Twisting, tree-covered roads outside Julian seem to have been built with this machine in mind. Larger, heavier cars can become downright frightening in areas like this. Corners exit at the top of steep rises, apexes fall away and the turns follow the natural rhythm of the landscape. The Elise does everything perfectly. It does what heavier cars can't. The fact that it has one of the best-tuned suspension systems doesn't hurt. Downhill turns result in nipping the apex and allowing the car to run toward the exit with both tires shouldering the line simultaneously. Increasing-radius uphill corners flash by with a little lift of the throttle and a quick nudge from the steering. Slashing through the mountains in this car is like a grown-up version of Disneyland's Autopia ride. It simply doesn't get any better.

While this car's biggest strength is its small size, some may see that as weakness. My six-foot-two-inch, 200-pound frame is about as big as fits comfortably in the car. I've seen bigger people than me in them, but I can't speak for their level of comfort. Trunk space is surprisingly big-the entire back area is hollow, even though the opening is on the small side.

The Elise SC does so many things well. It's not the fastest car you can buy, or the most practical, but while driving it, all that melts away. It's complete and total fun-like the first time you master a two-wheeler or drive a kart. The Elise SC is one of the best driver's cars, period.

2008 Lotus Elise SC

*Layout
Transverse mid-engine, rear-wheel drive

*Engine
1.8-liter inline four, dohc, 16-valve, supercharged

*Transmission
Six-speed manual

*Suspension
Unequal-length wishbones with gas damping, coil springs and anti-roll bars

*Brakes
Power vacuum assist, Brembo calipers, drilled and ventilated steel rotors

*Dimensions
Length/Width/Height (in.): 149.0/67.7/44.0
Wheelbase: 90.6 in.
Curb Weight: 2,006 lb

*Performance
Peak power: 218 hp @ 8000 rpm
Peak torque: 156 lb-ft @ 5000 rpm
0-60 mph: 4.4 sec.
Top Speed: 150 mph (limited)

*What We Like
Almost everything, especially razor-sharp handling, flexible powerband

*What We Don't
Anyone over six feet tall will have hair full of bugs, stones, asphalt, rubber, etc.

Price Tag $54,500

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