2017 Lotus Elise Sprint 220 First Drive: Sprightly Charmer

– Hethel, England

Way back, forty years ago, I bought a secondhand Lotus Elan Sprint convertible. I paid £825 to a rich Cambridge University student who’d had enough of his technically advanced but hard to live with British sports car. He wasn’t the only one who’d lost the commitment – my Lotus was just four years old and already there were eight owners in the logbook.

That Sprint was a last-ditch measure by Lotus to keep sales of the Elan buoyant. By 1971 it was almost 10 years old, so its final incarnation gave the small sports car extra power (126 horsepower), stiffer couplings in the drive shafts, and a two-tone paint scheme with gold side-winders running along each side. It was a success, and the Sprint is highly sought after today.

2017 Lotus Elise Sprint
2017 Lotus Elise Sprint
2017 Lotus Elise Sprint
2017 Lotus Elise Sprint

It seems odd that Lotus has steered clear of using the Sprint name since then, but there was a good reason. Mercedes-Benz took umbrage, but the issue that it used Sprinter on its vans has been put to bed, and Lotus recently woke up the badge for a limited edition Exige. Now, though, we have a Lotus Elise Sprint. What better way to prepare for this evaluation than to step into my current 1971 Lotus Elan and head the 100 miles up to Hethel in deepest Norfolk?

Put the Sprint specification aside for a minute and consider this: The Lotus Elise, in the right color, is still a damn fine looking sports car. There’s no sense that this vehicle started life 20 years ago, for its proportions remain delicate yet purposeful, it’s surprisingly petit...