We try the road-going version of Lotus's club race car

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The Lotus Elise S Cup is the latest incarnation of a car whose concept turns 20 this year. There is a generation of car enthusiasts (and buyers) who have only known life with a Lotus Elise in it.

Perhaps you’re one of them. If so, there was a time when a lightweight car with an extruded and bonded aluminium chassis clothed with a composite skin was not on the shortlist of every sports car buyer. And there was a time when Lotus didn’t need to keep refreshing the range, as with this car, to keep piquing your interest.

The Lotus Elise S Cup is a road-going version of a race car. You've probably heard that before, but this time its true.

This variant sounds like a good one. It’s the Elise S Cup, which is a road-going version of a race car. You’ve probably heard that before, but this time it’s true.

There’s a racing car called the Elise Cup R, which is a 217bhp, lightly supercharged Elise variant, and it competes in various Lotus and amateur GT series around the world.

Well, this is such a car, without air-con and comfort pack and so on but with some of the elements that would have prevented it from being road registered put back in. It has airbags, for example. The FIA roll cage and seats have been replaced, too.

Sounds an odd mix, but go with it. The suspension is the same as the race car (firmer than standard Elise, with an adjustable front anti-roll bar), the aero pack is the same as the race car, and the additional wiring loom, for the ignition cut-out and plumbed-in fire system, remains in place.

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And that’s important, because while it means your Elise S Cup is fully type approved and receives its number plates as usual, at £43,500, everything that made it a racing car in the first instance can be put back in as an option, making it eligible to race while retaining its newfound road-legal status.

So you can win on Sunday and commute on Monday. It is a racing car for the road in the genuine meaning of the phrase.

It’s quick, too. It isn't obviously supercharged; there's just ample poke at all revs, up to the 7000rpm redline, although there's no great need to take it there at road speeds, where the mid-range is plenty.

On a circuit, things are a little different, and you’ll find yourself nudging the limiter often, such is the ease with which the engine spins. The gearshift remains good but not great, while there are noticeable, but superbly controlled, body movements under braking and cornering.

These, though, only serve to better telegraph the impending approach of the car’s limits, at which point, on a steady throttle, it’ll push into understeer slightly.

If you’re on the power, or you’ve turned in while trailing the brakes to settle the nose, the Elise becomes neutral or will oversteer with a breathtaking level of controllability for a short, mid-engined, lightweight sports car. Its handling remains an unbridled joy.

There are many ways to buy a manufacturer-built racing car these days, but few are as usable as the Lotus Elise S Cup. Few are so much fun. And few are such good value.

That all serves to make it a winner all week long, regardless of whether you can make it one on a weekend afternoon.

Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes.