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Handling CharacteristicsThe Lotus Elise handling characteristics vary depending on the tyre choice, pressure and other factors such as car load, road conditions, suspension settings, etc. From my experience of the standard car running Pirelli P-Zero tyres at the recommended tyre pressures, the Elise is very controllable at the limit, but with a 39%/61%, front/rear weight distribution you need to be careful in how you approach the edges of the performance envelope. The tyre pressures can dramatically affect the characteristics of the car so check them regularly.
The characteristics described below were identified and tested on private property, under both dry and wet conditions. I would recommend experimenting with the cars behaviour on the limit but, I do not suggest you do it on public roads. It requires higher speeds and larger expanses of tarmac than can be found on any UK road. I don't claim to be an expert driver or an expert on the handling of the Elise. These views just reflect my experiences and are provided for guidance only. Other Elise owners may disagree with them.
The Elise is a very fast and capable car but requires respect when driven near it's limits. Always give it the respect it deserves and then give it a little bit more for luck. Be aware that unexpected changes in road conditions can take you outside of its performance envelope instantly.
AccelerationUnder hard, straight line acceleration from a standing start the Elise will transfer weight to the rear and allow a large amount of power to be transferred to the road. In the standard car it is quite easy to spin the wheels from a standing start in the dry. Whilst changing direction, e.g. pulling out from a T-junction, it is easier to break traction resulting in the rear end drawing an arc, out across the junction (and further across the road than the front of the car travels). So long as power is maintained and the steering pointed in the desired direction, the car will not 'fish-tail'.
BrakingThe Elise has amazing braking abilities in the dry with incredible levels of feedback. In wet or other slippery conditions there is no ABS to assist you (later cars have ABS though) and braking distances are obviously much longer. Under severe, straight line braking in the dry, the Elise will transfer weight to the front of the car and the rear end will lighten. At the limit of tyre traction the rear end will squirm and tend to follow the line of the road. Applying further brake pressure at this point will cause the rear tyres to lock and then further pressure will cause the front tyres to lock.
Braking whilst cornering is not recommended at high speeds, it can initiate and accentuate the lift-off oversteer characteristic. At slower speeds the car will transfer weight to the front and to the outside of the car, the point at which the rear-end 'lets go' being hard to predict. At 'normal' driving speeds the car behaves predictably.
CorneringUnder consistent, hard acceleration or 'power drift' through corners the Elise is very controllable. You can use additional power to drift the rear as required and gently easing off to bring the rear end back in. When at the edge of adhesion, mid-corner, you do not want to lift off of the throttle too abruptly or the rear end will try to overtake the front. This means that you should enter corners at a speed you can be sure you can maintain through the whole corner, i.e. a slow in and fast out approach. You should allow for obstacles and variations in road surface that may not be visible at the approach.
Under these 'lift-off oversteer' conditions the Elise is also quite controllable if the lift-off is gentle, though no where near as controllable as under power through a corner. You can use this characteristic to control the attitude of the car through a corner but as the back end comes further round, more and more power is required to regain control and at about 30° the power of the standard car is insufficient to regain control, resulting in a spin. If you are forced to lift off abruptly, i.e. you meet an obstacle mid-corner, you have no option and the car will spin and you will lose control. If at all possible, maintain a constant throttle pressure and power your way round or through (e.g. an animal) any obstacles. This may result in less damage.
The Elise can also be forced to understeer by rapid changes in direction with the steering wheel, though I have found this hard to reproduce on my car and the effect to be minimal. It is more likely to occur in the wet.
Always bear in mind that a corner may have unexpected surface conditions or adverse cambers which will take the car from a point well within it's performance envelope to one well outside in a split second. If this happens the rear-end may 'step out' and catching it requires the driver to be very alert and familiar with the cars behaviour under these conditions. The first time I found myself in this situation, I over-corrected. The Elise is not forgiving in this situation, the rear end will snap back quickly often resulting in the driver losing the rear end in the other direction and spinning out of control. For me this proved an expensive learning exercise only, on another day it could have proved fatal.
Wet WeatherThe Elise is a light car. It will aquaplane easily if you hit standing water. Many people have crashed their cars under these circumstances so be very wary of standing water. Icy roads are also best avoided in an Elise for similar reasons.
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Copyright © Rob Collingridge 2009 - Last updated 07/06/07