buy.

  • avatar

    I did four years as an expat in the UK and, as a serial owner and weekend driver of old, unreliable British sports cars, I figured here was my chance to own a new, hopefully less unreliable British sports car every day. I mean, I had always said to myself if only my MG were more reliable it could totally be a daily driver. And so it was that I came to own a two year old Morgan +4 as my only car.

    The first three weeks were awesome. The next three weeks minor things started to annoy. Then the minor annoyances became major. I started to wish the damn thing wasn’t so reliable. I began to hate the car I had always wanted. And I do mean hate. And so after only six months, a sensible diesel Golf joined the stable. And after I let it sit in the garage for a few more months I fell in love with the Morgan again. On the weekends.

  • avatar

    Great writing the good the bad and the ugly of a lotus as a dd, I would have kept the 928 or bought a boxster myself but a very enjoyable read

  • avatar

    never buy your heroes.

  • avatar

    Why buy a Elise to use as a daily driver, especially in DC traffic? That traffic would make me hate any car I was driving, just by proxy.

    I just don’t get the point in buying a car like that, just to run into the ground with commuting. Save the nice cars for the weekends and buy a little beater for the week (which, no intention towards the author, but others it means sometimes buying a cheaper “nicer” car and leave some left over for the beater).

    It keeps your new cars much nicer and lasting much longer, and for the toys; it keeps their specialness fresh. Article is the perfect point for multiple car ownership, or “Don’t blow all your money on one really nice car you can’t live with daily”. Kudos for the author on his candidness.

  • avatar

    I had a very similar experience a few years back when I bought my ’95 Miata R-package with 31K on the clock. Sure, it could take corners without a squat, especially considering the 15×7 RPF1 wheel upgrade I gave it but it was an absolute nightmare to drive on Boston roads. You could feel every pothole, every crease, every cigarette butt! That car was also made for the track with it’s stiff factory Bilstein shocks. Changing dried out bumpstops helped but not much.

    I also used it as a daily driver for 2 summers before realizing I can’t take it any longer. Then I swapped suspension for adjustable Tokicos. Those helped to turn it into a better all-around driver but amazing cornering left the house along with that.

    Of course there were similar issues with noise (anything over 1 hour on highway required ear plugs), relatively uncomfy cockpit, etc. But I still loved that car and some day might own another one. There is just something about Miata that makes it awesome despite all its shortcomings.

  • avatar

    I don’t find the Elise exotic at all. Its a gokart kit with Toyota motor, a British Pontiac Fiero built even shoddier. For all that trouble? Yawn.

    • 0 avatar
      Charles T

      Surely you can find a better reason for being apathetic about a car than the fact that it’s a compromised mongrel. The Jensen Interceptor, De Tomaso Pantera, all Aston Martins since the DB7, and the Iso Grifo would beg to differ.

      • 0 avatar

        Soundtrack of a Corolla, screaming, is sound of a kit car, and not very compelling for an exciting road car. I knew Panteras, but had to look up Jensen Interceptors and Iso Grifos. And low and behold, all three have Yankee pushrod V8s making tons of power and sound awesome. That’s no Corolla. And ever since Aston Martin ‘made’ the Cygnet, they’re dead to me. So they don’t count.

        Ditto for this thing’s not-so-exotic handling. Real cars – even ‘exotic’ ones – can go down real roads. Kit cars go down tracks but little else, as the author’s experience with his kit car revealed.

        A fast exotic road car is one thing, and an all out barely street-legal race car is another. A Lotus Elise is a really slow barely street-legal race car. I don’t see the appeal.

  • avatar

    I’m happy you did this piece. The Elise was one of those only seen it from afar and I think I could somewhat financially attain it someday exotics. Now not so much, but will look for a rental opportunity next time I’m in Vegas.

  • avatar


    A supposed car guy buys a Lotus Elise– which has an extensive forum dating back to 2004 in which every idiosyncrasy of the car is dissected, and is surprised that it has a bad stereo? That it is harsh over potholes? Or that with the top off there is wind noise?

    Only the irredeemably dumb would use this as a DD, since any research would tel you the car was designed as a second vehicle to be driven when the time was right, not to the drugstore. It is a classic sportscar, with comfort compromises dialed back in favor of road feel. That is why the seats are low and have thin padding, so you can use your butt to know where the car is and what it’s doing. That is why the suspension has softer springs but stiffer shocks, so you can intuit the slip angle as you corner. It is very much not a go-cart, as some have mentioned, it is a chassis with a fair amount of suspension movement that is designed to impart information to the knowledgeable driver. Honestly, if you don’t know this why even get the car?

    Aside from that, all one needs to know is that the author rode around for 7 months with mismatched tires. Maybe one more thing: the soft top stows perfectly between the rear tailights in the boot. It shouldn’t take 7 months to figure that out. And TTAC published this?

    • 0 avatar


      Finally one of the B&B gets it.

    • 0 avatar

      The implication of the author’s piece is that many of the features that make a sports car enjoyable for short drives are the very same features that create annoyance if they become a daily requirement.

      Enthusiasts grouse a lot about “compromise”, but “compromise” is really a euphemism for “easier to live with in the real world.” Compromise is generally a virtue when it comes to cars, despite what enthusiasts may think.

      And that’s a fair point to be made on an enthusiasts website. A balanced car that’s easy to live with isn’t the mark of a sell out, but of a realist.

      • 0 avatar

        An Elise is a toy like a motorcycle or a jet ski or a private plane and not an everyday-for-everyman mode of transportation (just as motorcycles, jet skis, or private planes are not).

        This should be obvious on an enthusiasts’ web site. The fact that it isn’t indicates that TTAC is becoming less of an enthusiasts’ site.

      • 0 avatar

        “This should be obvious on an enthusiasts’ web site.”

        But it isn’t. Enthusiasts are often unrealistic, and have completely unreasonable expectations for the market and general car ownership.

        If they like diesels, then the lack of diesels must be due to some government conspiracy. (God forbid that the difference might be due to a lack of consumer demand.)

        If they like manual transmissions, then those who prefer automatics are too dumb or boring to know better.

        And why would anyone buy the lower horsepower version of a car, when everyone knows that more power is always better? (Presumably, these enthusiasts never pay for their own gas….)

  • avatar
    Jeff Snavely

    After reading the many comments about my article, I’d like to add some short follow-up responses:

    The Elise was not my only car – I have a 2000 Mercedes E320 wagon as my beater car. I didn’t drive the Elise every day but did as much as I could. I actually enjoyed it in heavy traffic (easy clutch, very tractable), but the harsh roads & parking were the problems.
    Weekend toys are fun but I’m of the firm belief that cars should be enjoyed on a regular basis if possible.

    Comments about “throwing all my money into” the Lotus are unfounded – I paid $27k for the car and sold it 6 months later for a bit more.

    The rear tires had just been replaced by the previous owner to pass inspection. He bought cheapies as he was selling the car and I knew I wasn’t keeping the car for a long time so I didn’t bother to replace them. He was not a hard-core enthusiast but didn’t mistreat the car as it was in excellent condition.

    I was well aware of the car’s idiosyncrasies from the Lotus forum etc. Having rented one TWICE I was certainly more familiar with the car than probably 99% of prospective buyers.

    I drove a ’91 Miata for 8 years on the same DC area roads and have also owned an ’02 Boxster, ’99 911 cabrio, and an ’01 Audi TT Quattro convertible right before the Elise. I have also test driven most other small sports cars & convertibles so I am quite familiar with the quirks of small sports cars. The Elise is exponentially more harsh, impractical, loud and compromised than any other small sports car I’ve every driven. It can’t be compared to any other normal car (except maybe the Evo).

    Of course I know that the top fits into the trunk! However, when the aftermarket Sector 11 trunk bootie is installed the top doesn’t easily fit, especially if you have any stuff in the trunk. This bootie is an essential upgrade as the stock trunk is only lined on the floor. Objects in the trunk can roll around and easily damage the exposed bare fiberglass of the rear clamshell and the exposed tail lights.

    Despite some peoples’ rude comments, I think this article is of interest to the majority of TTAC’s readers.

  • avatar

    I think this is just a case of right car, wrong person. The Elise certainly does not suite everyone.

    I own a 2012 Elise and many of these issues no longer exist on the newer models. The suspension is a lot more compliant and interior noise levels have been improved as well as higher quality audio components.

    An crying shame a business case couldn’t be made to keep the current Elise/Exige variants in North America.

  • avatar

    Surprised no BAC Mono talk as a daily driver.

    All kidding aside, why don’t you just move downtown and save time take transit.

    Go for a drive after work with the top down, watch the sunset on the capital hit the red line.


    1 hour commute 5x week x 50 weeks yr= 6.25 weeks a yr saved (40h week) over 5 yrs that’s 7.81 months spent in your car, going to work- lame and you live in the suburbs, lamer still.
    how’s that stucco or vinyl house working out for you?

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