The Lotus Cup brand is its track-day special range of cars – the models you buy to have a blast around a circuit, but can still enjoy even when you’re not pretending to be Lewis Hamilton. If the normal cars are equivalent to a Porsche 911 Carrera, these are Lotus’ GT3 models, bringing motorsport engineering and componentry to the one-way system outside Waitrose.
Neither the Elise Cup 250 nor the Exige Cup 380 we’re driving here are all-new cars. Rather, they’re honed 2017 models, with model-year upgrades aimed at making them even more perfect. It’s the same sort of gradual improvement motor racing teams excel at, and this sort of thinking is now infusing Lotus.
The 2017 Cup 250 builds upon the 2016 Cup 250. That model added more power to the previous Cup 220, but there’s no more potency for the supercharged 1.8-litre Toyota engine this year. Exotic Eibach suspension springs and Bilstein dampers are also unchanged. So what is different? The details, that’s what.
A new aerodynamic bodykit, including a huge rear wing, gives 125kg of downforce at 140mph. It’s complemented by a new Exige-style front end, with a more modern look and sharper lower splitter. Inside, Lotus’ delightful exposed gear linkage is fitted, saving 1kg, and the weight saving extends elsewhere. At 884 kg, or 860 kg with around £20k of lightweight options fitted, this is the lightest Elise Cup there’s ever been.
We’re fans of the purist Elise Sprint, which is even lighter, but the Cup is the daddy of the range and thus appeals for its sheer potency rather than purity. The aero addenda is barely one step removed from a proper racing car, and it looks even more delicious in this wonderful quasi-period Peppermint colour. The test car was fully decked out in fancy carbon fibre outside, but carbon fibre seats are standard inside, which is better built and more premium in finish than ever.
You simply must have the optional titanium exhaust. This cuts weight from 12 kg to 5 kg – Lotus boss Jean-Marc Gales says you’ll struggle to find a lighter system on any road car. It sounds different the moment you fire it up, with a richer, bassier and more complex sound. We’d beg, borrow or steal the £4,000 cost…
Both on track and road, the Cup 250 is heavenly. It’s so friendly and well-honed, even the high-speed Lotus test track doesn’t intimidate, such is the detail and feedback it floods you with, and how there are no nasty traits lying in wait. Compared to a regular Elise, the tyres are grippier, the suspension stiffer and more firmly controlled, the brakes are more stomp-worthy and the engine usually always seems to have enough power, but not too much (the way it pulls from low revs when you get it wrong is nice too – mistakes are quickly corrected).
On the road, it’s a car you’d quite happily drive all day long. Noise isolation and refinement is much better than in older Elises; the engine isn’t ear-splittingly loud, the suspension shrugs off bad roads with firm assurance and it doesn’t even make a racket as the wheels rattle over bumps and broken surfaces. Turn up the effective air-con on a hot day and you’ll be dreaming of intercontinental driving holidays before you know it.
Don’t drive it like you do on the track, though. You’ll lose your licence in an eyeblink. Instead, savour how enjoyable it is even at normal speeds. The (non-assisted) steering is packed with feedback, all the controls work with slick cohesiveness, the way the strong engine pulls this lightweight Lotus along with scant feeling of lardy inertia is a wonderful, but all-too-rare sensation with modern cars. It’s like wearing sunglasses at night, then taking them off: the extra vibrancy you get is miraculous.
Lotus charges £47,400. That’s a lot for an Elise, particularly as the basic design is now more than two decades old. But when you compare it to other road-going track-day stars, it’s not. Particularly as it’s already guaranteed to be collectable; this is one of the finest Elises ever, and thus will surely be a sought-after machine in years to come. Besides, you can still buy a Cup 250: you’re out of luck with the hardcore Exige Cup 380, reintroduced for 2017, despite its £83,000 starter price. Lotus let us have a blast in that too, allowing us to tell all those people who’ve ordered one whether it’s money well spent or not.
Breath easy, those on the Exige Cup 380 waiting list. It is brilliant. It has the same 375hp 3.5-litre supercharged V6 as before, now tamed with adjustable traction control. It has further-enhanced aerodynamics including Porsche-style bonnet vents and a rear wing that produces 200kg of downforce, Nitron adjustable dampers, adjustable roll bars, 20mm wider rear tyres that are the widest you can possibly fit to an Elise-derived car… It’s serious stuff, alright.
And we drove it on track straight after the Cup 250, and our minds were blown. The step-up in speed and tarmac-gripping ability is staggering. Corners shoot up scarily quickly but even though you’re hard on the brakes later than you expected, you’ll still pull up short. And then drive through the corner far slower than the car is capable of. All the time hearing the wildest wailing engine note that’s utter FIA-spec Le Mans sports car.
The depths to it are vast, and you’ll never fully explore them unless you’re a racing driver or have a driver coach on hand to teach you how to get the best from it (Lotus is working on such a scheme). It’s convincingly Porsche 911 GT3 RS-like in its laser-like focus, albeit slightly less expensive. A guaranteed collectable that hopefully is being bought by enthusiasts who, once they discover how good it is to drive, won’t be able to resist doing just that.
Safe to say, it’s a famous Cup win for Lotus with these two new cars. It’s a five-star rating for the Elise Cup 250, without hesitation. From what we’ve experienced of the Exige Cup 380, this is a five-star road-going track star as well. Lotus cars just keep on getting better. Now just imagine what it might be able to do in the future with big money backing behind it…
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