The Lotus Elan Was Survived By the Short-Lived Kia Elan

Kia’s flagship sports car is the Stinger GT, and for good reason. The Kia Stinger GT is a sport-luxury sedan, and with its GT1 trim, it sends 368 horsepower to the rear wheels via an 8-speed automatic transmission and a limited-slip differential, all for $43,690. However, the Stinger GT is not Kia’s first foray into the world of sports cars, nor was its Pro Cee’d GT, which debuted in 2012. The first sports car Kia ever sold was from 1996, known as the Elan. That name should ring several bells because the Elan originally came from Lotus.

Lotus Elan: hero to zero

The Lotus Elan started in the 1960s as a rear-wheel-drive car lighter than an F1 car at just 1,500 pounds. It used independent suspension, rack and pinion steering, four-wheel disc brakes, and a 1.5-liter inline-four with dual overhead camshafts. When 1989 came around, Lotus had transformed the Elan into a mutated front-wheel-drive monstrosity that saw sales quickly dwindle in the face of a competitor’s superior and much cheaper new sports car: the Mazda MX5 Miata. Lotus had ceased production when Kia showed up and snatched the rights in 1995, thus began the Kia Elan experiment.

The Kia Elan added its own flavor

The Kia Elan was almost exactly the same as the Lotus Elan on the outside, aside from favoring a Kia badge over a Lotus badge. The 1996 Lotus Elan had a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 165 horsepower, which was quite a lot for the car’s light curb weight. Kia replaced it with a larger, naturally aspirated, and weaker engine, sending 149 horsepower to the front wheels. Kia raised the suspension and replaced the rear lights with their own. Production ran from 1996 until 1999, and in those few years, Kia sold 1,000 Elans. 

It wasn’t all Kia’s fault

Lotus Elan parked outside
Lotus Elan parked outside | Boris Spremo/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Kia had its reasons for going with a weaker engine. The engine in the Lotus Elan came from Isuzu, which GM owned at the time. GM wouldn’t allow Kia to reuse any of its parts, so it had to improvise with its own engine. Autocar’s assessment of the Kia Elan was that it handled better than the Lotus. Under British reign, the Elan exhibited understeer, whereas Kia’s version gets back in shape by cutting the throttle. That control continues into the cabin with well-choreographed ride quality. 

Lotus is at it again

Lotus Elise at the Montlhéry-Linas motor racing circuit
Lotus Elise at the Montlhéry-Linas motor racing circuit | Daniel Pier/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The Lotus Elise is the pinnacle of sports car handling, or at least it was. Since this year is the Elise’s final production model, Lotus is ready to sell its platform to the highest bidder in an effort to make room for the Emira. Other companies have bought Lotus platforms before, so it’s not a crazy idea. As Kia bought the Elan in 1995, so was the Lotus Seven to Caterham in 1973. Lotus disposes of its platforms like tissue paper, but hopefully, the Elise can go to a good home.

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