Many prospective buyers ponder endlessly over which elise to go for or which tuning option to buy. Well for what its worth, here are my thoughts. Firstly, if you buy an elise you buy an elise and you always get the same glorious handling, precision agility, lightweight road-race feel, throttle response etc etc.. the list goes on.

The inexhastible list of tuning options on offer today only tells me how passionate people are about this car - not how depleted one version is over another. In fact quite the opposite is true - Lotus got the standard car so right that many still swear that its still the best overall balance between handling and power. So although it seems almost superflous to mention, lets remind ourselves that if you're sitting in one of these fantastic aluminium chassis every week then you should be pretty dam pleased with yourself.
However, if you're a touch obsessive like most elise owners you'll want to tweak and tune even if the differences are only slight - its all part of the fun of ownership and looking forward to future upgrades. Also, hardcore track users will almost certainly want to bias their car away from the road and tune it for the circuit where any differences will bring about more noticeable improvement.

Standard vs 111s/sport135 vs 3rd party tune ups - acceleration

From fast B road driving that I have done with fellow elise owners it is apparent that changes to the engine bring about only very small dectectable differences in terms of visible performance. If I am behind a standard elise and we are both accelerating from say 20mph in 2nd to 100mph (I mean 70mph national speed limit of course) in 4th then standard car will change early compared to me (maybe 1000rpm lower) because his 1.8k series has little at the very top end. This will happen for both gear changes and the net result is that I'll have to ease off a little. If I am in front then I'll pull away a small amount but chances are that once I've hit 70 or so there will be a bend looming so its down to 3rd and on the brakes. If I take the bend better then the advantage is held but hey, this is having fun on country lanes - chances are that I'll light a fag 3 bends later or change the cd ! 

Although its obvious to see how this translates onto the track environment, the point is that the differences are marginal in real world terms on the public highway. Lets face it, unless you know the road very well and he doesn't, any number of cars from a clio williams to a escort cosworth is gonna pretty much keep up with you.

It follows then, that the performance differences between say a 111s and a standard car fitted with a decent 3rd party conversion (like the LAD motorsport or Minister 160 conversion) are even more negligible. The factory sport 135 elise is on paper, faster than the 111s but we are talking about figures of 0.3 seconds difference to 100 mph and slightly larger in gear times. Quite clearly, you're far better off practising your gearchanges and your fast driving skills.

To a certain extent, the same seems true of a ~150bhp elise behind the Lotus sport 190 car (more like 170-180bhp). I have driven extensively with a sport 190 car and swapped cars intermittently on A, B and narrow country lanes. Given the disinterested midrange of the VHPD and the more track orientated suspension, a 111s or equivalent will easily live with the motorsport car on the roads. Even on the straights there is little noticeable difference.

Character differences

So much for the actual acceleration differences but what the figures don't tell you about is the character of the engine and the net result on driving style. What is applicable to the vvc powered 111s is also mostly true of the 3rd party stage 2 tune ups and the 135 car - and that is that the driver is encouraged to hold onto each gear for longer and redline each change. This, coupled with the close ratio gear box makes for a keener drive and more urgent progress. To some drivers, like myself, this is a very important facet of the whole driving experience. To quote my own experiences, my 111s has now almost hit the magic 10k miles mark and so it feels very free. With the exhaust, cat and air filter sorted out it really does scream its pants off all the way to 7200rpm - I personally could not live without the raw satisafaction that the vvc provides. Interestingly, a recent Dyno shoot out revealed that a 111s with performance exhaust and cat pipe gave a very impressive 153bhp.

As for the character of the VHPD unit - well a different league altogether. Obviously it has massive punch past around 5/5500 rpm but the audible conversation that you get, the popping and crackling on the overun, the hunting/lumpy idle and the angry insane roar that you get at 8000 makes for an unbelieveably entertaining experience. I find it so satisfying that it is difficult to get back into any other elise afterward. The option to hold out till that 8000 mark is also immensely rewarding - I know its a cliche but it really does pull for ever in 3rd and 4th.

On the Track

For serious track use, extra power clearly brings about a much more distinct advantage when the driver is working to a method on the same lap time and time again. The track will compliment those cars whose peak power band is spread across the high end of the rev range.
Also, from the track driving I have done so far in my elise, it is clear that you may want to get better supporting seats, better brakes, more rubber and firmer suspension (perhaps 190 suspension: koni dampers, eibach springs, uprated front anti roll bar and rear toe link assembly or the leda kit as supplied by HR Owen) way before you start trying to increase the power output. In particular, I find the standard suspension and seat support on my car to really show through as the limiting factor on the track. Remember also that the elise is not a perfect sports car, most notably in terms of lift off oversteer and bump steer and there are various conversions that will improve/solve the car in these areas. (see Harvey-Bailey engineering conversion, H R Owne suspension)

If you are pretty keen on the circuit, the fact does remain though that 30bhp or so will shave seconds off you lap time, mainly on the straight sections from chicanes or slow bends. 0-100 in the 135 or 111s is about 3 seconds quicker than the standard car so translated into a 40mph -100mph situation on say a couple of straight sections of your favourite circuit and quite clearly there is a big advantage to be had (but not until you're competitive around the corners and at the braking points etc.. so get this right first !!!). Again, its up to you to decide how important your track performance is and if  the extra boot on the straights is worth the money to you.

Although I have yet to really exploit to the full a very high powered elise on the track, it is worth bearing in mind the prospect of being able to drive with power induced oversteer on the exit of a bend. Controlled slides are obviously very entertaining and something like the TT supercharger may give you the grunt to make it possible.


The standard car has found thousands of happy homes and many still feel its the best overall balance yet. The most professional and reliable of the 3rd party conversions (and those that don't seem to sacrifice low end torque of the K series - watch out, some bad conversions do exist) to up the top end get your elise up to the claimed 140-160 bhp (although they are no doubt well below this figure on a proper dyno) mark seem to be:
1.Lotus 135 kit (esp. with close ratio box)
2.the Minister 160 conversion (not 160bhp though)

(or bell and colvill super 160) 

3.The LAD motorport conversion 

4.The Raceline upgrade

These mods will  in the main, change the character of the car so it feels more urgent and more suited to hard driving. Remember that the prospects of recovering your outlay for these conversions are pretty slim and also, the best initial performance upgrade for any standard elise is perhaps the addition of the close ratio gearbox - once you've got rid of the standard car's short gearing, any future mods you make to the engines top end can be fully benefited from.

The 111s ranks almost identically in terms of performance alonside the decent 3rd party offerings, as does the factory sport 135 car.
But remember that the vvc engine is hard to tune beyond ~165bhp.

It is up to you to decide if the extra grunt at the top end is worth the money. Ultimately it is a small difference in power in real world terms but it may be a difference that you would rather not live without.

Finally, bear in mind that the modifications to the 111s at the rear, including the wider rear track, revised rear toe-steer angles and 225 section tyres do represent a change in character at the limit. Push hard through a bend and the 111s will show more tendency to understeer as opposed to digging in and lift-off oversteer as per the standard car. I've been driven by instructors back to back in the standard car and the 111s and comments from the magazines and owners of both cars have been echoed, i.e. that the rear end of the 111s generally feels more secure and composed and overall car balance is definitely less nervous. Other people however, still prefer the standard car with thoughts ranging from "dont like the understeer on the 111s" to "the engines more powerful but has less soul than the standard K series".

The most important

Amidst all the choice and uncertainty, one thing is for certain: Don't get so bogged down in all the pub talk that you forget about track days and a bit of circuit training. This is far more important than any conversion or uprated model. Budget for at least a years worth of track time first and maybe a high performance driving course, then see how much you've got left to get a car with.

The 190
Well for the moment, that just leaves the factory sport 190 car. Sit behind one at a standstill and listen to its cackling and spluttering and you'll start planning to get that extra 10 grand ! For me the 190 represents a very real upgrade but mainly because of the character of the VHPD which is very addictive. On public roads it won't have anything over a 135 or a 111s but on the track when its kept above 5.5 - 6000rpm it will really shine. Also, given the price of the 135 and the 111s the 190 really does represent great value for money because it has so much on it, as well as the vhpd which is one serious and expensive race-tuned bit of kit. Try costing a 111s with all the safety equipment, the uprated suspension and thousands of pounds of vvc tuning to reach a paltry 170bhp and you'll get well over the £34,000 mark of the 190. The only drawbacks are the dismal prospects of getting a new one through type approval, the lack of a full factory warranty and the extra expense of engine rebuild.

Ok, so the 190 isn't super quick but it is the off-the-shelf engine to have in an elise for the track and its the first truly satisfying and entertaining powerplant that I have ever seen/driven in a Lotus.

Aside from all the ready made stuff there are lots of further alternatives of course and some people have tuned the K series themselves with good results and quite cost-effectively (RE: Simon Scuffham, Bernard Scouse). Of course there is always forced induction to surmount the limitations of the engines capacity and I have heard good reports about the new Turbo Technics supercharger and Bell and Colvill do a 220bhp turbo conversion. Also BBR offer a number of turbocharging options including a supposed 300bhp version ??

Personally, after owning 2 turbocharged Lotus's, I wish to now stick with normally aspirated engines for ever. Despite the fact that supercharging doesn't necessarily compromise throttle response, for me, the elise needs a NA powerplant. If money wasn't an issue and I could start from scratch again, I would definitely buy a cheap second hand standard elise and then put all the bits I wanted onto it including the VHPD.

Final Conclusion

The situation is not easy for elise purchasers. The standard could use some extra power. The 111s and 135 sport are expensive and don't deliver enough of a performance upgrade for the money and the 3rd party engine conversions, whilst cheaper, still provide little more and also carry the burden of warranty and resale problems. Given the prohibitively high cost of fitting a new vhpd (~10K) The Turbo Technics supercharger conversion (retaining boot space)  probably represents the most satisfying off-the-shelf answer to date for owners of the standard elise but what we really want is a factory car that holds its value and has been tried and tested by the men themselves and comes with a warranty.

Clearly, the onus is on Lotus to bring out a premium version of the elise. The 111s was way too late and maybe represents the first rung to the ladder. This type of drip feed marketing (and the existence of vhpd, detuned 170bhp vhpd - a la 340R, rover supercharged 1.8k series) indicates that the next version may appear shortly - only when Lotus think its financially the right time though. My guess is Geneva 2000 a.d. When the Lotus sport franchises begin at selected dealers next year, the motorsport coupe will be available in upgradable parts and rumour has it that configurations of this car may be availble as Factory items. Whether the complete motorsport cars they produce will be  road-legal  is anybody's guess although some have hinted that one offering will essentially be a 111s in Motorport coupe clothing (kind of not the real thing !).
Until such time, I have drawn only 1 major conclusion, drive them all (and that includes the TT and sport 190) and decide for yourself.


information on the  of sport 190, super 140, sport 135 and lotus tuning parts
a 135 sport owners site
anatomy of an Austrailian GTP sport 190 elise
Lotus official sport 190 press release
Vivian Mezza's report on the 135 lotus tune up kit
brilliant, comprehensive info on tuning the K series
comprehensive spec of the 111s from B&C
Bell and Colvill super 140, 160 and 220 conversions
Minister engine conversions
Turbo Technics website
BBR elise tuning
listings of many different tuning options
a K series tuning intro by Simon Scuffham

The Jackals Racetrack http://www.jackals-forge.com/lotus 1998 Richard Morris