Handling by Lotus: revisiting the Kia Elan in 2021

But at some stage, this sole Kia Elan did. I was never much of a fan of the M100 Lotus Elan on which it is based. Dynamically highly capable though it was, I felt it mistook fast for fun, offering rapid, effective but less than involving transport. Ultimately, I just didn’t see why people would buy it when the rear-driven Mazda MX-5 was so much more fun, cheaper and better looking. And, sadly for Lotus, the market saw it the same way.

But as an alternative kind of classic, the Kia Elan is fascinating. First, it seems suspiciously well built, its fit if not its finish probably some distance beyond what Lotus was capable of achieving. And its engine isn’t bad at all, even if I don’t much care for the gearbox to which it’s attached. It needs revs, but that’s no bad thing, and it even manages a plausible hard-edged howl as it heads for the redline.

I also suspect that it’s considerably lighter than the Isuzu turbo motor, because while I remember nothing but varying shades of understeer from the Lotus Elan, you can neutralise the Kia’s propensity to wander wide of the apex just by shutting down the throttle. Cheap Chinese tyres probably help, too…

What has been preserved, despite its rubber and raised ride height, is the way it combines an astonishingly high cornering limit with frankly bizarre ride quality. You can see how softly sprung it is from outside, but within it feels beautifully controlled and unerringly accurate. Even the steering, despite its ugly airbag wheel, is better than I recall.


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