Buying a used car: Lotus Elise Mk3 (price, strengths, weaknesses)

  • Pricing : from 25,000 euros
  • Marketing : from 2010 to today

If some manufacturers stubbornly escalate to power and technology, Lotus takes the opposite view, concocting simple and efficient cars. And the recipe is unchanged: make it as light as possible, and fit mass-produced mechanics to reduce costs.

Thus, after the unforgettable Seven and Elan, the Elise is also on the way to becoming a cult car. Born in 1996 with a Rover block, this frail wasp-waisted roadster has evolved with the times, without betraying its fundamentals.

However, she has changed a lot, starting with her line, a little less chubby than in the past. Purists will blame him not for adopting a block of Toyota origin since April 2010, but for a relative gentrification.

Be aware: in addition to ESP, traction control and keyless ignition, the Elise now offers a “Touring pack” including leather interior, sound insulation panels and even… cup holders.

However, under its modernized looks, the Elise remains identical. Its structure is a model of lightness and rigidity, similar to a bonded aluminum bathtub. The rear mid-engine architecture, meanwhile, ensures top-notch balance and agility.

Difficult however to salivate at the sight of the technical sheet: this third version contains a modest 4-cylinder 1.6 Toyota of… 136 hp.

But you have to read the weight, contained at only 906 kg, which is a feat these days. This allows the Elise to stand up to the GTIs, covering the 0 to 100 km/h in 8”2 and to hang on 195 km/h. But what the numbers don’t say is the immense pleasure felt behind the wheel.

Similar to a big kart, it puts you in communion with the road. And if strong sensations remain your leitmotif, there is the 1.8 “S” compressor to satisfy you (70% of the fleet), with its 220 hp.

The performances are skyrocketing, as is the price: count €40,000 second-hand, while a “136 hp” is displayed from €25,000, a little less in Germany…

Interior

Yesterday, like today, an Elise shines with her simplicity, even if the endowment has been nicely enriched. The raw aluminum that makes up the chassis is visible, and most of the controls are often manual, which avoids many possible breakdowns.

Electricity, deemed once whimsical (meters and ignition of taillights in particular), now finally seems to be holding up. The recurring weaknesses concern foot marks on the plastic side pontoons, which are difficult to step over, and the premature wear of the upholstery, in Alcantara or leather, at least if you do not take care of it and that you often drives with the top down, including in the rain.

The fastening system of the small manual hood is however fragile. Note: many special or limited series bring a real “plus” in presentation, which may justify an additional cost.

This is the case of the rare “Victory”, launched in 2013 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Jim Clark’s first F1 world championship title (10 units in France), but also of the Cup Racer (25 kg weight reduction with carbon seats and sport suspensions), the Cup 220 (1.8 with aero kit and specific upholstery) and finally the “20th anniversary” (special livery and Sport and Touring pack as standard).

Bodywork and structure

Like all the Elise, this third version remains faithful to its extruded-glued aluminum chassis, very light and rigid, on which the running gear and the polyester body are grafted. In the event of a violent shock, be aware that the chassis cannot be repaired (marble impossible) and that it will simply have to be replaced (€15,770 in parts plus 70 hours of labor, excluding paint!).

Putting the car on a lift to make sure there hasn’t been any tinkering about it is important. As for the bodywork, it does not “work” over time (beautiful paintwork), but the adjustments between the elements are sometimes approximate.

The same goes for the headlight seals (fogging possible), and some elements appear fragile, like the plastic grille of the grille, now made of steel.

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Engine

Whether it’s the 4-cylinder 1.6 of 136 hp, or the 1.8 with compressor of 220 hp (Elise SC and S), we are dealing with original Toyota blocks, which shine for their reliability. Distribution is also ensured by a chain, requiring only a check of the tension when approaching 100,000 km.

The overhaul is to be done every 10,000 km maximum (or one year), a frequency to be halved if you run regularly on the circuit (small service at 375 €, major service at 610 €, labor included).

The only known problems are benign, since they are limited to a re-programming of the electronic management on the 1.6, and on all models, to a check (or even replacement) of the hoses of the oil coolers (reminder).

Finally, make sure that the side scoops are not blocked by the presence of gravel which can cause the engine to overheat, a sign that the car has gone to garden in the gravel pits of the circuits.

Transmission

This propulsion mainly receives a 6-speed mechanical gearbox (a robotic gearbox is also available on the 1.6, but remains marginal). The gearshift of the manual gearbox is too long (especially in 4th gear), but the guidance is precise. It is recommended to decompose well to preserve the box.

Before buying, a test is essential, because if it hangs, an expensive repair is to be expected. Count around €1,620. Replacing the clutch is not cheap either: count €1,430 with thrust bearing, disc and mechanism, labor included.

Rolling trans

Thanks to its light weight, contained under the ton, the Elise manages to remarkably preserve all consumables, such as tires, brakes or shock absorbers. The prices charged also remain fairly contained, since a set of pads is €255, a set of discs €430 and a set of 16-inch tires around €500 with installation (195/50 R 16 at the front, 225/45 R 17 rear).

The shock absorbers are a little more expensive (€630 per set in “standard”, and €715 in “sport pack”), but it is rare to have to replace them. However, check the condition of the alloy rims, forged on some copies, as they are vulnerable to pavement impacts.

Identification

The chassis number (which must appear on the vehicle registration document) is visible on a small metal plate attached behind the driver’s side windscreen, but also on a sticker visible on the driver’s side pontoon.

Where to find it?

Quite limited in France (fifteen dealers), the network is nevertheless well distributed over the territory, and of course it offers second-hand cars with sure origins, serviced according to the rules of the art, with a guarantee at stake (12 months parts and labor). Some Elise having been mistreated on the circuit, this makes it possible to make a secure purchase, but at a high price.

  • High-end specialists

These specialists are fond of the Elise, an excellent loss leader. As in the network, you must demand an irreproachable, revised and guaranteed model. And in case of dispute, know that a pro has an “obligation of result”.

The offer here is the widest, but you can find everything and anything, including heavily modified cars for the track, in principle more homologated for the road. Limit your purchase to a well-maintained first hand, totally original.

The Elise is a must in any Lotus club worth its salt. Among them, the Lotus Club de France is the most important. This active club organizes walks and circuit outings throughout the year for members who are passionate and dynamic. An excellent way to get to know each other… and perhaps find a good copy (www.club-lotus.fr).

1665054822 194 Buying a used car Lotus Elise Mk3 price strengths weaknesses

Lotus Elise Mk3: its advantages

  • Future collector
  • Price/pleasure ratio

Lotus Elise Mk3: its weaknesses

  • Less and less “light”
  • Limited network
  • Limited versatility

The balance sheet: 5/5

The choice of Motorsport

An Elise is good, but an “S” is better! It is really this version, transformed by its compressor, that we recommend. Aim for the most beautiful copy possible, the ideal being to hunt down a limited series: it will be more expensive to buy, but it will not discount.



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Buying a used car: Lotus Elise Mk3 (price, strengths, weaknesses)


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