LOTUS Elise Models/Series Timeline, Specifications & Photos

Generations: 6
First production year: 1997
Engines: Gasoline
Body style: Convertible (spider/spyder, cabrio/cabriolet, drop/open/soft top)
LOTUS Sport 240 Final Edition photo gallery

After a few other final editions, Lotus decided to retire the Elise in a true Final Edition roadster that added a few extra ponies and added some changes to the car's look both in and outside.

It might be hard to imagine how the Elise survived on the market for a quarter of a century. It was revealed in 1996, and it went through constant upgrades over time, but in essence, it remained the same bare-chassis sports car. It was the car that saved the Lotus brand and made it great again. No pun intended.

The major changes were for the colors from the outside, which evoked the original paint schemes of the original, 1996, Elise. Lotus offered the Final Edition 240 in Azure Blue, Black, and Racing Green. As a statement for the final 2021 edition, Lotus added "Final Edition 240 Sport" decals on the front fenders. There was no massive rear wing in the back.

Inside, the biggest change was the TFT instrument panel that replaced the analog dials. It featured a two-screen display, one for regular street use and another one for racing, on the tracks. A thick and slightly wider steering wheel clad in leather and Alcantara helped the driver to keep the car under control via the unassisted steering. Between the seats, the carmaker left the gear-box linkages exposed as a spectacular metallic sculpture.

The engine was the same 1.8-liter supercharged four-mill tuned to provide 240 hp. Yes, the Final Edition Sport 240 was heavier than the original 1996 Elise, but it was still a light sports car by any means, and the engine was there just to push it from one corner to another.

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LOTUS Elise Cup photo gallery

By 2016, the Elise was already a car that could cope well with daily traffic situations, but it started to fade in terms of performance, so Lotus went back to its roots, shaved some weight from the car, and gave it a more powerful engine.

With the Elise Cup 250, Lotus tried to create a real driver's car to give the owners the satisfaction of having a capable sportscar. It didn't have to behave excellently in daily driving situations just to do it well. On the other hand, it had to be supercar-fast in straight-line accelerations and still be well-planted to the road during high-speed cornering situations. And that's exactly what the Elise Cup 250 was: a race car with number plates.

At first glance, it didn't look that much different than the Series 3 Elise that Lotus introduced in 2011. It featured the same headlights with integrated daytime running lights, which doubled as turn signals, underlined them. At the same time, the grille from the lower part of the bumper was the same, but the automaker considered adding a carbon fiber spoiler underneath it, and it was not just for the look; it was functional. On the front panel, the automaker added black trims that emphasized the functional role of the exhaust vents.

The car's profile revealed more elements that let the bystanders know that the Elise Cup 250 was not ordinary. Its carbon fiber side sills were the first to tell them that, and also the lightweight alloy wheels painted black were also part of the package. As expected, the cockpit didn't get any exterior enhancements other than the black-painted upper side of the safety arches mounted behind the seats. Last but not least, the automaker added a carbon fiber wing on the deck that created downforce and made the car even more capable of high cornering speeds.

Since customers had to feel why they had to pay some more for this version of the Elise, the automaker installed standard carbon fiber sports seats in the cockpit with integrated headrests and cutaways for racing harnesses. Still, the dashboard was similar to the rest of the Elise range but adorned by carbon fiber trims. In addition, the aluminum pedals and gear stick were clear signs that the car was different than its regular, non-Cup version sibling. Like the rest of the Elise range, the Cup 250 version didn't feature a power steering. At least the owners could order the car with air conditioning for those hot days on the race track.

Behind the cabin, the automaker installed an upgraded version of Toyota's chargecooled supercharged 1.8-liter engine. Here, too, customers could shave some weight if they ordered the car with the titanium exhaust. But still, the 860 kilos (1,896 lbs) couldn't be considered "heavy" by any standards of those times. The power went to the rear wheels via a six-speed manual, and Lotus considered that the Elise Cup 250 didn't need a limited-slip differential.

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LOTUS Elise photo gallery

Lotus introduced the Series 3 for the Elise in 2010, a decade after launching the Series 2 into production, and it was mostly a refreshed version rather than a new model.

Lotus, like many other niche automakers, suffered during the world financial crisis. Still, the Elise was selling well; some might say it didn’t need improvement. But Lotus thought differently. Since the Euro 5 emission standards were due to enter in January 2011, the British automaker considered refreshing the Series 2, which it launched at the beginning of 2010. Besides some aesthetic changes, the lightweight sportscar also had new engines under its hood and an updated cabin for daily driving.

One of the most obvious changes of the Series 3 over the Series 2 was noticed up front. The 2010 model came with snake-like-shaped headlights. They integrated the LED daytime running lights, which doubled as turn signals, underlining the headlamps. As a result, the blinkers from the upper side of the bumper were deleted. In the apron, the automaker installed the main air intake shaped like a smile. As an option, customers could order the car with a pair of fog lamps, which flanked the grille. Lower, on the sides, Lotus added a pair of scoops that cooled the front rotors.

A keen eye for detail could notice the differences between a Series 2 and a Series 3, the most evident being in the air intakes placed on the rear quarter panels. While on the S2 Elise, the automaker added five horizontal fins that streamlined the airflow, on the S3, those aerodynamic elements were deleted. In addition, Lotus offered a new design for the wheels and even a lightweight set that shaved 2.14 kilos (4.7 lbs.) compared to the standard ones. But still, no major aesthetic changes were made for the best-selling Lotus to that date since the Elise, in its 14 years of production, accounted for 32% of all Lotus cars manufactured since 1948.

Customers asked Lotus to create lightweight cars, but not with a scarce interior. As a result, the automaker offered a base version that featured nothing but a steering wheel, dual airbag, and a ventilation system, while buyers could opt for additional items. They could have the car fitted with an air conditioning system, a leather-wrapped interior, and a factory-installed, off-the-shelf stereo. Power steering was still unavailable, but power windows, yes. There were fewer aluminum elements left exposed in the cockpit, and that delighted customers. But there was a price for these added amenities: the weight.

Behind the cockpit, Lotus introduced a range of Euro 5 compatible engines. Surprisingly, the car manufacturer installed an even smaller displacement powerplant carried over from Toyota. If U.S. customers could have the Elise S3 in basic specification fitted with a 1.8-liter, Europeans and other buyers could get it with a 1.6-liter naturally aspirated powerplant. At least both of them featured the same six-speed manual gearbox also provided by Toyota but with Lotus’ specifications. The car came standard with a track-tuned ABS.

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LOTUS Elise photo gallery

Lotus remained true to its beliefs when it refreshed the Elise for the 2008 model year, and besides adding a few neat visual options, it also improved the powertrain.

When Lotus introduced the Elise in 1996, the world was stunned by the car’s lightweight construction. Its chassis weighed just a mere 68 kg (150 lbs). It was the lightest sports car in the world, and that crown remained on the British car’s forehead for years. When the automaker introduced the second generation of the Elise in 2001, the car gained more popularity thanks to its enhanced exterior and improved features. But then, in 2008, the automaker considered that an additional push in the Elise’s image would boost the sales. As a result, the car was upgraded, and besides punchier Toyota-sourced engines that replaced the Rover ones, it was also better in terms of interior and exterior design.

The car’s front showed a broad grille on the lower side of the bumper flanked by a pair of scoops and integrating the fog lamps. Its headlights featured two headlamps, and the turn signals under the same swept-back, teardrop-shaped lens. In addition, the parking lights adorned the upper side of the bumper, just below the deeply sculptured hood that sported two exhaust vents. It is worth mentioning that every scoop and every vent of the car was functional; none of them was just for look.

The Elise has always been a low-profile sports car with a raked windshield and a fixed safety arch behind the cockpit, and the 2008 model followed the same rule. A folding canopy or a rigid, insulated top was also available as standard or an option, depending on the market and version. The C-shaped side scoops that grabbed air and channeled it to the engine were also part of this sportscar charm. At the back, the twin round taillights mounted on the rear panel were fitted with LEDs, and the carmaker’s name was applied with taller lettering than before. Under the bumper, Lotus installed a twin exhaust below the diffuser.

Lotus made the Elise to be a true sports car that could also serve its owners on regular travels. Still, that didn’t mean it was very accessorized. It featured a scarce interior with little to no amenities. Still, for the 2008 model year, the automaker considered installing an upgraded sound system that could also play music from an MP3 player or an iPod and an AC unit that could do its job well when the rigid roof was in place. The sports seats fitted with bolstered areas were narrow and separated by a slim center console, making their occupants rub their elbows. Still, there was a storage area behind the seats for small items. As for the luggage compartment, Lotus installed one behind the mid-mounted engine.

Under the hood, Lotus gradually abandoned the formerly used Rover K-series engines, replacing them with the Toyota-produced 1ZZ and its supercharged version, the 2ZZ powerplants. Europeans got the Elise S with a 136 PS (134 hp) version as the base model, while in the U.S., the entry-level got a 192 PS (189 hp) naturally-aspirated engine. Those willing for more could have the 220 PS (212 hp) supercharged version.

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LOTUS Elise photo gallery

In 2001, Lotus introduced the Series 2 of the Elise, giving it an upgraded look that made the lightweight British sportscar even more desirable.

With the Elise, the British automaker was practically reborn. The lightweight targa-top vehicle became a worldwide sensation in just a few years. Despite its low power, it was faster on race tracks than many other sportscars from that era. Moreover, its cornering speed ability was excellent. But soon, customers started to complain about the car’s ability to cope with traffic. It was too rigid, had a scarce interior, and some of its design lines were not the most pleasant on the road. Then, Lotus considered improving its best-selling model and launched the Elise Series 2 in 2001.

The most significant exterior change was at the front, where the dual round headlights were replaced with snake-eyes-shaped ones that integrated two headlamps and the parking lights. Between them, on the upper side of the bumper, the automaker installed a set of new elliptical turn signals. Furthermore, on the apron, the redesigned grille was flanked by two side scoops. There was one thing that nobody complained about, and that was the massive exhaust vents on the front panel.

From its profile, the car kept its overall shape with the raked windshield and the short cabin. But instead of the previous small air intakes placed on the quarter panels, Lotus installed taller and wider ones that were extended over the sculptured door panels. Finally, at the back, the Elis featured an integrated lip spoiler into the rear lid that concealed the trunk and the engine bay. Another upgrade was for the removable rag top that covered the tiny cabin, which was easier to install and remove. Out back, the Lotus badge took center stage on the rear fascia while the round taillights remained similar. Another change was for the exhausts, which were moved downward compared to their initial position on the Series 1 Elise and integrated into the diffuser under the bumper.

The cabin was still cramped due to the wide side sills of the aluminum chassis, which forced Lotus to install slim sports seats. Between them, a narrow center console housed the hand brake and the gear stick. For the 2001 model year, customers could order the car with an Alcantara-wrapped dashboard, which reduced glare and made the car look more upscale. Still, the instrument cluster remained similar, with two large dials for the speedometer and tachometer and a few warning lights underneath.

Behind the cockpit, Lotus had to install a new range of engines that could comply with the new Euro3 emission standards that became mandatory for all cars sold starting in January 2001. Rover’s K-series engines were still available for specific markets, so Toyota started to supply its inline-four 1.8-liter powerplants to Lotus, with or without superchargers. Like in the previous model, the Series 2 Elise was only available with a manual transmission.

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LOTUS Elise photo gallery

The Elise was one of the most important vehicles in the Lotus' history since it changed the company and led it into the third millennium with a lightweight, mid-engine roadster.

When Collin Chapman established the Lotus car company back in 1948, his idea was not to put large engines in a vehicle to make it faster but to make it lighter. Using aluminum spares from the aircraft industry and small-size engines, he created one of the most iconic roadsters in the world, the famous Lotus Seven. Later, the automaker evolved its lineup into more luxurious, powerful, and heavier vehicles, which was not a successful recipe. In 1996, though, that changed drastically when Lotus unveiled the Elise. By using bonded, hydroformed aluminum, Richard Rackham, head of Lotus's engineering, created a 68 kg (150 lbs) chassis, installed a Rover K-series engine behind the cabin, and the result was a roadster that weighted less than any other sports car in the world. At that time, Romano Artioli was the chairman of Lotus, and he named the car after his granddaughter, Elise.

The car's front fascia featured a pair of round headlights mounted on the fenders, while the turn signals were mounted on the upper side of the bumper, between them. One of the particular design elements of the car was the two functional vents on the hood that helped to cool the radiator mounted between them and the air intake cut into the lower side of the bumper.

From its profile, the little British roadster featured a raked windshield, and a short cabin fit for two people. On the side, the sculptured door panels led the airflow towards the rear intakes to the engine. Customers could have the car with either a rag top or a removable rigid one. After the cabin, the deck covered the engine and the trunk, which was behind the engine. Depending on the options, the car featured a small wing out back, in addition to the fixed spoiler that incorporated the third braking light. The Elise's twin taillights echoed those installed on the 1957 Lotus Elite.

When Lotus created the Elise, it tried to keep everything simple, so the car's cabin was scarce and minimalistic. Its exposed aluminum elements and the thin seats were just part of the lightweight package offered by the Roadster. There was a very slim center console between the occupants, and in front of the driver was an instrument cluster that featured the large dials of the speedometer and tachometer, plus additional warning lights.

Lotus sourced its engines from the British automaker Rover, which provided the 1.8-liter inline-four powerplant. Thanks to the lightweight construction, the car could accelerate very fast and was capable of high-speed cornering. The five-speed manual gearbox was the only available option for the Elise.

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