A FRIEND TOLD ME the new Lotus Elise 111S was less tail-happy than previous models, but I still had to take care. It's a hot-looking little machine, and as with supercars, you enter it by sitting on a wide sill, sliding your butt over and dropping like a rag-doll into a bucket seat so low you are halfway between the chassis and the road, saved only by a slim sheet of aluminium. Most of the interior is also aluminium, and most of it is exposed, not only bare metal, but holed space-frame metal to make it even lighter. There is no real firewall, but a wrinkle of aluminium in the floor provides a bare-metal footrest for passengers. The driver's pedals are small and bare metal too, the accelerator and brake so close they are almost one. You have to be careful not to accelerate while braking. Yet I guess the proximity is so you can press the brake and accelerator at the same time to rev up while gearing down. The steering wheel is tiny, but leatherbound, and has an ordinary horn button in the centre. There are no airbags. The seatbelt seems out of place in a car without an Anti-Lock Braking System. Also absent are power steering, power brakes, power anything. You have to adjust the exterior mirrors manually but first, take that crank and wind the window down. The driver's seat is adjustable manually, too but it leans much too far back for me. At least the seats are upholstered in fine leather and two small swathes also appear on the doors. Such luxury! With all this bare-bones motoring it is surprising to discover air-conditioning, and the radio seems totally out of place. Driving a Lotus and listening to the radio? Unlikely. It also has hazard lights, which I somehow feel should be on for the duration of the drive. Having accomplished the hardest part - getting into the car - we launch into the Repulse Bay traffic with a screech of tyres and snap shifts. We pull off near Stanley and remove the top. It is all manual, but easy. Press two clips on either side, then roll off the top - it's just a square of canvas. Then pull out two little plastic struts, and drop it all in the tiny boot. Elapsed time, maybe one minute, but do this before it starts raining and there is no place to pull over. Ah, top away! This is how life should be: the warm autumn sun streaming down, the green hills, the blue waters lapping below on Stanley Beach, a hot little sports car in my hands - and a typical Hong Kong goods lorry grinding ahead at 30km/h. Conditions improve as we turn onto Shek O Road and my friend's warning rings true. I am able to give the Elise a bit of rein and find the suspension hard and steady. But no carmaker can cater to a sedan chair path that has been widened incrementally over 160 years, then paved and patched endlessly until it looks a like a bitumen mosaic on steroids, with camber changing every car length.With a hot car like this, a love of speed and just one week of pent-up desire, the combination of adrenalin and testosterone could be fatal. For any red-blooded young man who is not used to driving such a car, I recommend having sex 48 hours before the road test. It could save your life. When the rear wheels twitch on a curve I am not worried, but when the whole car twitches on a straight, I know it is time to slow down. In Shek O Village, I see a friend roaring out in a Caterham Super 7 and turn off up the road, trying my best to stimulate the speedometer which has remained between 20 and 40 km/h so far, with no apparent connection to reality. With traffic clear, I turn the little Lotus loose, snapping shifting at 7,000rpm and keeping the pedal to metal (literally) between shifts. We are going so fast, the jiggly suspension is blurring my vision, and my flapping hair is stinging my face - yet the speedometer holds at 40km/h. Now, heading back to civilisation, I am in driver's heaven, howling around the tight bends. In third gear, my right foot goes from hard on the accelerator to hard on the brakes every few seconds - gasping for oxygen, wrestling the tiny steering wheel, pressing hard on the non-power assisted brakes, mashing the gas pedal down. It is only for a kilometre or so, but in those all-too-brief moments, I live a lifetime, filled with joy. I believe the Lotus is designed to be driven fast and hard, just one level below breakneck, This is seat of-the-pants, heart-in-mouth, with direct-injection running full tilt. These are the golden moments of life - unplanned, unexpected, unequalled and unrepeatable. The most amazing fact about the 158ps Lotus is it is not a supercar and nor is it remarkably fast at 211km/h tops. The secret formula is in the power-to-weight ratio, with gear ratios to make power instantly available and barely controllable. Your challenge is to pour on all that power and still somehow stay on the road and upright, so every moment is a thrill. Fast Facts TESTED: 2003 Lotus Elise 111S WHAT IS IT? A hot, new version of Elise, with better suspension. HOW MUCH? $438,000 as tested. WHAT MOVES IT? A four-cylinder in-line engine of 1,796 cc, with double overhead camshafts, promising 158 brake horsepower at 7,000rpm, and 17.85kg of torque at 4,650 rpm. Five-gear manual transmission. HOW FAST? Zero to 100 km/h in 5.1 seconds, top speed 211km/h. HOW THIRSTY? Combined urban and extra-urban consumption, 6.9 litres per 100km. SAFETY FEATURES: Seatbelts, maturity and prayers. ALTERNATIVES: Porsche Boxter S: automatic, $786,700; manual: $749,700; BMW Z4, 3.0i $485,736.