According to the most recent monthly market bulletin, sales of soft-roaders are going off to an extraordinary extent, up by more than 40 per cent year-to-date in some categories in 2006.

It would be pleasant to think the commercial success of vehicles designed to provide facility and comfort at the expense of any driverly satisfaction, indeed any sensation at all, was a temporary aberration.

Explore the 2007 Lotus Elise Range

That we can't get enough of these cosseting, anodyne, soccer-mum mobiles marks us as self-obsessed, complacent and essentially disinterested in driving.

We've had cause to expound on this grim fact of modern life more than once in the past week or so; as we came close to oblivion at the hands of yet another lane-barger automatically piloting the urban shopping vehicle.

There might be some small excuse for an SUV owner (as opposed to 'driver') failing to see our low-slung and diminutive Lotus Elise S.

But the bovine look on the dials of most we've been obliged to upbraid suggested they'd have been unaware of an Abrams tank.

Wing mirrors, it increasingly appears, are considered useful primarily to assist reverse parking.

If the greatest caveat to Lotus ownership in the automotive Sleepy Hollow of this metropolis is a very real danger of becoming a speed bump for an SUV, against that is the immense satisfaction of eschewing the prevailing decadence.

A Lotus, especially the ultra-light entry-level Elise S, remains one of the most unadulterated, one of the purest, public road-going vehicles available. If you've the least sniff of petrol about you, you owe it to yourself to have a go at a Lotus at least once.

Even if you're not so disposed, perhaps especially if you're not, then you ought to at least stick your head inside one. Then you'll see that it's possible to not only survive without the plethora of extraneous and distracting comforts with which most modern passenger vehicles are burdened, but to actually thrive in a way you've probably never considered.

Not that Elise does without niceties. Unlike the hardcore Exige S, the rear-view mirror is made useful by there being a rear window you can see out of. There's also a stereo, twin Probax seats and even electric windows. It's just that there's no danger of mistaking the interior for a Mercedes-Benz SLK. Or even a Mazda MX-5. Unlike these, there's no push button to fold the roof away, it has to be manually disassembled and stowed. And, as with the most full-on Lotus, you lower yourself over a sill into what is a cockpit, not a cabin.

The air of spartan functionality is relieved only by such inner door padding and dash materials that won't add to the weight. You need to be on good terms with your passenger who, if he or she is tall, will need to mind their knee and elbow so you can manipulate the gear stick freely.

To look on it, the Elise is a desperately sweet little thing. Indeed, in the gleaming alloys shod in 16-inch Yokohama Advan Neon rubber at the front and 17s on the back, it's as cute as any number of buttons.

If you're not beguiled by the Elise, you probably hate puppy dogs too. Turn the key, switch off the immobiliser and stab the start button and you'll notice that not only is there not much by way of sound deadening to mask the engine noise, but the engine is mid-mounted right behind your head. The impression forms that this is going to be a ride to make your normal daily conveyance seem like a Jason Recliner Rocker.

The remarkable thing is that the engine chosen for this piece of relatively affordable exotica is actually derived from something so humble as Toyota's Celica. The 1.8-litre VVT unit delivers only 100kW/172Nm, but that is enough to get the Elise to 100km/h from standing in a Porsche Boxster S-beating 6.1 seconds. And the latter costs $140,000 ...

This is what happens when extraneous items are discarded to achieve the lightest kerb weight of any car on Australian roads.

At only 860kg the Elise is positively anorexic. Yet it's an almost benign daily proposition.

For the rarefied nature of the beast in question, the combination of Eibach springs and Bilstein telescopic dampers is inspired.

The Elise rides the worst the road can throw at it with, if not ease, then disciplined composure, without compromising those crucial Lotus values of intimate body control and utterly intuitive handling.

The rigidly mounted rack and pinion steering is, of course, wonderfully unassisted and thus full of feedback.

A 2.8 turns lock-to-lock, it's also instantly responsive and direct, so that when you're properly on the thing, changing direction seems to be a matter of osmosis. While maximum power, such as it is, occurs near top revs at 6200rpm, all the torque is at 4200rpm, making all the mid-range you need and even allowing for occasional use of fifth gear.

There is no sixth gear, but you won't feel the want of it.

To rev the Elise up past 5000rpm as the good Lord intended, though, is to reap a whirlwind of sharpened acceleration and shrieking exhaust note until the warning light flashes on just shy of redline.

This surfeit of feel translates to the stop pedal which has just the right amount of retardation built in before the ABS threshold is breached. The Elise experience is visceral in a way that the cars we've chosen as ostensible 'rivals' have been plucked out of fairly thin air. Each are abundantly rewarding in their own ways, but none emulate the immediacy and rawness. Seldom has being so 'un-Australian' been so cool.

The bottom line

If $70,000 seems steep, remember that you can also buy a hatch as well for getting the groceries and still have change from $100,000.