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Kia Elan

By Maxine Ashford | August 10, 2023

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This week we have been out and about test driving a two-door roadster called the Kia Elan

Kia Elan

This week we have been out and about test driving a two-door roadster called the Kia Elan. And before anyone is tempted into any keyboard warrior reactions, the Kia Elan is actually a real-life car, so stay with us.

We have all heard of the fabulous Lotus Elan, a car that was in production in the early nineties until General Motors, Lotus’ parent company at the time pulled the plug. The Elan was replaced by the Elise and, primarily due to poor sales figures, a line was finally drawn under the Elan in 1995.

That was until Kia arrived on the scene buying the blueprint for the Lotus M100 Generation Elan. Under Korean law they were required to develop many new parts for the car to help create jobs within the industry, which was just as well as General Motors was reluctant to share all the technology.  

Out went the Isuzu-sourced 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine and in came Kia’s 1.8-litre unit which was matched to a five-speed manual gearbox. The suspension was raised and there were all-new rear light clusters with much of the new tech coming from the Kia Sephia.

Most of the interior, including an over-sized steering wheel, was developed by Kia engineers and in 1995, the Kia Elan was unveiled to a highly charged public at the Seoul Motor Show as the L96 prototype.

With a price-tag of 27,500,000 Korean Won (about £23k), the Kia Elan was sold in Japan and South Korea, but unfortunately never made it into European showrooms. And in 1999, after just three years of production, the project was ditched with about 1,000 units sold in total.

Despite no official sales on European shores, there have been left-hand-drive imports and it is thought there are three Kia Elan models here in the UK. One of which forms part of the Kia Heritage Fleet and they invited us along to take the car for a spin in the country and enjoy some summer sunshine with all the joys of roof down, wind-in-the-hair driving.

It sounds idyllic, but this is Britain and following on from our wettest July on record, August has not started too encouragingly either. But we did see a glimpse of sunshine on our two-hour drive through the Wiltshire countryside and this car certainly turned heads along the way. 

On a matter of power and performance, the Kia Elan has a four-cylinder, 1,793cc petrol developing 149hp and 186Nm of torque. This results in decent acceleration with a 0-62mph sprint time of 7.4 seconds and a top speed of 137mph. I should probably add that those were the official figures back in the day and, although the Kia Elan is not quite so sprightly these days, she can certainly still bring some joy firing through the twisting country lanes with confident grip through tight bends.

You do need to keep the revs high at times while maintaining some respect for this classic as it powers through the gears. 

I have to admit it does feel faster at times. I thought we could be knocking on 60mph but in reality, it was closer to 40mph, which much of the time was just right. And the engine roar is the perfect accompaniment for such a beautifully-styled vehicle.

The steering is surprisingly precise and despite its size, the large steering wheel is well weighted. I was shocked to see powered windows, powered mirrors and AC and even more taken aback to discover it was all in working order. There is even a locking glovebox along with some pouches in the doors and behind the seat to store bits and pieces. Even the very dated pop-out ashtray has its use as it is ideal to hold a mobile phone in place. And those pop-up headlights never fail to raise an admiring glance.

I expected the ride quality to be a tad on the unrefined side and had already checked my phone contacts for a chiropractor, but to my amazement the suspension was deceptively cushioned and the seats offered ample support along the way. However, getting in and out of a car where the seat is just inches from the Tarmac with any degree of decorum or grace is definitely a non-starter.

We did brave lowering the canvas roof which is no mean feat to be honest and requires unlocking some clasps and a fair degree of brute force. But when lowered, it folds neatly away into a covered compartment. And the boot, despite being compact, would have been fine for a couple of overnight bags back in a day and age when we didn’t need to transport bundles of multi-media devices, laptops and cables.

There were no driver assistance aids, which I loved and most of all, no constant beeps and pings. I really don’t need to be told when reversing that I am four feet from an obstacle and I certainly don’t want the car tugged back into its lane if I move without indicating. Some modern touches, or so-called advancements, are not really missed when you take a step back in time.

And I thank Kia for the opportunity to be transported back to the late 1990s and spend some time in such a fun and funky two-door roadster.

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