The Latest hotter Elise gets a familiar suffix, but an unfamiliar dollop of refinement and usability.

Lotus actually launched the new Elise 111 S. A proper launch, just like a grown-up car company. Groups of journalists coming in to drive the car rather than just one at a time; an overnight stay in a hotel rather than in and out of Hethel in one very long day; a hot lunch rather than a couple of sarnies from the firm's canteen. Halt, Lotus actually spent some money, and it hasn't done that ' on a car launch for many a Long year.

It's a good time for the Norfolk sports car maker to be showing off in this way. After last financial year's staggering L42m loss, there are those signs of Lotus's demise - splashing out on a launch is two fingers up to doubters. It's, also a, way of signifying how much the 111S (and cheaper 111) means to the company, because the guys there see it as more than just the latest Elise derivative. They see it as a means to greater sales, because not only doe it have a gutsier 156bhp VVC K-series under the engine cover, but it comes with little refinements like carpets, leather trim and the option of air-conditioning.

Carpets? Surely that goes against the ethos of Spartan purity for which the Elise is roundly praised? Yeah, well maybe, but it seems that owners trick out their cars with all manner of goodies – on average ten options per car – in a bid to make them ore ‘everyday’. And it emerges from a survey of Series 2 Elise buyer that the main alternative on their shortlists was the Boxster, with the Z3 and TT in close attendance,. Hence a grown-up launch for a grown-up Elise.

The last Elise with this sort of power was a trackday special that spluttered and farted so much when asked to trundle through traffic that it was all but undriveabte in normal conditions. The 111 S (no-one's quite sure whether that's triple-one or one-eleven) has been engineered for refinement, although a lot of work has gone into making the exhaust note right, including a flap in the right-hand tailpipe that opens fully above 40OOrpm or at 75 per cent throttle openings. The engine is the same VVC unit used by MG, but with a revised induction set-up and Lotus's own engine management system - it's the first time a non-MIG-Rover ECU has been used on this lump and it's the reason that the Lotus roadster is so far behind the F in getting the more powerful VVC variant.

Lotus has tailored the system to keep the power flowing all the way up to the 7000rpm cut-out, and also to give a reasonable wedge of mid-range torque, a characteristic you certainty wouldn't associate with the standard 120bhp car. The other feature of the engine that Lotus is keen to trumpet is emissions -163g/km of C02. That output is the same as a Ford Ka's and puts the Elise into an attractive emissions-related tax bracket; you may not see that as too important, but just think how many Boxsters, Z3s and TTs are bought as company cars.

Emissions aren't much on your mind, though, when you set off in the 111 S. The rort from the exhaust is pitched at just the right note and volume to stir you up without splitting your skull, and expectations run high. To be honest, at first the extra horsepower fails to make much impression - this isn't a road warrior. There is extra verve, for sure, but you don't instantly bleat out expletives when hit by the additional punch. Mind you, it does cut the 0-60mph time from 5.5 to 5.1sec, while the 14.1sec 0-100mph figure is 2.7sec quicker than the standard Elise's.

What soon becomes apparent is that you don't have to thrash this engine along. It doesn't have much more torque than the 120bhp car - 129lb ft at 4650rpm against 121kb ft at 4500rpm - but seems able to build up a good head of steam without great effort; 90 per cent of the torque is yours for the taking across 70 per cent of the rev range. Subconsciously you start shifting up at 5500rpm, rather than ringing every last revolution from the engine. It also has a longer fifth gear (in a bespoke gearbox) to take the ear-ache out of cruising.

Down below, the changes are slight. New, flash-looking polished nickel wheels scoop five kg from the unsprung weight of the car, but beyond the tweaks associated with the drop in mass, nothing else has been done. We've always said the standard chassis could cope with more power, and so it proves. The only other visible change to the car is a new treatment for the rear diffuser.

Die-hards will disagree, but the gentrified interior suits the Elise well. Carpets, soundproofing, Leather (on the S), optional air-con et at give the little Lotus the class to do battle in the showroom without overly compromising the Elise-ness of the car. It the 111 S had been available for this issue's 'Best Real World Driver's Car' feature (p66), the outcome might have been different.

So, should you cancel the Boxster? Tricky one. The extra pace of the 111S is nice, as is its cruising refinement. The higher equipment levels make for better reading in the spec-sheet comparo test. And with more shove to sting it along, the Elise's magical chassis gleams more brightly than ever. It even has resale values as healthy, if not healthier, than the Porsche's and it's far cheaper to start with. Final answer? It's not like you'd lose out if you sent your cheque to Stuttgart, but I'll take the Lotus.


EVO June 2002