Original test: Lotus Elan SE

If the roadster has front-wheel drive, then with panache. In any case, Lotus has come quite close to the claim of building the first front-wheel drive super sports car. The original driving report was written by Bob Murray in 1990.

When Japan copies British roadsters, as in the case of the Mazda Miata MX-5, English sports car companies are also allowed to unabashedly build Japanese cars. At first, second and third glance, the new Lotus Elan is at least a very un-British automobile. First look - the body. Genealogists could assume that behind the wide, short roadster with the sloping bonnet and the chubby rear was the infidelity of the Treser roadster with a wind tunnel. Second look - the engine. The letters Lotus are shown in red on the cylinder head cover, but only behind the metal-colored lettering Isuzu of the engine supplier. The other lettering DOHC 16 V and Turbo in the engine compartment cannot hide the fact that the engine, like in a small car, is installed transversely in front of the front axle. Third look - the drive. The drive shafts lead from the differential, which is interlocked with the gearbox and engine, to the front wheels in an elegantly short manner. ,

Since Lotus became a subsidiary of the American General Motors group in 1986, the tradition has been limited to the company crest. Current splendor, i.e. new models and quite well-padded finances, is polished up with modern management methods. There are few arguments against the profitability of mass-produced components and front-wheel drive, and this logic led via the parent company to the appropriate Japanese motor racks from Isuzu, because GM also has a 41.6 percent stake in this company. In addition, from Austin and Coventry Climax to Ford and Renault, Lotus has always been a good feed converter for foreign engine manufacturers.

130 hp in the naturally aspirated version

Apart from hollow chauvinism, the basic engine of the Isuzu Gemini GTI fits well in a Lotus. The 1,588 cc engine delivers 130 hp (96 kW) at 7,200 rpm in the naturally aspirated version and 165 hp (121 kW) at 6,600 rpm with the exhaust gas turbocharger, easily reaching the glory of old Lotus Elan machines in terms of numbers. The 1.6 liter turbo engine, flanked by an intercooler, unpacks enough torque from 1,500 rpm to roll along in fifth gear with all reserves of power, and then revs just as willingly, albeit noisily, up to the red zone at 7,000 rpm. At a cruising speed of 140 km/h, the engine only revs at 4,000 rpm in fifth gear and is therefore in the range of its maximum torque of 200 Nm at 4,200 rpm. In connection with the response of the turbine in the case of the Lotus-Isuzu, the term "delay" can probably be ticked off as done, the engine reacts with rapid breath to every movement of the accelerator pedal.Only when accelerating hard is that certain turbocharged kick felt in first and second gear, which causes the front wheels to spin a little when the road is wet. ,

Only the construction of the body directly follows the first Elan chapter, which was finished under the legendary Lotus founder Colin Chapman in 1973. Even 17 years later, for the Lotus Elan of the 1990s, the box-section central frame that runs lengthwise through the floor of the car like a metal spine and carries the body, drive unit, front subframe and wheel suspension is still good enough. This so-called backbone principle, even with an open, non-load-bearing, fiber-reinforced plastic body, ensures such good torsional rigidity that even winding and bumpy English country roads cannot refute the Lotus claim that the Elan is one of the most torsionally rigid open-top cars of all.

Racing handling

The classic advantages of front-wheel drive had once again caused the Lotus chassis technicians to tingle in the neck that only Colin Chapman used to trigger with his demand for racing handling in road cars as well. One felt at least obliged to neutralize the front-wheel drive. That's why the front axle is not only guided in a complex manner on the upper and lower wishbones, but also mounted on a small aluminum subframe for additional precision. Drive shafts of the same length should also give the prejudice of the typical front-wheel drive a new sign, namely that Lotus-typical is the same as front-wheel drive atypical. ,

During the first drives with a pre-production model around the Lotus plant in Hethel, Norfolk, all negative influences of the front-wheel drive actually seemed to have been canceled. Neither the 15-inch front wheels nor the direct and precise power steering bite the 165 turbo hp uncomfortably. Even under the stricter criteria of driving a car quickly in an English roundabout with the wheels turned, the front-wheel drive remains mannered. The Brit in the driver therefore enthusiastically raises the Lotus Elan SE to the first front-wheel drive super sports car, which can still have a subtle understeering handling.

Available from autumn for 65,000 marks

The Lotus Elan SE loses this distinction in the interior. The wide bucket seats also accommodate taller people comfortably, offer good lateral support and, with red horizontal stripes in the leather cover, also meet the expectations of exclusive fads - but that largely settles the issue of ergonomics. The dashboard does not fit into a British-Japanese roadster in terms of its height and bulkiness.,

The three additional instruments for boost pressure, oil pressure and voltmeter are hardly visible due to reflection, the digital clock is hidden behind the turn signal lever, and the center console that is too high hinders the elbow when shifting. The gearbox would have all the (Japanese) systems for (un-British) smooth shifting processes with long travels, but without any noticeable mechanical resistance in the shift lever. Lotus will produce about 3,000 models per year with a lot of vigour, but wants to remain British exclusive in terms of price and will accept a good 65,000 marks for the turbo version SE in Germany from autumn. ,


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