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A new Elise of life for Lotus

DEAR Santa, this year I've been a good boy (most of the time) and all I want for Christmas is a brand new Lotus Elise. I think you'll agree, it's not much to ask for and is so compact it will easily fit on your reindeer sleigh.

Hopefully this will do the trick, and I am guessing that mine will not be the only request to our red-suited friend in the North Pole for this slice of motoring excellence.

Not only does it possess the kind of drop-dead gorgeous sporting looks of fellow models from this Norfolk-based marque, it crucially has the performance stats to match.

This incredible little roadster is both economical - managing more than 35 mpg and able to notch up a nippy 0-60 time of under six seconds - making it far faster than its nearest rival, the admittedly handsome Mazda MX5.

Though it's not quite as gleefully unruly as its big brother, the Exige, it's by no means short on driving thrills. Once you've manoeuvred into its incredibly low-slung cosy seats (this takes some doing and I may well have temporarily dislodged several internal organs in the process) it's well worth the effort. To its credit, the car is able to accommodate both myself and my cousin Dave - we're both over 6ft.

Personally, I am a big fan of motoring simplicity and this car delivers it. It's smart, velvety dash is refreshingly free of clutter, marked by its well-placed speed and rev dials and a natty three-spoke sports steering wheel.

It has traditional window winders and in the spirit of minimalism there's not even a glove compartment - a fact that results in me losing a notebook under its snug seats which is thankfully later returned to me.

So it's definitely advisable to make use of its small, yet perfectly formed boot which offers enough space to carry enough gear for a weekend trip.

Whereas the Exige has a six-speed gearbox, the Elise is a little more refined in being a solid chrome five-speed affair that's far better suited to everyday driving than it's track-day relative.

The ride is noticeably more forgiving than some of its stablemates. Its independent suspension copes well with all the bumpy B roads Kent can throw at it. Sadly, we don't get to test its easily operable soft-top roof in the November rain.

The entry level Lotus S may be the baby of the pack, but at a highly-competitive £24,000 on the road, it's a devilishly tempting prospect which many will find too hard to resist.

Fire up its 16 valve 1.8 litre Toyota produced mid-mounted engine which sits just in front of its boot and it responds with a sporty roar that signal's you will be in for a thoroughly bracing ride.

This is in no small way down to its almost unbelievably light aerodynamic expoxy bonded aluminium body design which remains faithful to the winning style of the Elise R.

True to Lotus's high standards, its handling and braking are second to none and it eats tricky corners for breakfast, while acceleration through its range has a real sense of bite. As with any proper sports car there's no power steering which only serves to add to the sense of interaction with this awesome machine.

Another big selling point must be the admiring glances the Elise appeared to be gaining. There were even appreciative thumbs-up signals from small boys.

Surely there can't be too many downsides to owning one of these much-sought after cars?

To be honest there's little that's obviously in need of tweaking - perhaps some noise dampening as standard would not go amiss as it's far from quiet when driving on the motorway. This feature is available as an add-on with the touring pack (costing £2,000). If it were just a few inches wider then its cabin would feel really comfortable, but considering edge-of-your-seat driving is its prime directive this becomes a secondary concern.

Insurance is likely to lie in the group 20 sector, though a decent deal may well be found through the marque's preferred insurers.

Few would try to argue the case that this is designed as a truly practical, car - look to the Lotus Europa for a car with genuine touring potential.

But being surprisingly economical and a genuine joy to drive, it's a wonder Santa's little helpers haven't already lined up a fleet of Elise S's for super swift delivery of this year's smaller presents.

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