Welcome to Below Average Cars, the first in an occasional series about kickass cars you can buy for less than the average price of a new car.*
Here's how this works- when I get bored, I browse cars on the internet. If I find one that I think is worth writing about, I'll write about it. I have no affiliation with any seller, nor any preference for a particular sales site. My picks are made based on the price of the cars, the interestingness of the cars (particularly if there is a relevant new car to compare them to), and whether or not I think I can manage to write around 1000 words about them. So without further ado...
This time we have a no holds barred, uncompromising driver's machine, the 2005 Lotus Elise.
A fella in my town has one, and unless he finds himself at a stoplight or sign, he never uses his brakes. Ever. He just gets up to speed, and takes corners at that speed. I have never seen anyone have more fun at 25 mph. Seeing him going 35 looks like the 55 of mere mortals.
That's the true point of the Elise. There is no other car on the road today that lets you have that much fun without breaking the law. It doesn't do 200 miles an hour. It won't hit 60 in under three. It will, however, make even a trip to the dentist fun. It is small enough that you can park it in a multi-story without fear of getting a whiskey lick on the way out, it isn't quite expensive enough new to make people instantly hate you, and it is rare enough that it brings smiles and hastily taken smartphone snaps wherever you go.
It also bears the greatest mark of honor you can bestow on a used car- people will think you spent a lot more money on it than you did. This is helped by the fact that brand new ones still look basically the same.
What about reliability? I don't want to break the spell that derives from a combination of man-math and wishful thinking, so I'll just say that it has a Toyota engine and move on.
The Elise, for everything it has going for it, is not a perfect car. It laughs at you for even thinking about carrying anything larger than a briefcase, and take a look at the interior:
There are literally Trabants with more options. The Elise does not have comfortable seats. It is not quiet on the road. It does not have an audiophile's wet dream of a sound system. Hell, it doesn't have carpets. If you are particularly tall or even slightly wide, the Elise is somewhere between snug and trying to do it in the back seat of a Beetle.
But who cares? Look at it! Imagine flogging it around town, tires chirping, achieving lateral G levels heretofore thought impossible at 35 mph. There are very few things that can provide that much legal fun per dollar. Why buy a Camry when you could drive one of these? For that matter, why buy a Miata?
Oh yes, I went there. A used Elise should be a serious consideration for anyone thinking about buying a new Miata. The Elise out-Miatas the Miata in almost every respect. Consider this thought experiment:
If I asked you to describe the reason for buying a Miata in one word, what would that word be?
The most common response would be "Handling."
The second most common response would be "because racecar," because math sometimes eludes us.
To both responses, I submit this:
Sure, a Miata might have carpets. A Miata might have a useable trunk. A Miata might be civilized, it might even be comfortable in a certain light. It is not, however, a mid-engined pint sized hellbeast lubricated with the crushed dreams of autocrossers and fueled by a casual disregard for one's own personal safety.
Because of this, the Lotus is a truly great below average car.
*Following this advice will often make your SO hate you and your mechanic love you. You may end up broke, wrapped around a tree, or both. Just because you can buy a Below Average Car doesn't mean you should, except it obviously does.