For about eight glorious years, U.S. buyers had the privilege of being able to purchase the lightweight Lotus Elise sports car. The car, fully assembled and ready to take on America’s highways and race tracks, was a hit with buyers thirsty for true driving thrills.
The car first became available in the United States in 2004 and offered a unique combination of speed, efficiency, and striking looks at a reasonable price. The Lotus dream in America lasted until 2011, when the British company had to pull the Elise out of the market due to non-compliant airbags.
Today Lotus is preparing for re-entry into the market with a new Elise and, potentially, an SUV.
Making the original Elise compliant would have required reworking the front end of the car and adding side airbags. According to a 2015 Automotive News article, those changes would have added about 220 pounds to the vehicle, a change that didn’t adhere to Lotus founder Colin Chapman’s famous ethos of “Simplify, and add lightness.”
In that same article, current Lotus CEO Jean-Marc Gales said the next-generation Elise will be U.S. compliant.
The Lotus Evora 400 is approved for sale in the U.S. and much of the safety technology used in that car will transfer to the smaller, less expensive Elise. While the company still strives to build lightweight cars that maintain the legendary Lotus steering feel, the new Elise will likely weigh more than the previous version sold here.
Autoblog says the car will be slightly wider to accommodate side airbags, but otherwise will have similar dimensions and a similar power-to-weight ratio. The article quoted Gales as saying, “Lotus will not fit electrical steering [systems]. They take away the steering feel.” Expect hydraulic steering, another Toyota-sourced powerplant, and the choice of an automatic or manual transmission.
Gales also took the possibility of Lotus hybrids off the table, as the gas-electric systems add weight and complexity.
While Lotus remains one of the few companies still holding pure driving credentials, it’s starting to scare some people with talk of a potential SUV. Gales said,
The SUV is an interesting market. We’re working on a concept but haven’t made a decision yet.
An SUV wouldn’t happen until after the new Elise goes on sale. While the very idea might seem to compromise the Lotus tradition, a Lotus ‘ute that adheres to the “simplify, and add lightness” ethos would be a welcome and exciting addition to current U.S. offerings.
We can expect the new Elise to hit showrooms in 2020.
Lotus appears ready to storm back into the United States. Would a lightweight SUV appeal to you?