Home » I Love The Lotus Elise But It Literally Doesn’t Fit Me

I Love The Lotus Elise But It Literally Doesn’t Fit Me

Lotus Elise Alanis King Cars Bids Ts1
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For years, I’ve dreamt of buying a Lotus Elise. It’s the budget “exotic” car, whose small stature and spidery eyes captivate both auto enthusiasts and people who don’t care about cars at all. But I finally drove one the other day, and I had to accept reality: The Elise isn’t built for me. 

The good news is, it’s probably built for you!

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This 2005 Lotus Elise is currently available for sale on Cars & Bids. Check it out and bid here

The Lotus Elise is a dream for many, myself included. It’s an iconic British sports car that debuted at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1995, and when it arrived in the U.S. in 2004 with a price of $41,000, it was a hit with car enthusiasts. The Elise had great styling, a super-light fiberglass body, a mid-mounted Toyota engine with 190 horsepower, a redline of 8,500 rpm, and a six-speed manual that sent power to the rear wheels.

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It also followed Lotus’ famous motto: “Simplify, then add lightness.” When it debuted, the Elise weighed under 2,000 pounds—about 400 less than the already-light Mazda Miata—and could go from 0 to 60 mph in 5 seconds. It mixed classy styling with a go-kart soul. 

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The Elise became a gem on the used market, too. For years, it was the $30,000 sports car, and to me, that made it one of the most iconic cars on the 2010s internet. When you started getting into sports cars and wanted to buy one, I feel like one of the first stories you used to find was one from my boss at Cars & Bids, Doug DeMuro. That story no longer exists at no fault of Doug’s, because despite what they told you 20 years ago, not everything on the internet is forever.

But the main idea was: No matter the year, mileage, condition, or external inflation, a used Elise cost $30,000. Rarely did one cost more or less, and that accessibility further fueled the Elise’s popularity. (Unfortunately, those days are over. Right now, the cheapest Elise on Autotrader is $47,900. Inflation, right?)

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The Elise’s upsides—price, looks, sportiness, and the generally reliable Toyota engine—were met with two main downsides. The first was that it became known as a stereotypical British car, with fussy electronics and bits of plastic that fell off sometimes. The second was that the Elise’s highly regarded fiberglass body was one big clamshell, meaning sometimes, a little scratch could total the whole car. But many people think it’s worth the risk. (It is.) 

When I drove a maroon 2005 Elise recently, it was like meeting a celebrity. We picked the car up from the dealership selling it, RPM Garage in Dallas, and I remember walking through the showroom looking for the Elise in a sea of bright cars. 

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The Elise moves out with mid-mounted, 1.8L Toyota power. As spec’d and tuned for for the Elise, the 2ZZ-GE engine sends 190 horsepower to the rear wheels and redlines at 8,500 rpm.

 

Barely any of them had maroon paint, so I thought the Elise would be easy to find. But it was so tiny, tucked away into a corner, that I didn’t even see it until the staff started pulling other cars out so the Elise could drive through. I cupped my hands over my mouth at the size—and cuteness—of it. 

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With a standard-size Alanis for scale, it’s easy to appreciate just how compact the Elise is. There’s just a tick over 90 inches between the axles.

 

I got in my car and followed an RPM staffer to a nearby parking lot to film the car. The Elise was magical to drive behind; I’d seen so many photos of the halo taillights and “LOTUS” branding on the rear over the years, and here I was, trailing both in person. 

Driving the Elise was a blast. It was a little go-kart, stripped bare as a soda can and ready to zip. The pedals were light and close together, and the gated manual shifter was distractingly fun; I find that when I can see the gates, I want to watch the shifter go into gear with each shift. 

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“It’s meant to be a toy, it’s totally a toy, I love things that feel like toys!”

 

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The lack of power steering made parking lots and multi-point turns into an arm workout, and I laughed the whole time. Here I was, in the smallest car on the road, having a much harder time turning the wheel than any of the SUVs around me.

Once the car got rolling, that lack of power steering was divine. The slight tension yet glide in the wheel every time I turned it, the acute awareness of the car and its weight under me—I felt like part of the Elise, not just its driver. 

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“The interesting thing about a gated shifter is that you actually pay more attention to where you’re putting the stick because you can see where it goes.”

 

But I faced one hard truth in the Elise: Like many bare-bones sports cars, actual go-karts, and track cars, it’s just not built for me. The square shape of the seat doesn’t mesh with my rounder hips and thighs, and because my legs only had so much space to fill, I had to drive with my knees together and kick out each foot to reach the clutch and accelerator pedals. It was still fun to drive, but seat sizing always makes me think of the auto industry as a whole.

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Here, Alanis demonstrates how effortlessly cool you’ll look when you pull up in front of a fancy restaurant and unfold yourself from the Elise.

 

I find that when I can’t fit in certain seats, men who are bigger than me – taller or wider – can. It’s because the seat is built for a square body, and my body is not that. It makes me wish for more inclusive sizing and shaping of seats, because ultimately, a little seat curvature would’ve done a lot for my comfort. 

But the Elise isn’t meant for comfort. It’s meant for fun and flashiness on a budget, and that’s what it provides—even if the budget is a little higher now than it used to be.

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Glutton for Piëch
Glutton for Piëch
23 days ago

As a 6’4 man with a dumptruck, I found I fit absolutely perfectly in an Exige.

Without the seat installed.

Turns out the floor and bulkhead are pretty comfy, too.

Josh
Josh
24 days ago

@Alanis King: the internet is in fact forever. Here’s the article you were looking for: https://web.archive.org/web/20140821001525/https://dougdemuro.kinja.com/i-owned-a-lotus-elise-for-free-and-so-can-you-1445088457

rctothefuture
rctothefuture
25 days ago

As a 6’7″ man with big hips, an ass you could land a 737 on, and a love of small cars, I felt this. In my soul.

Strangek
Strangek
25 days ago

Step 1: Get new seat. Step 2: enjoy lightweight, spirited motoring!

Vetatur Fumare
Vetatur Fumare
25 days ago

If any car deserves custom seats to fit the owner, it’s an Elise. Shouldn’t be a big investment, either, in light of the purchase price. You just gotta think more like a racing driver.

Thomas Metcalf
Thomas Metcalf
25 days ago

Damn inflation! Whenever I have the money for a car I want, they increase in value. Panteras, Esprits, and Vipers all went up after I got a job!!!!

Juanmi82
Juanmi82
25 days ago

The good thing here is that the seats are easily removed and pretty much any upholsterer can customize them.

Or you can fit seats from another car using custom rails.

For race cars you sit on a huge plastic bag filled with polystyrene balls, air is vacuumed out of the bag, the bag is used to make a mold, then you use the mold to make a FRP/CRP seat.

Captain Muppet
Captain Muppet
25 days ago

For 9 years I daily drove a series 1 Elise. If you think it’s hard getting in and out of the series 2 you got in the US imagine that but with the sills 2” taller. The S1 is 28 years old now, there must be a few in the US?

There are a lot of factory seat options for the Elise/Exige/340R//Vauxhall VX220/Opel Speedster/2-Eleven/Tesla Roadster/Europa/3-Eleven/Dodge EV chassis family. My Australian spec (long story) Elise had the wrong seats in it when I bought it, and I’d swapped to my fourth set when I sold it, mostly because it’s easy to swap seats than in an effort to improve comfort, but there are some big changes in seat shape and padding between stock S1, Sport 160, GM VX220 (these were a pain because they didn’t come with the right subframe), early S2, ProBax and all the other options. Then there are after market options either padded or bare carbon. I even know a really tall guy who moulded his own custom seat in carbon.

The only seat I found really uncomfortable was an early S1 seat with massive lumbar support, but the passenger one had a flat back so I swapped them over. Some of them have inflatable lumbar support.

So it’s worth sitting in a few different seats before writing off the entire car.

LionZoo
LionZoo
25 days ago

Believe me when I say the Lotus Elise doesn’t really fit a lot of males as well. For someone like me, with a 30 inch waist, the lateral support of the seat is basically nonexistent. It was designed for fat English blokes.

The good news is the Elise was the very last vehicle available in the US without side airbags. This makes swapping out the seat to something else very easy. It’s especially nice for a 2005 Elise, since those came with the inflatable bladder seats that are spectacularly bad and in my opinion it’s almost required to swap those seats if you’re looking to drive for any length of time. The 2006+ Probax seats are very nice in terms of comfort, but still no lateral support.

121gwats
121gwats
25 days ago

Might I interest you in a Jeep CJ-5, at 6′ I cant get the seat back far enough, often driving with my knees bent uncomfortably skyward, brushing up against the wheel at shifts.

Thomas Metcalf
Thomas Metcalf
25 days ago
Reply to  121gwats

Are you me? I have a 67 and had a 50’s CJ5 before that. They must have been made with the assumption that the average G.I. was 5’5″.

ProfPlum
ProfPlum
26 days ago

In the early 80s, I owned a Lotus Europa; it was such a fun car. Getting in was OK, but the undignified way I’d get out could be described as falling out the door and then dragging my lower body out.

Last edited 26 days ago by ProfPlum
Logan King
Logan King
26 days ago

I perfectly understand this article. I had been worried about this exact thing for an Elise for years because I always wanted one but just assumed it wouldn’t work for me since I’ve never really managed to fit in any Miata. When I went to buy mine I was ecstatic to know that it was not even too bad of a fit for me even though I’m a fair bit of a fat ass. My main issue with it comfort wise is that the bottom edges of the seat where they upturn digs into my thighs, which gets me left thirgh kinda sore on trips more than a couple hours (I had to drive 10 hours to get back home after I bought mine so I became intimately familiar with this pain). I assume this wouldn’t be an issue at all if I lost some weight, though. Other than that the seats seem damn close to the basically perfect Sport Seats in my Corvette.

Last edited 26 days ago by Logan King
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