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My Owners Diary August 2000

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2nd August 2000

Was invited by Paul Eadie of Edmondson RoverRemote site (Ipswich) to test drive the Elise Sport 160S this lunchtime. Just as I arrived at the dealership the heavens opened for 5 minutes and they were rushing to put the roof back on a nice New Aluminium Sport 160S. This car has some rather nice 5-spoke wheels in a deep metallic grey and a rather obvoius spoiler raised on the back end. This model features 225 rear tyres, sports suspension, standard gearbox. The fitted cat replacement pipe and sports exhaust are optional extras. This car looks better built than my April 1999 car and the paint finish also looks better.

The recently opened Edmondson Lotus dealership (Ipswich), logo's still to be put on the building. The that's my scooby in amongst the Elises.
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A 50th Anniversary Elise for sale
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First impressions on sitting in the car are that I miss mine. It's a great place to just sit and look. The unique smell of GRP hits you and I'd forgotten just how small the steering wheel was after only a few months. These leather seats are generously padded but I prefer the standard cloth. The extra padding detaches you from the driving experience a little bit, without improving the comfort.

The Sport 160S in my favourite colour.
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The new 'Victory Five Spoke' wheels, possibly the nicest ones I've seen yet on the Elise.
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I start the engine and it's very loud, the engine hunts at idle just like the last Sport 190 I saw, up at the factory. The gearbox is still slightly tight after only 500 miles and the engine feels a little tight as well. It takes 5000 miles for a K-series to free up and 9000 miles for it to really run as intended. Despite this, it is comfortably quicker than my Elise, even with a passenger on board. I'd love to experince it when run-in and without a chaperone. The engine is not very happy below 2000rpm and flutters and hesitates. Once past 2500rpm it just keeps on pulling all the way up to 7000rpm and it's worth taking it up there if you really want to move fast. With the standard engine, 6500rpm is not really worth visiting. The roughness of the engine and lack of torque below 2500rpm would make this a difficult car to drive in traffic and on the roundabouts outside of the dealers, I was struggling initially to keep it from stalling. Fortunately traffic is something I rarely experienced during my year of ownership. The steering is not as delicate and the feedback is not quite comparable the standard car. The whole driving experience leaves the impression that the car is slightly heavier than a standard Elise.

First stop was the petrol station just up the road. While Paul filled it up I had a look round the interior. The initial impression of improved build quality is backed up inside the car. The roof seals along the top of the side windows have been improved, the oddment holders are better fixed to the transmission 'tunnel'. The doors now shut with a solid thunk and the side windows don't rattle in the doors. Other changes include revised grilles on the boot lid (not sure why but, these cannot drop into the engine compartment since they sit onto the boot lid rather than being fitted from below). The bulkhead now has a bump that intrudes into the interior behind the drivers seat, obviously to help fit something into the engine bay.

Traction is better and the whole car feels better balanced than my standard Elise. It feels less tail happy under cornering and hard braking. The sports suspension helps but it's easy to ground the car when it's this low. It's worth it though, because it looks so much better and so much meaner than a standard Elise. I headed out on my favourite local circuit featuring twisty B-roads, large open roundabouts and some very fast straights. Despite the damp, grip is good, the rear end is hard to unsettle, depsite provoking it. On the long sweeping corners at 90mph it felt more composed than my car, the rear spoiler probably helping to keep the rear in check. In the dry it would leave my car well behind, in the wet probably even further. This improved balance and traction also improves confidence.

Driving hard into a large open roundabout I could provoke the rear to let go in the same controlled drift. It required higher speeds than in my car. At comparable speeds in my standard Elise, it would have been all four wheels drifting with some opposite lock required to keep the direction in control. The rear end feels comparable in the controllability stakes but also less likely to move under lift-off mid-corner. Body roll is much less but the suspension doesn't seem to have lost any compliance and soaks up the bumps just as well. At 120mph+ the front end lightens and undulations and bumps in the road mean maximum concentration is required. If anything the sports suspension loses out a little in keeping the car in contact with the road on these sorts of surfaces and at these speeds. Braking hard from three figure speeds and the brakes are softer and not as effective but, I put this down to the newness of the car. Elise brakes don't work at all for the first 50 miles and take 500 miles to bed in (depending on how you drive it). The feedback is not quite as good as I remember either. They still stop the car adquately, just not with the same precise bite and feedback that I expected.

This is a very quick car, the noise grows on you and I could probably live with it. I was always happy with the way my car sounded but this has a harder, 'track' sound. The neighbours would not be so keen as I went out on a midnight run however. I was surprised at how quietly it cruised at 80mph though. At 3300rpm, the K-series is not really in its stride, and still fairly quiet. The engine is generally more extreme and less driver friendly though. Rough idle and less low-down torque make it even more of a drivers car. The 'endless' rush to 7000rpm takes it up a level in the performance stakes and adds to the general addictiveness that is the Elise. Is it worth the extra money? Personally, I would say yes but, at the end of the day, the standard Elise is still a great sports car and doesn't disappoint. The standard car would be easier to live with day to day. More low-down torque, better ground clearance, less 'in-your-face' and offering 95% of the fun for 70% of the money. It's going to be a tough decision that I make in October, but the Sport 160 is quicker than my Impreza Turbo and that might just swing it for me. Got back into the Subaru afterwards and it felt like a very quick bus, the body roll was suddenly much more noticable.

The brochure lists a 190bhp engine upgrade as an option to this car and I've been hearing rumours of a road going 190bhp Elise for a while now so I guess this is it. Expect an official road going Sport 190 to be launched very soon.

8th August 2000

Car magazine have published my letter in response to their mini-MPV group test. Two seconds of fame!(?).

9th August 2000

Like I thought, it looks like Lotus have under-estimated the impact the VX220 will have on Elise sales. They better have something up their sleeve in response, for the October motorshow now. EVO review it and put it in front of the Elise. Can't see it myself, even with my 'I'm not currently an Elise owner' objective hat on but then I haven't driven one yet. Some controversy over it's looks but personally, I quite like it. I definately prefer the Elise shape though. Some interesting discussions on the alt.cars.lotus newsgroup.

Spoke to my nearest stockist of the VX220 and he won't have a demonstrator till October/November so I will see it at the Motorshow first. The 2.2l, 147bhp engine delivers 0-60mph in 5.6 secs and a top (limited) speed of 135mph. It costs 22,995 and includes alarm and ABS. Options are hardtop 1200, front fogs 200, CD player 300, metallic paint 500 and leather 600. Why fit fog lights as standard and not driving lights? My subaru has front fog lights and they are useless. My Subaru dealer wants £440 to convert them to driving lights! The VX220 only comes with a 12 month warranty (like all other Vauxhalls apparently, Frontera aside (but it needs it!)). The VX220 comes in nine colours with black cloth trim as standard and an option of four leather colours. An aluminium hardtop is on the cards (will it stow in the carthough?) and three soft top colours are available. Actually looks very good value for money compared to the Lotus. Delivery dates are already into late Feb 2001 if you order now. Plenty of Elises going at discount prices very soon though!

10th August 2000

Well I've read the reviews in Car, EVO, and Auto Express and it just seems to get better for the VX220. An Elise Mk II has to be on the cards to compete with this car. It features too many improvements (many recommended on this site) for the Elise to stand still for another year. After nearly five years it is now desperately in need of an update. Looking at the VX220 you can see obvious improvements.
  • Firstly the body work is in more pieces, the front airdam is a single section that can be removed and resprayed for very little money. At last, a cheap(ish) answer to stone chips.
  • The roof is smaller, easier to use and fit, and hopefully waterproof.
  • The interior of the VX220 is an improvement without adding weight (in most places). The dash is improved, the switches are better integrated and look better quality.
  • The transmission tunnel looks so much better than the flimsy piece of plastic in the Elise.
  • The VX220 has a push start button (though in the wrong place), and the it is cast alloy (remarkably similar to that of the 340R).
  • The sill protectors look like they work and are waterproof, nice one Vauxhall.
  • Lightweight carpets held down by turned aluminium fittings to stop them slipping. Carpets improve the driving experience in the Elise (and they don't weigh hardly anything!).
  • Turned aluminium heater controls and window winders. Quality, simple, lightweight and in keeping with the car. The aluminium (effect?) door liners work.
  • The highlevel brake light is in the roll bar cover, which is fixed in place, which means no more rattling rear windows.
  • The fuel filler cap is a quality item from a motorbike (by the look of it), held on with allen key fixings and not rusty screws. And I bet the keys don't get stuck in it.
  • A hard top is available but I don't know if it will stow in the car yet. I doubt it but, it's got to weigh less than the Elise one.
  • It's cheap compared to a standard Elise. I know the headline prices say otherwise but driving lights and a category 1 alarm are not really options on the Elise so it works out more expensive.

These changes all make sense. These are all the things I expected to see in the next version of the Elise, in keeping with the original design philosphoy of keeping it simple and lightweight, whilst improving quality and usability. Then you have the 17" wheels which make the car look more purposeful, plus ABS, which may not be to everyones taste (certainly not mine). But the VX220 costs about the same as a standard Elise with more equipment, a more powerful engine, with improved torque, and a slicker gearbox. Being objective, us Lotus enthusiasts would be prepared to pay nearer £30k if this very same car had a Lotus badge on it, and we have been doing so for the lesser equipped 111S and the Sport 160. Are Vauxhall switch gear, engines and gearboxes worth any less than their Rover equivalents?

The things that have changed that I'm not so keen on are:

  • The bulbous steering wheel (with air-bag) and a ridiculous horn button near the rim. Right size but looks silly. I don't want an airbag in my sports car, why not make it an option?
  • The styling is an update but not necessarily an improvement. Personally I quite like it, it looks more modern but, it will not age as well as the Elise.
  • The wheel base is longer and the whole car is heavier at 875kg. This for me may ruin the VX220 for me. The defining characteristic of the Elise is it's minimal weight and the way the whole car conveys this message to the driver. 875kg is still not a lot by sports car standards, but it is 140kg more than an Elise.
  • The VX220 has power assisted brakes. Have to drive it before I'm convinced.
  • Those front fog lights should be driving lights!
  • The windscreen is the same as the Elise which probably means the wiper assembly is also shared. Nuff said.
  • It has 225 tyres at the rear but 175's at the front. These are bespoke and going to be expensive. Bet it looks silly too.
At least they've kept the unassisted steering. How these factors affect the handling and driving experience I'm not sure. Only a test drive will answer this one (anyone prepared to offer me one?) but the reviews so far suggest it's not that far off the mark. The key thing for me is that Vauxhall have moved the whole Elise variant theme on a few notches and thankyou very much for doing it Vauxhall. I firmly beleive that Lotus have shot themselves in the foot unless they have something else ready for the October motorshow. The Elise was a classic car at launch and is still the one to beat as far as I'm concerned but how much longer before it becomes a classic in the same manner as the Lotus Elan? Can they make the Elise Mk II even lighter? Surely it must have 140+bhp as standard?

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