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Which Would You Buy?
Lotus Elise vs. Caterham 7

March 1, 2012 by Matt

Lotus Elise Federal Gray Grey Silver Gunmetal

Call this “The Battle of the Track Toys.”

Both the Lotus Elise and Caterham 7 prioritize light weight and simplicity as a means to performance over raw power and grip. Both cars are British in origin. And both feature off-the-shelf 4-cylinder engines sourced from other manufacturers, the Lotus’s from Toyota and the 7’s procured from Ford.

Beyond that, the two cars differ in notable ways. The Elise, while a bit less hardcore than the Caterham, is far more attractively styled, its rival not having undergone any significant sheetmetal revisions in 40+ years. The Lotus’s independent rear suspension is more modern than the 7’s ancient De Dion setup. And the Elise offers its occupants an actual roof and glass windows, among other amenities, and so could function at least adequately as a daily driver.

Caterham 7 Lotus Silver Grey Gray

For its part, as elemental as the Lotus is, if it’s a thoroughly visceral connection with the road you’re after, the Caterham is in a class by itself. At two-thirds of the Elise’s already light 2,000 lb weight, the 7 takes the Lotus’s formula to its logical end (no coincidence that the 7 started life in the ’50s as the Lotus 7, designed by company founder Colin Chapman). It delivers a tactile driving experience like few other cars can. Not only that, but for we shadetree mechanics, the fact that the Caterham comes it kit form conjures up scenes of garage-dominating, construction-related bliss. For some, that aspect of the 7 might generate trepidatious emotions, but for me in particular, the idea of building an all-conquering track car myself sounds like a little slice of heaven.

So perhaps the real question is: How “extreme” do you want your track toy to be? Do you want it “dialed up to 11,” a DIY project with few eventual concessions to everyday practicality? Or would you like to be able to use your weekend weapon on more than just sunny days, even if that takes a bit of the edge off?

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series wherein I stack up the pros and cons of two broadly similar cars from an ownership perspective. Read the other installments here:

Filed under: Caterham, Lotus, Which Would You Buy?

1 Comment

  1. Dan says:

    the Elise is the obvious choice… unless you love to dance the dance of death with a go kart on the road.

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