Bring a Trailer Bargain of the Week: 2005 Lotus Elise

Until the new Emira arrives in dealers, Lotus’s US lineup is down to one car, the Evora. But that’s only if you’re shopping for a new Lotus. The used market has a wider selection, if not always an affordable one. Occasionally, though, bargain-priced examples of these mid-engine, lightweight British sports cars pop up. And just such a car is available on Bring a Trailer right now: a 2005 Lotus Elise.

The 2005 Lotus Elise brought over mid-engine magic and the company’s continued US future

A green 2005 Lotus Elise in a car dealer
2005 Lotus Elise | Rene Johnston/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Today’s one-model US lineup (until the Emira arrives) would’ve been familiar to the Lotus of 20 years ago. In 2001, Lotus wasn’t doing so well here, likely because it only had one car, the 25-year-old Esprit. Yet overseas, the Lotus Elise S1 was dazzling drivers and getting the company back on its financial feet. However, it couldn’t come here because its Rover K-Series engine wasn’t US-emissions certified.

Recognizing the Elise’s sales potential, Lotus USA CEO Arnie Johnson hatched a plan, Road & Track explains. He bought a Toyota Celica GT-S on the company’s dime and shipped it over to its UK HQ. Why the Celica? Besides being US-legal, its 1.8-liter four-cylinder made more power from the same displacement as the old Rover K-Series engine. Someone at Lotus HQ got the memo. And Lotus has used Toyota engines ever since.

Even after all that trouble, the US-market Lotus Elise almost didn’t happen. Not because of emissions, but because of its lack of certain airbags. Fortunately, Lotus got an exemption from the NHTSA, Hagerty reports. Unfortunately, that exemption ended after 2011, so we never got the later Elise S3.

However, the trouble was worth it. The Elise is Lotus’s best-selling car ever; without it, the US wouldn’t have gotten the Exige or the Evora. And while it wasn’t sold here for long, the Elise S2 quickly embedded itself in the US-market sports car pantheon.

Whether in 2005 or now, the Lotus Elise S2 is the very distillation of sports car fun

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2005 Lotus Elise Series II (S2)
Engine1.8-liter ‘2ZZ-GE’ four-cylinder
Horsepower190 hp
Torque138 lb-ft
TransmissionSix-speed manual
Curb weight1950 lbs
0-60 mph time4.7 seconds (Road & Track)

Apart from an early Dodge Viper, few sports cars were as stripped-down in 2005 as the Lotus Elise. Although it has dual airbags, the 2005 Elise S2 didn’t have cupholders, standard power windows, or even standard carpets. But the lack of luxury, as well as a bonded aluminum chassis and fiberglass body panels, makes it light. It’s lighter even than the Mazdaspeed Miata, not to mention more powerful.

However, while the 2005 Lotus Elise can outrun both the Mazdaspeed MX-5 and the contemporary Porsche Boxster, it’s not a dragstrip car. Instead, its low curb weight, mid-engine RWD layout, stiff chassis, and stellar suspension make it a fantastic canyon-carver, track car, and autocross competitor. Not for nothing does Road & Track call it “one of the best-handling road cars of all time.”

Also, the 2005 Lotus Elise isn’t just fast and sharp; it’s also fun to drive. Like the Alfa Romeo 4C, the Elise S2 lacks power-assisted steering. But because it’s so light, that’s not a drawback. And the benefit is plenty of feedback. Plus, while the Sport Package’s stiffer springs and height-adjustable shocks sacrifice some ride comfort, you can still daily drive an Elise S2. One owner even put over 200,000 miles on his Elise, R&T reports.

Admittedly, the 2005 Lotus Elise doesn’t have some of the later models’ upgrades. The 2006 car, for example, got comfier seats as well as an optional limited-slip differential and traction control. And starting in 2008, you could supercharge your Elise to 218 hp and 158 lb-ft of torque. Nevertheless, if you’re after sheer driving joy, it’s hard to get in a purer form than in an Elise S2.

There’s a first-year Elise S2 up for grabs on Bring a Trailer

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Now, you can taste some of that joy with the 2005 Lotus Elise currently listed on Bring a Trailer.

As noted earlier, the 2005 Lotus Elise didn’t come standard with power windows. However, the car listed on Bring a Trailer has them. It also has A/C, push-button start, leather upholstery, and a Bluetooth-capable Dual stereo. In addition, the Elise feature four-wheel cross-drilled disc brakes, a functional rear diffuser, and a removable soft-top.

Besides the standard features, this 2005 Lotus Elise has a few aftermarket upgrades. It has a Larini sports exhaust, shifter reinforcement kit, and CarboTech brake pads. Also, an aftermarket radiator and engine mounts. Plus, a ceramic paint protection coating.

Although this 2005 Lotus Elise has a few lower-bumper scratches, a windshield chip, and some interior wear, it’s in great shape overall. And it only has 43,830 miles on the clock. Also, it has a clean, zero-accident history and a clean title.

For now, this 2005 Lotus Elise is a genuine sports car bargain—just watch out for the clamshell

A blue Lotus Elise S2 next to some windmills
Lotus Elise S2 | Lotus

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As of this writing, this 2005 Lotus Elise is listed for $10,250 with three days left in the auction. That is an extremely low price considering its condition. Usually, a good-to-excellent condition 2005 Elise costs 3-4 times as much, Hagerty says.

It’s worth noting that cheap Elises are often cheap because they have salvage or rebuilt titles. And that has to do with how expensive it is to replace their one-piece clamshells, R&T explains. However, buying a rebuilt-title car isn’t necessarily a bad idea. Furthermore, this 2005 Elise has a clean title and no extensive clamshell damage.

Admittedly, the Lotus Elise S2 can develop some electronic glitches and squeaks and rattles as it ages. Though to be fair, that’s common with many older cars. Water getting past the weather stripping, though, which is common on these cars, R&T says, isn’t. However, this 2005 example doesn’t appear to have misaligned windows and the reinforcement kit was likely installed to address some early-model shifter issues.

Still, this 2005 Lotus Elise is a true sports car bargain, and a particularly rare one to boot.

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