What Lotus has achieved with the new Elise deserves recognition. The engine in the new 111 ('one-eleven') has been redeveloped to produce more power than its predecessor (158bhp compared to 120bhp), while CO2 emissions have been cut to bring the car into the lowest tax band in the new benefit-in-kind system for the 2002/03 tax year.
The previous Elise emitted 177g/km meaning it would be taxed at 17% of its P11D price. The new 111 emits 163g/km, meaning a company driver would pay tax on 15% of the P11D price this year, 16% in 2003/04 and 18% in 2004/05.
To put its emission rate into perspective, the Elise 111 emits the same CO2 as a Ford Ka 1.3, less than a Vauxhall Astra 1.6 16v (171g/km) and less than a Peugeot 206 2.0 GTi (187g/km), among numerous others.
The reduction in CO2 also mean the Elise 111 falls into a lower VED band than its predecessor, band B (151-165g/km) with an annual charge of £120 compared to £140 in band C.
The Elise 111 also has impressive mpg rates. The combined cycle figure is 40.9 mpg, up from 38.1mpg of the previous Elise.
It is an achievement Lotus engineers can be proud of. But why is one of the world's most famous sports car producers pushing the CO2 message?
Ansar Ali, Lotus UK and international general manager, said: 'The market is becoming more environmentally aware. We are in no way trying to target the traditional fleet operator, but nevertheless tax changes are driving customer choices. We are targeting the user-chooser and we see it as essential to address their growing concerns about CO2, the environment and the impact on their tax bills, as well as acknowledging the fact that Lotus has to act responsibly.'
Lotus has made significant efforts to catch the eye of a selected number of fleet decision-makers in its marketing drive for the Elise. It has sent mail shots to 4,000 fleet managers and finance directors, followed up by invitations to its Norfolk headquarters for test drives.
'We know that we offer an attractive proposition to certain businesses, in particular IT firms and advertising agencies where status is crucial.
'Our message was that the Elise is a premium, aspirational product but is also affordable.
'One of our tasks was to let people know the price of our cars. I think there was a belief that you needed to hand over silly money to get a Lotus,' said Ali.
The 111 is available in two trim levels. The base will retail for £25,995 and the 'luxury' S for £27,995 on-the-road. The residual value message, he added, is also a strong one. A one-year-old Elise with 10,000 miles on the clock is worth 80% of its price new.
About 10% of Lotus sales are to company car drivers. He expects this to grow slightly with the arrival of the Elise 111. Lotus expects 1,700 new 111s to be sold in the first year, accounting for up to 40% of total Elise sales.
Behind the wheel
The new 111 builds on the unprecedented success of the Elise brand. When it was launched in 1996 Lotus expected it to sell about 800 units in five years. The total is nearer 12,000.
The most significant changes have been made to the powertrain: the 1.8-litre Rover K-series engine. The car now comes with a Lotus-developed variable valve control, designed - with the close ratio gearbox - to give much more civilised cruising at motorway speeds.
The changes have boosted the power from 120bhp to 158bhp with 90% of the torque available across 70% of the operating range. The 111 accelerates from 0-60mph in 5.1 seconds and has a top speed of 131mph, compared to the standard Elise's 5.5 seconds and 125mph.
The S specification adds carpets, full leather interior trim, four speakers and single CD player, tyre inflator and enhanced disc brakes.
To drive, the car will be a shock to anyone cosseted in a cushioned, lumbar supporting, power steering, ABS-obsessed world of fleet motoring. You get onboard rather than in it, climbing behind the wheel into hardback seats in way you'd imagine flyers to get in a biplane - in other words both feet on the floor before lowering your body. There is so little give in the seats that the prospect of serious motoring is daunting. But your body adapts and 80 miles later - and despite nearing six foot five in height - there were no pains in that department.
The instrument panel is basic but visually impressive. Sitting behind the tiny steering wheel is the speedo and rev counter. A digital read out gives mileage, trip, time and the amount of fuel remaining.
Lotus boasts that in the new 111 it has a car that is comfortable to drive on the road as well as offering a white knuckle ride on a track. It has achieved this - in parts. The performance of the car cannot be questioned. The power available, the roar of the engine and the acceleration is incredible.
The lack of electronic wizardry between the steering wheel and the wheels (there is no power steering) and your foot and the brakes (there is no ABS) means you get the sort of driving experience that you'd thought was no longer possible. It can rattle your bones sometimes, but it gives you a massive buzz. Down country lanes on the Norfolk/Suffolk border I had some of the most exciting driving I have ever experienced.
The 111 will never be a 'work-tool'. You won't want to be doing 20,000 miles a year in it, but in a fleet market that continues to diversify and as a car to inspire mainly office-based staff to new heights, the 111 is a car to be seriously considered.