When Lotus launched the mk2 111S it was with the promise that it would bridge the liveability gap between the hardcore Elise mk1 and 'ordinary' roadsters like the Audi TT and Porsche Boxster. Sounded appealing, so we gave it a try.
By chance I'd just bought a mk1 Elise, so it would be easy enough to see if Lotus's claims about enhanced practicality, convenience and driveability rang true. It would also spark a debate about which of the two is the better looking, and now that the mk2 has returned to its maker, I don't think I'm any closer to the answer to that one.
With the miseries of winter upon us the 111S immediately scored points for a hood that not only didn't leak as much as my mk1's, but was also comparatively simple to take off and put on again. It's a personal mantra, but if you've bought a soft-top, you drive with the roof off - in the mk1 this means you need a degree in marquee erection, but with the 111S you could remove the roof (though not put it back on again) while sitting in the car. The optional (£1295) air-conditioning in the 111S was also a boon, meaning that you didn't need to demist the car for 20 minutes before departure.
The 111S is also far easier to get in and out of with the hood on than my mk1, but let's not confuse that with true convenience - at my local railway station I once had an entire track repair crew crowd round the Elise to see how it was possible to thread a normal-sized human through such a small gap. If you can get in, you'll be surprised how much luggage you can take with you, provided you pack carefully - I once took with me all my camera gear, car cleaning kit, and clothes for a couple of days away at the N¼rburgring. That particular trip through Belgium and Germany revealed how exotic the little Lotus appears away from its home market - wherever I stopped, people literally queued to have their photograph taken next to the Elise.
Our particular 111S began life as one of the original launch cars (it had 8244 miles on the odo when we got it) and if you sit in the Lotus reception area you may still be able to watch it being thraped eternally sideways around the Hethel test track. Which is to say it's hardly surprising that it had a rattle or two, the worst of which was from the driver's door window winder mechanism.
We encountered other problems, too. At about 12,000 miles the engine warning light came on for the first time. Although the car was running alright we sent it back to Lotus for a check-up where it was diagnosed with a dicky HT lead. Soon after this 'fix', however, the 111S blinked its little warning light again and started to run roughly - after much head-scratching the fault was traced to a defective cam follower, replaced under warranty.
Laziness prevented me sorting out a couple of other difficulties before the car went back, although with the in-car entertainment I did make a bit of effort. The standard Clarion CD-tuner was never keen to pick up radio stations outside Norfolk and when its CD function packed up, too, I simply stuck in a new Alpine head unit. Although I could now play CDs, I still couldn't tune in to radio stations; the latest spec Elise has a coating of tin foil on the underside of the engine cover where the aerial is mounted to improve reception. As for an alarm that enjoyed getting me out of bed at 2.00am, well, I never bothered setting it ever again...
That may sound like a catalogue of woe, but it didn't seem so at the time, and the bit I will always remember about the Elise is the sublime driving experience; my day brightened every time I dropped into its low-slung bucket and grabbed its chubby little steering wheel. But can you live with it day to day? I did and would again if I could afford to buy our 111S from Lotus, yet I concede it's a car you have to learn to love. On the few occasions I left it around for others in the evo team to drive, very few of them took up the option of more than one night home in it. The physical contortions required to get in and out with the roof on scared a few of them off, while the rattly window convinced others (erroneously) that something might soon drop off.
Truly, though, Elise life was hugely satisfying, more practical than I originally gave it credit for, and it meant that grey journeys turned technicolour.