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Lotus Elise vs. Vauxhall VX220

Lotus Elise vs. Vauxhall VX220 Published: 21st Jun 2019 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

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Lotus Elise

Why should I buy one?

This car is not only a Lotus landmark but the best car to come out of Hethel since founder Colin Chapman’s death in 1982. With its back to basic theme twined with innovative thinking, it’s a sports car that he’ would have heartily approved of – just like today’s legions of fans who rate it as one of the best drivers’ cars ever.

What can I get?

With the basic Elise platform accounting for an impressive 40,000 + sales for Lotus (it accounts for almost half of all Lotuses ever made!) there’s a fair selection of Elises to choose from over the two generations we’re concentrating on plus of course the car is still being made to this day. The S1 is the most coveted and of more classical value although S2s, which are by-and-large cheaper and the best developed, as is the way. Models to look out for include the Elise 190 VHPD (Very High Performance Derivative), 340R, (just 340 examples were built), Elise Sprint that was quickly rebadged the 111S, with a 143bhp tune of the VVC K-Series engine and shorter gearing. Sport 135 (just 50 made), sports new brakes and suspension and ‘lower’ fifth gear ratio. The final versions of the Series 1 Elise were released in May 2000. The Sport 160 produced 160bhp from a non-VVC version of the K-Series engine; it also featured a higher rear wing and metallic grey five spoke alloy wheels. As well as these production editions, there were special editions, such as the Type 49 decked with old Lotus red/gold F1 colours, Type 79 (in honour of the ‘Ground Effect’ 79 F1 car) and the GT1 – only seven made. Of the S1s, the 111S and the Sport 135 offer the best mix for road and track.

What are they like to drive?

Somewhat stung by criticism of the GTi-like Elan M100, the Elise was designed with one thing in mind and that was to offer the best possible driving experience and to hell with everything else, care of a mid-mounted engine for optimum weight distribution and a special alloy superstructure, for stiffness and lightness. That much-maligned Rover K-Series (which appears more reliable in the Lotus-ed) has all the power you need for such a lightweight – even in standard 1.8i 118bhp trim. A word of warning; S1 can bite once you breach its ultra high limits, the S2 is friendlier and has lovely Toyota power.

What are they like to live with?

As long as you get a good one that hasn’t crashed or thrashed, Elises are quite durable although the K-Series (MGF) engine is prone to pop head gaskets. Drive a few because standards vary (worn suspensions, brakes, etc). Excellent Elise S1s can be priced beyond £20,000 (especially the special editions) and anything half this has to be considered well used but S2s are better value at around £12,000 for a decent example. Lotus offers a Certificate of Provenance. It includes full VIN, model and variant, original engine and gearbox serial numbers, body and trim colours, optional extras ordered, build date and even the original dealer/ distributor it was dispatched to. These are priced from £40-£50 inc postage depending upon information available. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or telephone 01603 732178.

We reckon

Best to look at the Elise as a more civilised Seven with modern design thrills and styling yet with just as much back to basics seat-of-your-pants fun. Arguably i VS t’s the greatest ever Lotus…

Vauxhall VX220

Why should I buy one?

Who would have ever thought that Vauxhall of all people would launch the closest competitor to the Elise but that’s what Luton did with the VX220. To some it’s as simple as wanting a modern classic that’s associated with Formula One rather than the local sales rep, but to others, the anonymity of the badge is a main attraction. Mind you, the VX220 is essentially an Elise S2, albeit with styling changes and Astra engines and also built in Norfolk. Badge snobbery will always mean that the Lotus will get the nod yet, quietly, Elise specialists admit that the Vauxhall is a fine car and blisteringly fast in Turbo guise yet can be bought cheaper and – technically – serviced by Vauxhall dealers.

What can I get?

With GM bankrolling Lotus, a deal was struck 20 years ago to use the new S2 Elise for its own means and the Opel Speedster concept was first shown that also became the VX220 with a Vauxhall badge. Essentially a S2 Elise with a revised body, a slightly longer wheelbase, larger tyres, plus a 2.2-litre Astra SRi engine, good for 145bhp in standard tune. Spec is better than Elise by way of carpeting, driver’s air bag and anti-lock brakes. For 2003 the Turbo (VXT) has 2-litre Astra engine but turbocharged liberating 197bhp. Special editions include the Yellow (2001) and the run out hard core, lightened VXR220 of which 60 were made.

What are they like to drive?

Any car, no matter what badge it bears, is going to be mind blowing if it’s Elise-based. The Lotus turns in a little crisper than the Vauxhall, but frankly, on the road there’s very little in it. What’s more of a surprise is that, despite its sporty feel, the VX also has a better ride; by comparison, the Lotus feels quite a bit firmer in most situations and edgier when approaching the limit while the VX220 is that bit friendlier. If anything the Astra engines are preferred with their added torque and durabilty. The 197bhp Turbo is blisteringly fast although the 2.2-litre is not far behind and it’s easier to live with.

What are they like to live with?

It’s said that around 10 per cent of the car was shared with the Lotus – the chassis is substantially modified and spares and repairs may prove especially difficult over time – headlights are now a prime example, costing some £1000. There’s also been a handful of recalls (brakes, wheels and airbag). The Vauxhall engine is far stronger than the K-Series and only timing chain issues (2.2) are major concern, together with worn turbos. Can be looked after by main dealers although we suspect that many will not touch one these days… The Griffin badge means lower prices than the Lotus although VX values have taken a turn. You’re looking at comfortably over £10,000 for the best examples, with fair-to-good alternatives pitched around the £8000 mark and typically, a Turbo can be worth as much as half again over a normal VX220 and it won’t be long before the VXR makes a cool £30,000 if it’s unblemished, like the example at last year’s NEC Classic Motor Show. The time to buy a good one has to be now.

We reckon

Badge snobs needn’t apply for the VX220 but true enthusiasts should. The VX220 can do anything an Elise can but with keener prices and definitely better exclusivity!


Classic Motoring

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