If there was one disappointment (and it was the only one) about the launch of the second generation Elise back in November 2000, it was that there was no uprated engine options.

Since then, of course, we've had the Sport 135 conversion package that can be ordered once you've registered your new Elise, but now there's a full production-spec "hot" Elise, the 156bhp I I Is, there's also a cheaper but less lavishly equipped I I I model.

You may remember that there was a 111S derivative of the first generation Elise, and the new car follows in a similar vein. It offers more performance and higher levels of standard kit, with a view to creating a more refined and - dare I say it? - mainstream Elise, better able to attract Porsche Boxster and Audi TT convertible buyers into the Lotus fold.

Carpets and sound-deadening are standard, as are leather upholstery and a punchier sound system. A longer top gear makes for more comfortable motorway cruising without stealing any lower-end vigour. This is very much an Elise for people who want to use it as a daily driver, although it's also for the hardcore performance fiend As with the first generation 111S, this new Elise derivative is powered by the VVC version of the 1.8-litre K series engine.

The 'VVC'bit refers to the motor's sophisticated cylinder head design that effectively creates an infinitely variable cam lobe profile, which affects the duration of valve lift and its phasing. In a small capacity engine like the Elise's, this provides the twin rewards of a fat slug of torque in the midrange and an increase in power at the top end; with a regular 16-valve cylinder head you get either one or the other.

Some of you will be aware that K series engines are sourced from Rover, but that doesn't mean that they're just dropped into the Elise chassis unaltered. Lotus has spent more than a year developing an engine management system that matches the specific requirements of the 111S, and it's the first time any non-Rover company has been permitted - or been able - to alter the characteristics of the VVC Engine Control Unit. By developing their own programme, Lotus engineers have been able to deposit 90 per cent of the engine's 1291b ft peak torque across 70 per cent of the useable rev range, with major implications for the car's performance and overall driveability.

At the same time the emissions have been tuned to drop the 111S into a very attractive emissions-related tax bracket –this 131 mph sports car produce the same level of exhaust emissions as the Ford Ka supermini (163g/km)

There are also modifications to the engine's induction and exhaust systems. Quite apart from the need to expel exhaust gasses as rapidly as possible, the modifications to the exhaust system have been done to make noise - the riqht kind of noise. To comply with government noise regulations, at low speeds the I I is is relatively hushed; when the revs reach 400orpm (or at 75 per cent throttle openings) a flap opens in the right-hand exhaust pipe, unleashing a soul-stirring howl beautifully pitched to excite the senses without hurting the eardrums.

You've often heard it said and the I I is proves it to be true - the Elise's chassis can handle a lot more power than the standard 120bhp, No changes have been necessary for the boost to 156bhp, beyond some modest tweaks to account for the 5kq fall in unsprung weight occasioned by a set of delicious-looking lightweight nickel-plated alloys. There is one other small chassis alternations; the 111S gets cross-drilled discs at the front, while the lesser-trimmed 111 retains solid items. And while those gorgeous wheels are the obvious giveaway that you've clocked a 111S, there' also a fresh tough, rear diffuser design. Because of that lavish spread of torque, you may not instantly appreciate just how much extra grunt the I I Is has over the standard car Going briskly is so easy, such a laidback affair, that your true rate of progress.

By scooting along on the 4650rpm crest of the torque wave you're into the aural delight phase of the exhaust's repertoire and probably knocking along at a similar pace to a hard-driven standard car, and yet you're not really trying.

Ram the needle all the way round the rev counter, though, and you'll discover the 111S wilder side. Whereas the standard car has given its best by 60OOrpm, in the VVC- powered machine you've still got another IOOOrpm to go and a lot more energy to unlock. At the top end this car is a real charger, electrifyingly quick and exhilaratingly vocal.

No doubt now that the I I Is has a clear performance advantage over the standard Elise. Cold, hard data confirms its superiority - 0-60mph in 5.1sec, down from 5.5 sec, and 0-100mph in 14.1sec, a whole 2.7sec faster than the standard car can manage. The rise in power and torque also adds further sparkle to the Elise’s chassis.

With the way the torque is delivered in the midrange it's easier to balance the car through bends as you don't need as many revs to attain the desired degree of throttle response. There's more thrust out of tighter corners, too, which should do wonders for your lap times and give added enjoyment on the open road.

And the simple increase in straight line pace goes a long way towards fending off the advances of bigger-engined rivals trying to claw back an advantage having been left behind in the twisty stuff

The standard Elise remains a brilliant package and one day, when Dale Winton and the Lotto gods smile down upon me, I will have one on my driveway. But the I I Is further exploits the little Lotus's substantial potential Super-fast, keen-handling, clean-breathing, fuel-efficient, comfortable and well equipped, it represents a bunch of anomalies that add up to one of the most enjoyable, thrilling and satisfying driving
cars in the world.

Lotus Life

Lotus Life is the club magazine suppored by Lotus. It contains articles on new cars, history of old cars, and club activities. Sean Feast is the editor and writer. Clare Stasiak (Cstasiak@lotuscars.co.uk) can be contacted for membership information.

June/July 2002