Lotus Elise Mk1

Since the Elan of the 60's, Lotus has yet to make another successful volume sports car. The Elan MkII in 1990 was planned to be that car, however, cost reason lead to complete failure. As a result, the company took several years to recover. In 1996, Elise was launched and became a great hit, thanks to its superior handling and bargain price of only 20k pounds. 

The first feature of Elise is its lightness. As you may have known through reading my Lotus Classic Page, Lotus used to be famous of "enhance performance through lightness". All Lotus past models such as Seven, Elite, Elan, Europa and Esprit are all considerably lighter than their competitors, thus handling and acceleration are remarkable in spite of smaller engines used. Elise is with no exception. In fact, weighing at 723kg, it is one of the lightest sports cars in today. Such remarkable weight is achieved by adopting the most advanced aluminium chassis supply by a Norweign metal supplier, Hydro Aluminium. This chassis pioneers the technology of bonding aluminium parts by epoxy resin and riveted rather than traditional welding, thus the thickness of metal can be reduced from 3mm to 1.5mm and save a lot of weight.  

Although the whole chassis weighs only 65kg, other parts of the car also need to go diet. Here Lotus apply aluminium disc brakes and its traditional glass fiber body shell. Besides, rawest trim and equipment once again help saving weight, and also cost.  

Weight saving can improve the handling, but if this is the only reason, Elise will not be so good. In fact, Lotus has applied all the principles to it : Mid engine layout, all wheels double wishbones suspensions, simple and effective structure which achieves extra-high torsional rigidity, unservo steering.... Moreover, Lotus's engineers had applied their know-how through motor racing and engineering consultancy experience to tune the chassis. As a result, no wonder all road testers were wondered by its superior handling which make Elise the most involving, the most controllable and the most exciting car to drive. No matter how much money you pay, you can hardly find a better handling car in the world, not Ferrari F50, not McLaren F1, not Porsche 911....  

Drive the Elise and you'll feel it is a part of your body - you can go where you want to go. Its communicative unservo steering feedback you the most accurate information of the road and the car, but don't think it must be pain heavy, no, it weighs just perfect, thanks to the smaller load due to the weight of the car. The chassis is exceptional balanced. The tyres have a lot of grip. During hard cornering, Elise gives you unimaginable high limit that you might not dare to test it. Even it reaches the limit, you can easily correct without much risk. In short, its handling is something approaching race cars.  

No, it is no race car. Which race car has such a supple ride ? Let alone race car, which sports car have similar performance delivers such comfortable ride ? Apart from Honda NSX, I cannot think of another car. Yet NSX is not much better. So, Lotus Elise is another rare car succeed to combine handling and riding perfectly.  

To reduce cost, Lotus buys Rover MGF's base 1.8 litres engine ( 118hp, 123lbft ) to power the Elise. This 16 valves is not as sweet and as powerful as the VVC engine ( 143lbft, 128lbft ) which Rover reserved for only its products. It is not smooth and eager to rev enough than Japanese engines and say, Alfa engine. Moreover, long gearing suits cruising rather than acceleration. Therefore, the drive train is rather disappointing compare with the chassis.  

Nevertheless, the chassis compensates with its lightness, so 0-60mph can be finished in an astonishing 5.5sec. Top speed is not its strongest points, because of the lack of top end power and the aerodynamic inefficient open body. Anyway, which Lotus intend to impress its buyers by top speed ?  

Finally, when talk about the practicality and comfort of Lotus Elise, I have not much to discuss. No CD player, no air-con, no airbag, no electric seats, no electric hood, no power windows..... the cabin of Elise could be used to advertise its success in weight saving ! Ok, at least its unpainted aluminium cabin is fresh to look at, and the space is generous.  

Finally, please don't expect much quality from this car. Lotus has no tradition in high build quality, especially when Elise is its cheapest model. Nevertheless, it is still a level higher than TVR.  

Report created before 16 Feb 98. Last updated before 16 Feb 99. All Rights Reserved.

Elise 111S

What's the meaning of 111 ? It's the model code of the Elise. Colin Chapman used to call its car by code - his first car was Lotus mk I, then mk 2....mk 7...the Elan of 1990 was M100. The Elise is the 111th car (including racing car) developed by Lotus, although few of us know this.  

Anyway, back to our topic. The Elise 111S is the car we're waiting for. From the beginning we questioned why Lotus didn't put Rover's VVC version of the 1.8 K-series into the car. The answer from Lotus was : the torque-biased regular 1.8 K-series suits the Elise better. Nonsense. Another reasonable, but still not true, answer was : the demand for VVC MGF was so strong that Rover was not able to share with Lotus. In fact, everybody knows Rover was afraid of Elise stealing the sales from MGF, thus refused to offer this engine to Lotus. 

Finally, the VVC unit arrived in Elise's midship engine compartment. The all alloy straight four has the most unique variable valve timing system in the world - not only varies the phase angle of inlet valve operation, it also varies the duration of intake. (You can find more details in AutoZine Technical School) The result is a revvy yet flexible character. It has sufficient of torque throughout the whole engine range. Compare with the non-VVC 1.8, it revs cleanly and eagerly from mid to high rev range. Instead of sticking at 6,000rpm, power delivery goes all the way up to the 7,200 rpm redline, at which a maximum 143hp exploit.  

Peak power increases by 25hp, peak torque grows 5 lbft. Most important, more torque is available at all rpm. No wonder Lotus claimed the top speed improve to 133mph, 0-60mph to 5.3sec, 0-100mph to 14.4sec. Especially is the latter, which is 3 seconds faster than the old car. Like the MGF VVC, it has a closer ratio gearbox. Not as exciting as Caterham's own 6-speeder, but already sweet enough. 

Therefore the new engine and gearbox injects new life into the Elise 111S. What else ?  

To justify the additional £5,000 price (what a lot !) over the regular Elise, Lotus improved the rear suspensions geometry, fitted a pair of 225/45ZR16 rubber to the rear, newly design alloy wheels, slightly altered front end treatment and an additional rear spoiler. Most of these changes seems to please the German market. For example, rear spoiler aid high speed stability; revised rear suspensions geometry reduced lift-off oversteer; wider rear tyres makes the car more difficult to power slide in corners, which used to be a unique gene of Elise. The Autobahn flyer may prefer this Elise, but the British are not. They said it is less adjustable on limit, less entertaining to drive. 

Nevertheless, the 111S is still a fabulous car to handle. Its agility is hardly matched by Porsche Boxster, nor any other European rivals. Only Honda S2000 could be the next threat. 

Report created on 4 Apr 98. Last updated on 4 Apr 99. All Rights Reserved.


Elise Sport

At last, Lotus Elise gets the power train that its superb chassis deserves - a 190hp 1.8 litres high revving four. Now it can sprint to 60mph from standstill in merely 4.4sec. This engine was originally developed by the collaboration between Rover and Caterham ( therefore you can find it in Caterham's 7 Superlight R and 21 VHPD ) base on the K-series but was then bought back by Rover. As a result, Rover has the right to sell it to any other customers including Lotus.   

People who have driven those Caterhams would find out this engine is too peaky and lack of low speed refinement that normal city traffic needs. However, Lotus has reworked it by adding an airbox and some other minor changes thus result in a far better low-speed mannered machine. With the same compression ratio of 11.0 : 1 as Caterham's, it can output the same 190hp and 150lbft. Besides, it is so willing to rev until cutoff at 8000rpm, something the owners of normal Elise would never dream of.  

As expected, Lotus engineers also upgrade the tyres ( now 225 Yokohama in the rear ), wheels ( now 16 inches ), brakes ( back to conventional cast-iron discs rather than the aluminium discs that used in the standard car, after experiencing lack of braking power. ), retuned the suspensions coil springs and dampers and lowering the ride height. Handling becomes even more agile, and most important, now Elise finally has the necessary power to run swiftly in bends.   

To compensate the addition of weight, which is mostly come from the cast-iron discs, the glass-fiber body is made thinner. As a result, Elise Sport weighs more or less the same as the standard car.  

Unlike usual, Elise Sport is still an easy-driving machine. Ride is nearly as supple as the outstanding standard car, while other controls do not ask greater effort to operate. Lotus said it is destined to race track, but I think its achievement is well beyond that.   

Elise Sport is not available in completely form. Since it cannot pass the noise and emission regulations, Lotus simply sell it as kit car like Caterham. Priced at about 50% over the standard car, it is still worthy.  

Report created before 16 Feb 98. Last updated before 16 Feb 99. All Rights Reserved.

Elise 111S
Elise Sport
Mid-engined, Rwd
Mid-engined, Rwd
Mid-engined, Rwd
Dimensions (mm)
L / W / H / WB : 3734 / 1701 / 1202 / 2300
Inline-4, dohc, 4v/cyl.
Inline-4, dohc, 4v/cyl, VVC
Inline-4, dohc, 4v/cyl.
1796 c.c.
1796 c.c.
1796 c.c.
118 hp
143 hp
190 hp
123 lbft
128 lbft
150 lbft
All : double wishbones
All : double wishbones
All : double wishbones
F: 185/55ZR15
R: 225/45ZR16
723 kg
770 kg
Top speed
124 mph*
133 mph (claimed)
141 mph (claimed)
0-60 mph
5.5 sec*
5.3 sec (claimed)
4.4 sec (claimed)
0-100 mph
17.4 sec*
14.4 sec (claimed)
* Tested by Autocar

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