Esprit V8 - Road & Track #1 Question 10 enthusiasts about the most important quality in a high-performance sports car, and you will, of course, get 20 different answers. A high-revving multivalve engine. Turbocharged or supercharged. With the engine in the middle. Precise steering. Big brakes. Big tires. Sleek. Balanced. Fun. And a low price would be nice. The Lotus twin-turbocharged Esprit will give you all of the above except the low price. 

Elementary physics suggest that more power and less weight will make a car faster, all else like gears, tires and aerodynamics being equal. At less than four feet high, an Esprit is acceptably slick, the 285/35ZR-18s on the back have substantial grip, and gearing is fully appropriate. And even when saddled with the weight of luxury appointments, the Esprit just tops the 3000-lb mark. 
Right behind the driver and ahead of the rear wheels, exactly where many would argue it should be for a sports car, is the engine. About the size of a 27-in. television, and under 500 lb fully dressed with starter, air conditioner and two water-cooled Garrett turbos, is a 3.5-liter 4-cam V-8.  Hooked to a twin-disc clutch and a 5-speed transaxle, and revved up to 6500 rpm, it generates 350 bhp and will fire the lightweight Lotus to 60 mph in under 4.5 sec, and to 100 mph before many cars reach half that speed. Terminal velocity is 175 mph, at which point you are happy to compromise rearward visibility with that big wings stability.

Figures like this mandate superior handling, a Lotus hallmark from the companys inception. Coil sprung all around, the Esprit uses upper and lower control arms, an anti-roll bar, and rack-and-pinion steering up front, with trailing arms and lateral links in the rear. Though it will change direction and go round the bends at ridiculous speeds, it remains compliant enough to drive until the tank empties. Very large Michelin Pilots clear very large Brembo vented discs and transmit all this energy to the pavement.

Despite its age, but given the occasional facelift, the Esprit looks distinctive. The angular edges, "ear scoops" behind the doors and deep chin spoiler are both aesthetic and effective. The interior provides a high degree of amenities including polished walnut, leather and an Alpine sound system. Accommodations for two are provided, and those drivers over six feet will be firmly ensconced in the cabin.

The Lotus Esprit does not have the brute force of a Viper, nor the wail of a Ferrari V-12, but will put up a respectable showing against either. Whether you prefer the sophisticated finesse of the Colin Chapman racing heritage, or just want to put numbers on the side of it, a twin-turbo Esprit is a sports car of the first order.

Esprit V8  est $85,675  V-8t  5M STD 2 STD

Layout  rwd
Wheelbase  96.0 in.
Track, f/r 60.2/60.8 in. 
Length  172.0 in.
Width  73.5 in.  
Height  45.3 in.  
Curb weight 3043 lb
Base engine 350-bhp  
  twin-turbo dohc32V V-8
  Bore x stroke 83.0 x 81.0 mm 
  Displacement  3506cc
  Compression ratio 8.0:1
  Horsepower, SAE net 350 bhp @ 6500rpm
  Torque  295 lb-ft @ 4250rpm
Fuel econ, city/hwy 15/23 mpg  
Optional engine(s) none
Transmission  5M
Suspension, f/r ind/ind
Brakes, f/r disc/disc, ABS
Tires  235/40ZR-17 (f)  
Luggage capacity 5.4 cu ft. 
Fuel capacity 19.3 gal.
Warranty, years/miles:
  Bumper-to-bumper  2/unlimited
  Powertrain  2/unlimited
  Rust-through  8/unlimited

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98 Esprit V8 - Road & Track #2 LOTUS ESPRIT

When you think of exotic sports cars around the world, images of a roaring 12-cylinder Ferrari or Lamborghini immediately pop into mind. But when you think of a Lotus Esprit, well, you certainly see the style of an exotic car, but perhaps not all of the sound and the fury that should accompany it.

Why did Colin Chapman, famous for his engineering achievements, put a whiny turbocharged 4-cylinder engine into the Esprit in the first place? Well, the truth is that when the Esprit was first conceived in 1970, a V-8 project (code-named M71) was already in the works. Maybe it's because of cost considerations that the V-8 did not make it into the Esprit's engine bay until 1997. But now, with double the cylinders making deep throaty sounds through its tailpipes, the Esprit can truly call itself a supercar.

For 1998, the compact and efficient Lotus Type 918 V-8 engine remains unchanged. This 3.5-liter 32-valve twin-turbo V-8 is capable of pumping out 350 bhp at 6,500 rpm and 295 lb-ft of torque at 4,250 rpm. The aluminum-block engine occupies the same volume as the previous 2.2-liter turbocharged inline-4, but weighs only 485 lb.

The deep, throaty growl of the Esprit's eight cylinders lets you hear the power as they launch the car to 60 mph in just 4.4 sec. It beats last year's turbocharged 4-cylinder Esprit S4S by 0.3 sec, and it's more than a half-second quicker to 60 mph than the Ferrari F355.

Complementing the V-8 engine are the Esprit's already first-rate handling characteristics. This Lotus continues with its upper and lower A-arms in front and lateral links with trailing arms at the rear. Around the skidpad and slalom, the Esprit V8 is well balanced, with mild understeer, but amenable to throttle-induced antics pretty much at will.

Wrapped around the Esprit V8 chassis remains the familiar low- and wide-stance styling that has made the car famous all these years. Its wedgy shape at the front precedes a low roofline and low-set doors. Though dramatic looking, ingress and egress through them are a challenge for anyone over 6-ft tall.

But once you hop over the tall door sill and climb into the driver's seat, you are treated to surroundings of rich Connolly leather and glossy walnut veneer. For 1998, the Esprit has an updated instrument panel with Stack gauges (similar to Esprit's sibling in Europe, the Lotus Elise) and more-integrated switches. According to Lotus, the interior space will also appear roomier even though its dimensions will remain unchanged. The freshened interior is scheduled to debut at this year's London Auto Show.

With a price tag that starts at $79,325, the Esprit V8 is a bargain, considering the 4-cylinder S4Ss were selling at $75,995. The Esprit V8 comes fully loaded, with all the amenities of a luxury car. But you can still add on the customer-selected paint ($3,200), or the special O.Z. racing wheels ($1,500), or even a glass roof ($695) to put that personal touch on your car.

Now that the Esprit has all of the basics to be an exotic sports car -- the look, the feel, and finally a proper guttural sounding V-8 -- we can perhaps experience what Colin Chapman intended the Esprit to be in the first place. 

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96 Esprit - Road & Track #3 Lotus's plans for 1996 are somewhat uncertain as of this moment, at least as far as revelations are concerned. It's no secret that a new V-8-powered car is nearing introduction; when that will happen has yet to be announced. What is certain is that the Esprit is still available. That's good news, since the mid-engine Lotus has lost none of its appeal.

Two versions of the evergreen Esprit are available. The S4 remains as it was after a host of 1994 body and chassis changes. A second model, the S4S, made its debut last year; it incorporates interior and exterior styling cues from the European S4 300.

In either case, power comes from a turbocharged dohc 16-valve inline-4. The Lotus-built engine's electronics have been massaged to allow increased boost for limited periods. Combined with larger intake valves and other detail refinements, this raises maximum power to 300 bhp. Last year's new engine block, cylinder head, and oil sump castings increased rigidity, coolant capacity and reliability. Internal revisions to the 5-speed manual gearbox made it more durable, while linkage changes improved shift feel. These changes have been joined by a new timing belt with a 100,000-mile life.

If anything, the Esprit's chassis is even more impressive. It is no understatement to put the S4 (and S4S) among the world's best-handling GT cars. Roll-free through corners, stable under heavy braking, and almost supernaturally responsive to driver input, the Esprit is a textbook example of how high-performance cars should handle.

With a few exceptions--most notably the seats--the Esprit cabin matches the chassis for competence. It's cozy inside, though all but the tallest drivers can find room to maneuver. The S4S adds electronic gauges and wood trim to the standard interior.

Even with a new--and presumably faster and fancier--Lotus on the way, the Esprit offers driving pleasure that can only be found in a few other places. It is a solid alternative to such stalwarts as the Porsche 911 and Acura NSX, and as desirable today as ever.

Wheelbase...............96.0 in. 
Track, f/r...............60.0/60.5 in. 
Length...............170.5 in. 
Width...............73.2 in. 
Height...............45.3 in. 
Curb weight...............2955 lb 
Base engine...............300-bhp turbo dohc 16V inline-4 
Bore x stroke...............95.3 x 76.2 mm 
Compression ratio...............8.0:1 
Horsepower, SAE net...............300 bhp @ 6500 rpm 
Torque...............281 lb-ft @ 3500 rpm 
Fuel econ, city/hwy...............17/27 mpg (1995 model) 
Optional engine(s)...............none 
Suspension, f/r...............ind/ind 
Brakes, f/r...............disc/disc, ABS 
Tires...............215/40ZR-17 (f) 
                       245/45ZR-17 (r) 
Luggage capacity...............8.2 cu ft 
Fuel capacity...............19.3 gal. 
Warranty, years/miles: 

Esprit S4   / est $72,000 / I-4T / 5M / STD / DUAL / STD 
Esprit S4S / est $75,000 / I-4T / 5M / STD / DUAL / STD 

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Rumors for 98 Esprit - Road & Track #4 V-8 Lotus Esprit, 1998
Stay tuned for a 1998 launch of the next-generation Lotus Esprit. The lightweight car will make wide use of extruded aluminum pieces and aluminum-bonding technology--a la the Elise show car. The current Esprit's turbocharged 4-cylinder engine is in its final days, and will be replaced in the new super Lotus by a V-8 delivering around 450 bhp and a very unsupercar-like 32 mpg. 

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Esprit S4 and S4s - Road & Track #5 LOTUS ESPRIT S4
Price - est $72,000 
Body/seats - coupe/2 
engine and output: 2.2-liter turbocharged dohc 16V inline-4, 264 bhp 
Layout - mid engine/rear drive 
Length (in.)/weight (lb.) - 170.5/2850 
Fuel economy, city/hwy, mpg - 17/27 
Safety features: Airbag - D, std/P, na 
ABS - std

Subtle changes define the latest iteration of this exotic road car, developed far beyond Colin Chapman's stark Giugiaro-styled theme. Braking is enhanced by the fitting of oversize Brembo discs. A badge replaces the Lotus script on the rear deck. Within, the upholstery gets piping and the stereo gets upgraded.

Reference - First Drive: 2/94

Feature: 4/94 
MAKE & MODEL: Lotus Esprit S4S 
ISSUE: 7-95 
BASE PRICE: $75,995 
0-60 MPH, SEC.: 4.7 
1/4 MILE, SEC.: 13.3 
SKIDPAD, G: 0.91 
SLALOM, MPH: 61.7 

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Rumors for 99 Esprit  - Road & Track #6 The bad news from Lotus is that nothing has changed for 1999; the good news is that the status quo is fine by us. In other words, the twin-turbocharged V-8 Esprit continues, along with last year's updates-a rounder, redesigned dashboard, more positive shifting, and a taller rear wing that is less of a hindrance to seeing what you just passed. And what about the chances of the little Elise ever finding its way into the U.S.? We're still waiting and Lotus is still trying to figure out a way to make it happen. 

Lotus Esprit V8 
Price range: $82,625-$85,000 
Body/seats: coupe/2 
Engine: 3.5-liter twin turbocharged dohc 32V V-8, 350 bhp 
Layout: mid-engine/rear-drive 
Length (in.): 172.0 
Weight (lb.): 3045 
Mpg, city/hwy: 15/22 
Side airbags: driver/passenger 
ABS: std 

Reference: RT: 9/97;FEA: 11/97 

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98 Esprit V8 - Road & Track #7 This year's Lotus Esprit may look almost identical to the previous model, but, as the saying goes, don't judge a book by its cover. Open the doors of the 1998 Esprit, and you'll see a completely restyled interior. Of note are the round instrument pod replacing the square one of yore, and the redesigned center dash that features a new easy-to-use ventilation system. Unfortunately, Esprit V8s bound for the States still have the old steering wheel, taken from the General Motors parts bin; European models get a sporty Momo (non-airbag) wheel. Still, the overall look of the new interior is fresh and attractive.

For 1998, Lotus also improved the car's shift feel. The Esprit V8's 5-speed gearbox now has lighter detents and a more positive, less complicated linkage. Also new is a redesigned low-inertia flywheel that helps improve engine responsiveness. Careful observers will notice that the Esprit V8 sports a new rear wing. Not only does it improve the car's looks, it's tall enough for the driver to enjoy an unobstructed view through the rearview mirror-something virtually impossible in past models. 

So how long before a new car takes its place?

"It'll be at least a few more years, probably the year 2000," says Lotus Cars U.S.A. CEO Arnie Johnson. "But there is a new Esprit definitely on the horizon, and I'm sure it'll adopt some of the principles of the Elise, meaning that it'll be lighter and more fun to drive."

Being one of the lucky Americans who has driven the Elise, I, for one, can't wait. 
-Sam Mitani 

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Acura NSX vs. Lotus Esprit Turbo - Road & Track #8 Exotic Diversions
The journeys may differ, but the destination is the same

Envision, for a moment, a special heaven created just for automotive engineers. They'd pass through some pearly-looking gates, perhaps pluck a few chords on oversize, gilded harps, then maybe recline for a few moments on a comfortable, puffy cloud. Before long, I'd venture, they'd carefully place their halos and wings aside, roll up their sleeves and set about designing the perfect exotic car.

These chosen-from-above gearheads would be given free rein and many clean sheets of paper for the task; after all, this heaven would be recompense for cruel earthly toil involving the design of power-steering pumps and license-plate brackets. Before the first sketch was rendered, though, an essential prerequisite would have to be met: careful study of the Acura NSX and Lotus Esprit Turbo, two benchmarks in the evolution of the exotic car.

Ground-scrapingly low slung. Room for two. Mid-mounted engines. Largely handcrafted from lightweight materials. Possessing enough forward thrust to keep one's backside pressed firmly into the seat, enough deceleration under braking to suspend driver from seatbelt like a bottomed-out bungee jumper, and enough mechanical stamina to repeat the process over and over again without breaking a sweat. They attract small crowds when parked, and even when driven--they're sort of the Pied Pipers of the automotive world.

While both the Acura and Lotus are fascinating means to the same end, their origins are decades apart and their approaches, a study in contrasts.

The Lotus has been in production since 1975, and the sharp-edged Giorgio Giugiaro-designed prototype dates back to 1971. Through the years, it has been significantly updated mechanically and had its edges softened visually, but it remains true to the original inspiration of Anthony Colin Bruce Chapman and his tightly knit, intensely focused band of engineers. Its structure follows traditional Lotus practice, with a galvanized steel backbone chassis whose tubular aft structure cradles what's currently the highest-specific-output production car engine sold in the U.S.--a 2.2-liter twincam inline-4 that, with help from a turbocharger and water-to-air intercooler, makes 264 bhp. Its shape, crafted of fiberglass composite panels and made famous through the years in James Bond films (and more recently at the gearbox-gnashing hands of Richard Gere's character in Pretty Woman), continues to grab its share of admiring glances from even the car-callous denizens of Newport Beach.

The NSX is a computer-engineered child of the Nineties, brought into this world screaming at the top of its lungs. Its aluminum 3.0-liter dohc V-6 develops its 270 bhp through ingenious valvetrain technology and expensive bits such as titanium connecting rods, which enable it not only to spin to 8000 rpm, but to make usable power at those revs as well. Its structure? While the unit-body method of the NSX's construction is nothing new, the material itself is unconventional--aluminum stampings and extrusions are used for body panels and all major load-bearing members, with the exception of a steel tube that runs the width of the car to support the steering column. And the NSX is thoroughly modern in its approach to occupant comfort--the car's generous interior dimensions were carved in stone first, then the mechanicals designed around them, a rarity in a class where providing adequate space for people can seem like an afterthought.

The NSX lists for $68,600. The Esprit, pegged last year at $86,750, is now $67,345, within a whisker of the NSX's price tag; the nearly $20,000 reduction is Lotus' response to the high-end sports-car market that's recently sagged like the jowls of a Saint Bernard. With the playing field of price nearly level, we thought it was high time to see how England's Old Guard exotic stacks up against Japan's only mass-produced mid-engine supercar, on both the Streets of Willow race track near Lancaster, California, and in that acid test of low-speed temperament, the daily commute.

On entering the Esprit, the scent of leather overwhelms. no wonder with what seems like acres of the supple tan stuff covering just about every exposed surface, stitched with just enough imperfection to suggest it's been done by hand. You face a battery of thick-bezeled round gauges, all too small with rather crowded markings, set in a panel sheathed with polished wood veneer. The nonadjustable steering wheel is--aaargh!--pulled straight from the Firebird/Camaro parts bin, replete with bulbous airbag and rubbery covering, but at least its rim is thick and leather-wrapped. The seating position is low, semi-reclined and cozy, and now there's enough room for six-footers to be comfortable, thanks to a newly revised firewall bulkhead and stretched footbox. It's real work to see out, with the base of the almost flat, steeply raked windshield seeming very far away. And the view straight back is neatly bisected (and heavily compromised) by a large wing, restyled for 1993. Rear-quarter outward vision? Slim to none, making lane changes and reversing maneuvers exercises in neck craning...and faith.

Where the NSX gives away some of the warmth and the fussed-over look of the Esprit's cabin, it gives back in day-to-day livability. The dash and 
the instrument panel, done up in imitation leather and dark gray plastic, feel as though they've been poured in around your knees, so low is the cowl and so good the forward vision. Tach and speedometer are huge and clearly marked, offer information without study, and are visible through a three-spoke wheel with tiny airbag and what's possibly the most supple leather ever to encircle a steering-wheel rim. Footwells are generously wide, with a proper dead pedal and room for even big, clumsy feet--in the Esprit, there's no room to the left of the clutch pedal, leaving your left foot to flop against the sizable wheel arch when it's not helping change gears. Seat facings are genuine bovine skin, as are the door panel inserts, and the seats themselves are either vastly more supportive or somewhat more confining than the Esprit's rather flat-cushioned devices, depending on the way your own particular chassis is put together.

Fire up the engines, blip the throttles, and you'll see why variety is said to be the spice of life. Our test Lotus, after two or three twists of the ignition key, settled into a slightly thumpy idle. Once underway, accomplished with a light, easily modulated clutch action, whine from the toothed timing belt just inches behind your head ascends in concert with the tach needle scurrying around to the Esprit's 7400-rpm redline. At each shift, the turbo's wastegate titters just a little, keeping that little compressor ready to deliver its full 12.5-psi wrath for the next gear--which it does with just a half-beat of lag. And those gears are served up through the most mechanically exact shift linkage Lotus has offered yet, though its throws seem long when compared with the economical wristy motions required to select the NSX's different cogs. Whether puttering down Main Street or going all-out for acceleration runs, there's always a certain amount of mechanical ruckus competing with the noises made by your passenger and/or the excellent JVC sound system. And equally satisfying lunges of acceleration are at the command of your right foot.

The NSX's V-6 leads a double life--it's the engine of a sophisticated, refined GT when cruising or at small throttle openings; but crack the throttle wider and the monster within awakens. Induction sound segues from a subdued purr to a series of sharp, honking pulses, which meld into one of the most mellifluous mechanical symphonies of all time--almost as if someone slipped in the soundtrack of a recent German Grand Prix into the NSX's commendable Acura/Bose stereo/cassette system and turned it up full blast. At between 5800 and 6000 rpm, Acura's Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control (VTEC) comes into play and hydraulically shifts valve actuation to a second set of camshaft lobes with higher lift and longer duration, and voila!--instant top-end charge without sacrificing low- to mid-rpm smoothness and punch. For passing, you'll still want to drop from 5th to 4th, or even 3rd just for the sheer exhilaration of spinning the engine to its 8000-rpm redline--even though the NSX serves up one of the broadest, tastiest platters of torque anywhere.

With the 5th wheel fitted, both cars get off the mark like a Fred Couples tee shot; the Esprit shows just a little more Boom Boom, reaching 60 mph in 5.3 seconds, versus 5.8 for the NSX. Hethel's finest holds most of its advantage through the quarter mile, posting a fleet 13.7 sec. in the face of the Acura's 14.0-sec. time. The odds shift in braking, where the NSX's big 11.1-in. vented discs and ABS give it easily reproducible, incredibly short stops from 60 and 80 mph of 120 and 200 ft., edging out the still amazing 121- and 225-ft. efforts of the smaller-rotored, ABS-equipped Esprit.

With test equipment stowed and all fluids up to operating temperatures, Streets of Willow awaited. Time to brush up on the old heel-and-toe technique, brush off any preconceived notions and find out what these cars really do when pushed hard in a safe, controlled race-track environment.

First, the NSX. In a word? Precise. In three words? Precise, predictable, stable. This is a ridiculously easy car to drive quickly, a car that doesn't require you to put forth the skills of a Fangio to rattle off some pretty impressive laps. Grip is excellent, as is the feel through the brake pedal that allows you to threshold brake and just barely invoke the ABS, time and time again. Steering is precise, with a nice linear increase in effort as more lock is used, and isn't darty at all under hard braking. With its traction control switched off, the rear tires are willing partners 
in pointing the fronts, either through very subtle, catchable drop-throttle- 
induced oversteer, or squeezing the throttle on--in 2nd gear. With taller ratios and less torque multiplication, options disappear and the NSX reverts to steady-state mild understeer. Lap after lap, you think of the line you'd like to take around a particular corner. You brake, steer and accelerate, and the NSX just flat executes it, with lots of g-force and a bare minimum of heart palpitation.

Sweetening the experience is--I've mentioned this before, but it merits repeating--the excellent outward vision. Confidence can't help increasing when you can clearly see the outlines of the front fenders (and thus the car's position relative to the road) and the immediacy of the asphalt  ahead. And pedals are ideally spaced for second-nature throttle blips when braking.

On to the Esprit, which will lap Streets of Willow about as quickly as the NSX, but it's more of a wrestling match than a dance. The culprit? Lots of understeer, which calls for careful planning in the early stages of a corner so that pavement remains at its exit. Sudden drop-throttle will pivot the car briefly, but as power is reapplied, strong understeer resumes, predictable as sunrise. Classic Nuvolari power-on drifts are entirely out of the question. The steering, normally jabbering with feedback, goes strangely silent when the front tires start scrubbing; and the braking system, though possessing nice, firm pedal feel, shows a hint of fade and doesn't quite spawn the confidence that the Acura's system does.

There's a likable lightness in the way the Esprit changes direction, but that dreaded understeer, not-insignificant body roll and a relatively less precise handling feel tarnish its overall entertainment value when pushed to the limits at the track. Driven at aggressive speeds on the street, though, the Esprit returns more of a race-car feel than the NSX, by virtue of its more high-strung engine and steering that reacts more quickly just off center.

For 1994, Lotus will be offering the S4 Esprit, claimed to be a tauter, crisper-handling car with 17-in. wheels and tires, stiffer springs and significant styling revisions inside and out. Said Roger Becker, Lotus' director of vehicle engineering, in Britain's Autocar & Motor: "We engineered understeer into the old Esprit to keep its handling safe but, to be honest, we overstepped the mark. For the S4, we wanted quicker responses, a neutral to oversteer handling balance, less roll and more grip." That's music to our ears, inner and otherwise.

And much like people's taste in music, taste in exotic cars is a highly subjective thing, having no completely rational explanation. On one hand there's the NSX, dynamically superb, exceedingly well mannered and civil to a fault. If a fault is to be isolated, it's that the car is a little too ordered and antiseptic, with styling that takes few risks. On the other hand there's the Esprit, certainly a little rougher around the edges but thoroughly saturated with personality, style and heritage. Observers who didn't give the Acura a second look have been known to trip all over the Esprit parked adjacent to it; evidently the essence of Giugiaro's original design has weathered the test of time.

By Douglas Kott

Transmitted:  94-02-11 21:32:50 EST 
Document ID: mtrt0002

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98 Esprit V8 - Car & Driver #1 Lotus Esprit V-8
The aluminum V-8 used in the Esprit since 1997 was originally designed to serve as a race motor in the FIA GT series. As such, the engine was designed more for light weight and high output than smooth and quiet operation. It certainly makes the Esprit quick. Getting the V-8 Lotus to 60 mph takes only 4.1 seconds, just a tick slower than the V-10 Viper GTS, which makes 100 more hp. The noise from the engine isn't very pleasing and the vibration is a bit much, thanks to a racing-derived flat-plane crankshaft. Top speed is 173 mph, and at that speed the Esprit feels stable, similar to Chevy's C5 Corvette. It feels less stable at lower speeds, and the steering is slow to self-center on bumpy roads, however, people still stare at this rare Lotus. In 1998, fewer than 150 were imported to be sold in the U.S. Its speed notwithstanding, the Esprit would be a rough daily driver.

Base price: $89,445 
Vehicle type: mid-engine, rear-drive; 2-door 2-passenger coupe 
Interior volume, F/cargo (cu ft)..........49/8 
Wheelbase..........96.0 in 
Length/width/height..........172.0/73.5/45.3 in 
Turning circle..........34.7 ft 
Curb weight..........3100 lb 
EPA city/hwy mpg..........15/23 
Fuel-tank capacity/range..........19.3 gal/290 mi 
Passive restraints..........driver and passenger airbags

twin-turbocharged and intercooled 3.5-liter DOHC 32-valve V-8, 350 hp; 5-sp man

F..........ind, unequal-length control arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar 
R..........ind, trailing arms, coil springs

F/R..........vented disc/vented disc 

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98 Esprit V8 - Car & Driver #2 Lotus Esprit V-8
Vehicle type: mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive, 2-passenger, 2-door coupe 
Price as tested: $85,270 
Price and option breakdown: base Lotus Esprit V-8 (includes $3650 luxury tax, $1300 gas-guzzler tax, $995 freight), $85,270 
Major standard accessories: power steering, windows, and locks, A/C 
Sound system: Alpine AM/FM-stereo radio/CD player, 6 speakers

Type..........twin-turbocharged V-8, aluminum block and heads 
Bore x stroke..........3.27 x 3.19 in, 83.0 x 81.0mm 
Displacement..........214 cu in, 3504cc 
Compression ratio..........8.0:1 
Engine-control system..........Lotus with port fuel injection 
Emissions controls..........3-way catalytic converter, feedback air-fuel-ratio control, EGR 
Turbochargers..........Garrett T25 
Waste gates..........integral 
Maximum boost pressure..........5.8 psi 
Valve gear..........belt-driven double overhead cams, 4 valves per cylinder, hydraulic lifters 
Power (SAE net)..........350 bhp @ 6500 rpm 
Torque (SAE net)..........295 lb-ft @ 4250 rpm 
Redline..........6900 rpm

Transmission..........5-speed manual 
Final-drive ratio..........3.89:1 
Gear..........Ratio..........Mph/1000 rpm..........Max. test speed 
I.................3.36.............5.7..............................39 mph (6900 rpm) 
II...............2.06.............9.3..............................64 mph (6900 rpm) 
III.............1.38.............13.9............................96 mph (6900 rpm) 
IV.............1.04.............18.5...........................128 mph (6900 rpm) 
V...............0.76.............28.4...........................173 mph (6100 rpm)

Dimensions and Capacities
Wheelbase..........96.0 in 
Track, F/R..........60.2/60.8 in 
Length..........172.0 in 
Width..........73.5 in 
Height..........45.3 in 
Ground clearance..........4.1 in 
Curb weight..........3067 lb 
Weight distribution, F/R..........42.5/57.5% 
Fuel capacity..........19.3 gal 
Oil capacity..........7.0 qt 
Water capacity..........16.0 qt

Type..........steel backbone frame with rubber-isolated powertrain cradle 
Body material..........fiberglass-reinforced plastic

SAE volume, front seat..........49 cu ft 
                    luggage space..........8 cu ft 
Front seats..........bucket 
Seat adjustments..........fore and aft, seatback angle 
Restraint systems, front..........manual 3-point belts, driver and passenger airbags 
General comfort.................poor FAIR good excellent 
Fore-and-aft support..........poor FAIR good excellent 
Lateral support...................poor fair GOOD excellent

F:..........ind, unequal-length control arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar 
R:..........ind, 1 trailing arm and 2 lateral links per side, coil springs

Type..........rack-and-pinion, power-assisted 
Turns lock to lock..........3.1 
Turning circle curb to curb..........34.7 ft

F:..........11.7 x 1.1-in vented disc 
R:..........7.9 x 0.9-in vented disc 
Power assist..........vacuum with anti-lock control

Wheels and Tires
Wheel size..........F: 8.5 x 17 in, R: 10.0 x 18 in 
Wheel type..........cast aluminum 
Tires..........Michlein Pilot SX; F: 235/40ZR-17,R: 285/35ZR-18 
Test inflation pressures, F/R..........33/33 psi

C/D Test Results

    Zero to 30 mph..........1.6 
                40 mph..........2.5 
                50 mph..........3.2 
                60 mph..........4.1 
                70 mph..........5.5 
                80 mph..........6.8 
                90 mph..........8.2 
              100 mph..........10.2 
              110 mph..........12.3 
              120 mph..........14.4 
              130 mph..........18.6 
              140 mph..........23.7 
              150 mph..........29.7 
              160 mph..........39.7 
    Street start, 5-60 mph..........5.4 
    Top-gear acceleration, 30-50 mph..........8.4 
                                       50-70 mph..........6.7 
    Standing 1/4-mile..........12.7 sec @ 112 mph 
    Top speed (drag limited)..........173 mph 

    70-0 mph @ impending lockup..........165 ft 
    Fade..........NONE light moderate heavy

    Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad..........0.94 g 
    Understeer..........MINIMAL moderate excessive

    EPA city driving..........15 mpg 
    EPA highway driving..........23 mpg 
    C/D observed fuel economy..........14 mpg

    Idle..........59 dBA 
    Full-throttle acceleration..........89 dBA 
    70-mph cruising..........77 dBA 
    70-mph coasting..........77 dBA 

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97 Esprit V8 -  Car & Driver #3 Twice as many pistons. Not twice as ingratiating.

Since its debut in Paris in 1975, the Giugiaro-penned Esprit, among the world's supercars, has always been something of a red-headed stepchild. Not for its wedge-of-Colby shape -- which today, frankly, is beginning to look a little moldy -- but for its four-cylinder engine. In Club Supercar, the price of admission has always been at least twice that many pistons, though a turbo'd six might pass muster if it hailed from Stuttgart.

Twenty-two years into the Esprit's life, Lotus has finally fitted this cuneiform conundrum with an alloy powerplant of appropriate snootiness: four camshafts, 32 valves, eight cylinders, two Garrett T25 turbochargers, and a flat-plane crankshaft. Get all that hardware whirring harmoniously and it whips up 350 horsepower -- 50 more than the raucous 2.2-liter four-banger produced in the old Esprit S4S.

Of course, flat cranks are prone to drone and emit hard-edged metallic thrashing noises that are -- and this must be a coincidence -- remarkably like the noises emanating from Lotus's peaky old K-car-ish 2.2. With the throttle wide open, the new V-8 conjures 89 dBA of cacophony, which is within an aural hair of matching the trucklike din inside a Dodge Viper GTS.

Partly because of the turbos, the V-8's response isn't particularly viperish, either. Sub-3000-rpm torque -- the sort of grunt you'd like while tootling around corners in second gear -- is largely AWOL. In fact, the V-8 disappoints on almost every count until you're really cuffing it hard, running to the 6900-rpm redline in each gear (where the vibration, incidentally, sets interior trim bits to buzzing in sympathy). Which is also when you notice the countryside beginning to blur past in dizzying spurts, like an 8mm home movie that has vaulted its sprockets.

Though the new V-8 may not sound Ferrari-esque, it certainly inspires the Esprit to supercar velocities. Sixty mph now manifests in a spine-straightening 4.1 seconds -- three-tenths quicker than the old four-cylinder Esprit S4S and seven-tenths sooner than the still-older Esprit Turbo SE. In fact, that 0-to-60 time places this Lotus only a tenth of a second behind a Viper GTS, which, of course, has the advantage of two more cylinders and 100 extra horsepower. The Esprit V-8 decimates the quarter-mile in 12.7 seconds at 112 mph -- three-tenths and 4 mph better than the old S4S. And it rushes to 150 mph 10.3 seconds sooner than the S4S, placing this Lotus only one second shy of the 0-to-150-mph time of, say, a Ferrari F355.

Top speed is up, too, from the S4S's 162 mph to a more provocative 173 mph, which comes with the V-8 bawling and fuming at 6100 rpm. Running at that clip around our standard four-mile high-banked oval, the Esprit was stable -- not exactly a rock, but as confidently planted as a C5 Corvette running at a like speed.

What's more, the Esprit V-8 would have logged even quicker results were its shifter not so diabolical. The linkage is stiff and imprecise and undergoes as many jerks and seizures between throws as Mark Fidrych. At random intervals, we were locked out of first and reverse. Helping not at all is a heavy clutch -- with abrupt takeup in the last inch of travel, plus sufficient driveline windup that you soon learn never to jump too quickly out of the throttle lest you snap your passenger's head. Around town, the Esprit resists being driven smoothly.

Whether it's the fault of the new 18-inch Michelin rear tires we can't say, but this Esprit steered less confidently than previous examples. Although the steering is generally progressive and nicely weighted, it is hesitant to self-center and is not altogether diligent about seeking straight ahead, a nuisance on bumpy interstates.

Of course, what Lotuses do best is handle. Fortunately, the new V-8 increases the Esprit's weight by only 98 pounds and exaggerates its rear bias by a mere two percent. Skidpad grip hangs steady at a tendon-popping 0.94 g, same as the S4S, same as a Porsche 911 Turbo S. Pitch this Esprit hard into an on-ramp and it's as flat and vice-free as an Iowa councilman. In sharper turns, a steady throttle will induce benign understeer; provoke the pedal and you'll trigger a couple of don't-tread-on-me warning twitches, but the car remains less likely to swap ends than an Acura NSX.

The ride is acceptable by current supercar standards, but if you live near truly rough roads, beware: The suspension condones approximately one inch of supple flex before the dampers stiffen into solid-steel I-beams. Fortunately, the narrow seats are comfortable for four-hour stints, though the skinny footwells taper inward so that the driver's left foot has nowhere to rest except atop -- sometimes behind -- the clutch.

The Esprit's Brembo calipers -- as big as individual loaves of pumpernickel -- look and act like racing brakes. They work better as friction builds. At first, pedal effort is high, but if you're willing to flatten a Florsheim to engage the new Kelsey-Hayes ABS, you can dispose of 70 mph in only 165 feet. That's not far off our supercar standard of 151 feet, set by a 911 Turbo S.

Discriminating pedestrians still go berserk when they spy an Esprit, and they often guess at a sticker price twice the reality. Our car looked notably fetching and malevolent in Bat Masterson black, a shade that helps camouflage the tack-on wheel-well flares. Alas, peering out of an Esprit is still akin to peeking through a gun slit in a dark bunker, so you won't see many passersby gesturing an appreciative thumbs up. You also won't see concrete parking stanchions, one of which smote our test car's wing a concussive lick.

It's nice that Lotus is holding the line on the Esprit's price. The V-8's base, including a $1300 guzzler tax (but before luxury tax), is $81,620. Compare that with the $80,645 sticker on the 1990 Turbo SE and you can see that the asking price, over the past seven years, has risen negligibly. =Of course, the car has looked the same all those years, too. But that may not matter. Only 155 Esprit V-8s are earmarked for U.S. buyers this year. Heck, if you were to gather every Esprit ever built, you'd have only 9383 of the things -- about the number of Explorers that Ford produced in one week last July.

That this is the best-assembled and fastest Esprit in the model's 22-year history is undisputed. The paint on our raven bombshell, for instance, was the best we've seen on any Lotus. But the Esprit's bizarre ergonomics -- just try to operate the Alpine stereo, we dare you -- plus its pancake-flat windscreen and its archaic architecture conspire to advertise this car's age a little too freely. We can't help wondering what Lotus's engineers, given the fiscal wherewithal, might accomplish given a clean sheet of foolscap. 

Highs: Sheer velocity, as in 0 to 60 in 4.1 seconds and a 173-mph top speed. 
Lows: Heavy clutch, balky shifter, thrashy idle, cramped cockpit. 
The Verdict: Though the V-8 places the Esprit foursquare in supercardom, the rest of the vehicle is showing its 22-year age.

By John Philips 

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97 Esprit V8 - Car & Driver #4 Ferrari and Porsche get some surprising company.

Lotus has always been the poor relation in the exotic world of supercars. To Americans, the name doesn't carry the excitement of Ferrari or Porsche. In the days of its founder, the late Colin Chapman, Lotus built its reputation in Formula 1 racing. It won seven world constructors' championships, an achievement exceeded only by Ferrari.

Chapman's philosophy of building simple, light, good-handling cars extended to the Lotus street machines, the most enduring of which is the Esprit. When it first appeared in 1976, it was relatively inexpensive and, with 160 horsepower from its 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, a competitive proposition as an uncompromising racing-style, mid-engined two-seater.

Time added price, engine displacement, a turbocharger, and the resulting power increases. The wedgy Esprit body, so stylish and in vogue when designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro in the 1970s, was cleverly transformed in 1988 into a softer, more rounded shape by the British designer Peter Stevens, who was later to pen the McLaren F1 road car.

The Esprit still looks good two decades later, but a four-cylinder engine was a turn-off for supercar buyers tempted by a Ferrari V-8 or even a Dodge Viper's V-10. Never mind that with 300 horsepower the turbocharged 2.2-liter Lotus had the best specific output of any production piston engine and acceleration to match a Ferrari F355's. But it was too rough, too peaky -- and too prosaic. The Esprit S4S finished last in our July 1995 comparison ("The Supercar Olympics"), and it was the powertrain that helped put it there.

Today, despite the continuing turmoil of Lotus's ownership -- an apparently never-ending saga -- the Esprit has been given a heart transplant. It gets a 3.5-liter V-8. And not someone else's high-volume production motor but a completely new one, the Type 918, designed and built by Lotus in just 27 months. Lotus has been primarily considered a chassis specialist, but these days the major part of its engineering business (bigger by far than the business of making cars) is engine development. Currently, it has five different engine projects in the works. Lotus is sworn to secrecy about its clients, but we know that at least two of these engines are destined for General Motors. The new V-8 is a separate project, for Lotus's own use, though the company also hopes to sell it for other purposes, including a high-performance Lotus variant of an existing production sedan.

On paper, this is simply another 90-degree four-cam 32-valve aluminum-block V-8. There is no leading-edge technology here, no variable valve timing or variable-length intake manifolds. It does have two small Garrett T25 turbochargers, which not only produce the required power characteristics but also help in meeting increasingly tough noise laws in Europe -- and allow Lotus to run a turbocharged car in international GT racing.

The engine's special claims are its size and weight. "Fully dressed" with turbos and ancillaries, the V-8 weighs 485 pounds. It is among the lightest of its kind and the most compact. It is designed so that everything is contained within a cube that takes up less space than the old four-cylinder did and is low enough for fore-and-aft or transverse installation in a sedan. Nothing is for show. The red crackle-finish covers on top of the engine are the intake-manifold castings, which include the injector rails.

As used in the Esprit, the new V-8 produces 350 hp. It has much more potential. With intercoolers, another 100 hp could be available. Trouble is that the Esprit's five-speed Renault gearbox could not cope with that, and there are few off-the-shelf alternatives available. So Lotus has concentrated on providing something that the previous turbo Esprits never had -- a wide spread of torque. The maximum of 295 pound-feet arrives at 4250 rpm, but there are 275 pound-feet at 2500 rpm.

This makes for an altogether better drive. Test figures for 0 to 60 mph and 0 to 100 mph are up there with the 300-hp S4S (the Esprit V-8 is some 75 pounds heavier). Low-rpm acceleration is improved dramatically, and the 178-mph top speed that the makers claim puts it in the company of the Ferrari F355 and the Porsche 911 Turbo. Whereas the S4S's four-cylinder engine provided a perfectly unwelcome example of turbo lag, the arrival of the V-8's boost is not noticeable. Its power delivery is delightfully progressive, making the V-8 not only a very quick car on a winding road but also a lot easier to handle, especially in the wet.

This engine is efficient but not charismatic. It has a flat-plane crankshaft, like that of a racing V-8. As a result, it vibrates at idle and makes a hard-toned but muted noise when revved. It still sounds like a four-cylinder. Lotus may have matched Ferrari with a V-8, but it does not make the same music.

The Esprit V-8 complies with the European Union's upcoming 75-decibel "drive by" noise regulation, but it isn't quiet inside. The engine booms within the fiberglass body, and there is considerable wind noise at highway speeds. In this and other respects, the Esprit is showing its age. The tight-fitting leather-lined cockpit is unchanged, which means not much room in the footwells and none at all for items bigger than a pair of sunglasses. Visibility, other than straight ahead, is restricted, though we understand that the big hooped spoiler that further obscures the view to the rear will be an option for U.S.-market cars.

The gearbox has a taller top gear (25.5 mph per 1000 rpm) and the added refinement of synchromesh on reverse gear, but the gearshift remains a disappointment. The linkage was rearranged to get around the new engine. The shift is stiff and slow, and it is reluctant to go into reverse. Fortunately, the engine's ample torque demands less gearshift rowing than before.

We had no cause to complain about the handling of the previous Esprits, and if anything, the V-8 handles even better. The power steering, first introduced on the S4, is ideally weighted. Cornering is race-car sharp, yet the ride is surprisingly compliant. Brake-pedal feel had been criticized in the S4S, so a new vacuum servo and Kelsey-Hayes ABS have been adopted, though the Brembo brakes are unchanged. Now the feel matches their efficiency.

Although a 2.0-liter four-cylinder Esprit continues to be offered in Europe as the GT3, the V-8 becomes Lotus's only offering in the United States. The new car was due in July with a base price of $85,640. The more complex electronics required for OBD II forced up that price, but it's still significantly lower than that of the Ferrari F355 and the Porsche 911 Turbo, with which the Lotus Esprit can now compete on more even terms. 

By Ray Hutton

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97 Esprit V8 - Car & Driver #5 Lotus Esprit V-8
This exotic coupe, styled by Italy's Giorgetto Giugiaro, was first introduced in 1975. Until this year it had been powered by a four-cylinder engine. Highly tuned and turbocharged, it was often the highest specific-output engine of anything else on the market -- upwards of 300 horsepower out of 2.2 liters. It fit with the Lotus philosophy of keeping performance cars small and lightweight.

That philosophy hasn't changed, but the new aluminum 3.5-liter V-8 engine that fits in place of the old four-cylinder now also fits into the lightweight category: The bigger engine adds just 98 pounds to the curb weight. The entire car still weighs just a bit more than a ton and a half.

The new engine has two turbochargers helping to fill its cylinders with fuel. It runs up to 6900 rpm, and at that speed, the engine sounds as raucous as a Dodge Viper's. Getting the V-8 Lotus to 60 mph takes only 4.1 seconds (the four cylinder made it in a respectable 4.4 seconds), which is just 0.1 second slower than the V-10 Viper GTS, which makes 100 more horsepower.

Top speed is 173 mph, and at that speed the Esprit felt stable, similar to Chevy's C5 Corvette. It felt less stable at slower speeds, and the steering was slow to self-center on bumpy roads. This Esprit feels more nervous and less supple than previous versions of the car, and this behavior isn't helped by the distractions of a heavy clutch and a sticky shifter.

So if the car isn't all that fun just cruising, then it must be a ball on a twisty, challenging road, right? Skidpad grip is 0.94g, the same as a Porsche 911 Turbo S's. It you point this Esprit hard into an on-ramp, it will follow your wishes without any body roll or imbalanced sliding. If you play with the throttle during a fast corner, you'll notice it isn't as likely to swap ends as, for example, an Acura NSX is. Don't worry if something pops into your way, either, as the Esprit will brake from 70 mph in a short 165 feet.

Inside, the Esprit is trimmed in leather, and the seats are comfortable enough for up to a four-hour drive. There is very little foot room, however, so sometimes your left foot ends up resting underneath the clutch pedal. Visibility out the nearly-flat windows is also a challenge, making parking maneuvers and stop-and-go city driving demand concentration. 
Despite the car's long-lasting styling, which was rounded and trimmed in 1989, people still point and stare. That's likely because the Esprit is so rare. In 1997, only 155 were imported to be sold in the United States. Total production since the car was born in 1975 is only a handful greater than 9000 cars.

Base price: $85,270 
Vehicle type: mid-engine, rear-drive; 2-door 2-passenger coupe 
Interior volume, F/cargo (cu ft):49/8 
Wheelbase..........96.0 in 
Length/width/height..........172.0/73.5/45.3 in 
Turning circle..........34.7 ft 
Curb weight..........3100 lb 
EPA city/hwy mpg..........15/23 
Fuel-tank capacity/range..........19.3 gal/290 mi 
Passive restraints..........driver and passenger airbags

Twin-turbocharged and intercooled 3.5-liter DOHC 32-valve V-8, 350 hp; 5-sp man

F..........ind, unequal-length control arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar 
R..........ind, trailing arms, coil springs

F/R..........vented disc/vented disc 

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97 Esprit V8 Counterpoint - Car & Driver #6 Ten years ago, supercars weren't well-suited to everyday driving. That's changed now, thanks to the Acura NSX and Porsche 911 Turbo. So I wonder where this Lotus fits in. It isn't superfast unless you drive it abusively hard, it's the car most likely to leave you stranded, and there's no great comfort inside. The ride, however, is surprisingly good, and the Esprit welcomes spirited driving, traits common to supercars. Only the Lotus name makes this car special. And personally, I'd much prefer it on the Lotus Elise -- the small two-seat convertible that really follows in the footsteps of the 7 and the Elan -- and not on an updated 1970s-vintage supercar. 
-- Larry Webster

Six-foot-five Michael Kimberley, managing director of Lotus when the latest Esprit platform was adopted for 1988, tried to make this car easier for tall guys to live in: He ordered the seats scooped out so taller folks could fit with more ease. Still, bottom-shelf-access-challenged drivers will discover that the latest car remains a tight fit. When driving it, I feel as though I've been dipped in two giant vats, one of liquid leather and the other of molten, enameled fiberglass. It's not bad until this Lotus exoskeleton hits a Midwest pothole. Then I can't wait to shed the Esprit by wriggling out of it the way a snake periodically doffs its outer skin. 
-- Phil Berg

The Lotus Esprit V-8 is a feast for the eyes and senses. It's loads of fun to drive on uncluttered roads, but no fun in traffic. Driving around with other cars close by ties my stomach in knots. I enjoy being seen in the Lotus, but I can't see out of it. The rearview mirror is virtually useless; like peering through the slit in a pillbox, and then all you see is rear wing. The outside mirrors don't help, as a third of their viewing surface is obscured by the frame for the sail window. Combine these shortcomings with the Lotus's narrow cockpit and its low seating position, and the driving experience becomes positively claustrophobic. 
-- Andre Idzikowski

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97 Esprit V8 - Car & Driver #7 Lotus Esprit V-8
Lotus is launching its first new engine in a quarter-century with the 1997 Esprit, and the engine is perhaps most notable for its design as a platform intended for 20 years of racing and production service. The 3.5-liter twin-turbocharged 32-valve V-8 does not feature exotic variable valve timing or intake-geometry systems or even an intercooler, but the engine has been designed for easy addition of such features, along with cylinder deactivation, additional displacement, and V-4 or V-6 variants. A single-plane or "flat" crankshaft design like those used on most racing V-8s provides a firing pulse on each cylinder bank for every 180 degrees of crank rotation. This design improves exhaust-header resonance for increased power, but the vertical shaking forces are not canceled as they are in a conventional V-8, so it shakes like a four-cylinder.

Thanks to complete space utilization -- there is no unused space larger than 0.15 cubic inch -- the 90-degree engine measures 23 by 28 by 24 inches in length, width, and height, so it will fit under a wide variety of hoods. Aluminum construction keeps it light -- just 485 pounds fully dressed, with turbos -- and prudent design restrained the parts count to fewer than 1000 pieces with only 265 part numbers. Output is 350 hp at 6500 rpm and 295 pound-feet at 4250 rpm, with EPA fuel-economy figures of 15 mpg city and 23 highway. 

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Supercar Olympics - Car & Driver #8 Introducing five predatory athletes from five countries, all with carnivorous appetites. They'll eat your lunch, your wallet, possibly you, too.

In 1897, Captain S.A. Swiggett wrote a book called The Bright Side of Prison Life. It occurred to me to take a copy to southern Ohio, where we were testing five supercars, any one of which could get me arrested while cruising in second gear on eastern interstates. Our assault on Ohio's scenic Hocking Hills would be swift and international in flavor. In total, we had 1745 horsepower on tap, from $472,000 worth of exotica. And our five supercar contestants represented five countries: America (Dodge Viper RT/10), Germany (Porsche 911 Turbo) Great Britain (Lotus Esprit S4s), Italy (Ferrari F355), and Japan (Acura NSX-T). Think of it as the Olympics of supercars.

The newest weaponry on the supercar scene--the Porsche and Ferrari--triggered this comparison test. In making our other selections, there seemed no good reason to include anything with a price higher than the Ferrari's $128,800, and all five voting editors agreed it wouldn't have changed the outcome anyway. Before the Anglophiles complain, remember that the McLaren F1 is not legal here. Subscribers enamored of Italian machinery should note that the Ferrari F50 isn't ready yet, and no Bugatti EB110 has yet been sold in America. Red-white-and-blue patriots should similarly recall that the Corvette ZR-1, which admittedly would have been a better-rounded ambassador than the Dodge Viper, went the way of the passenger pigeon one month before this story would appear.

Our vehicles thus assembled, it was curious to discover that, quite without trying, we wound up with no similar engine architectures. The engines include a single-turbo in-line four, a twin-turbo flat-six, a DOHC V-6, a 40-valve V-8, and a pushrod V-10. The Lotus, the Ferrari, and the NSX are mid-engined. The Porsche is rear-engined. The Viper is front-engined. From a styling standpoint--at least according to Ohio and Michigan citizens who rushed us at every fuel stop--not one of these vehicles looks very much like any other.

So what did we hope to discover in one week of driving? We needed to know which was the fastest, and we found out after just one day at Ohio's sprawling Transportation Research Center. The intangibles were trickier. Which car is easiest to drive at nine-tenths on public roads? Which impresses onlookers most? Which is the most fun to drive, never mind its performance envelope? Which is the most potent and comfortable long-distance tourer? Which is the most passionate? Which feels the least likely to spend its life atop a service hoist?

It took a week of nonstop driving and late-night arguing to find out, during which interval we pushed the vehicles hard enough that both the NSX and the Viper had to be retrieved from ditches. Said C/D godfather Brock Yates, as he brushed pieces of hemlock bough and sandstone grit off his vest: "At about 90 percent of their capabilities, all five of these cars are hugely competent and benign, lulling their drivers into Fangio-like confidence. But put one toe over the edge and there's an excellent chance you'll get to help refurnish your insurance agent's new home in Grosse Pointe."

Or, to put it another way, begin memorizing passages from The Bright Side of Prison Life. 

Fifth Place: Lotus Esprit S4s
Twenty years ago, our first test of a Lotus Esprit offered this keen insight: "The factory is frank about the Esprit's unsuitability for grand touring . . . the twin tanks should be filled with gas destined to be burned in bursts of back-road berserking."

Not much has changed in two decades, although thanks to a larger Garrett turbo and larger inlet valves, the Lotus's maniacally peaky 2.2-liter four-banger now delivers an even more berserk steady-state 285 hp and briefly as much as 300 hp, if the weather on Route 595 near Logan, Ohio, is sufficiently cool and dry. When the turbo kicks in at around 2700 rpm, it's like being smacked in the back of the head with a warped nine-iron. A kind of blurry trauma ensues. Full boost in the rain will light up the rear tires in first, second, and third gears. At which point, the Esprit's tail yaws right on crowned roads, the driver countersteers like Damon Hill, then the whole mess straightens out after a vicious snap that leaves onlookers wondering if you've lost your mind or are just insanely rich. Or both.

The 60-mph barrier topples in 4.4 seconds, making the Esprit quicker in a straight line than a 405-hp Corvette ZR-1, which possibly did not amuse Detroit engineers back when GM owned Lotus.

There is much about the Esprit that is race-car-like. The pedals are skewed inboard and are so close together that Simpson's best Nomex booties are recommended. The steering is knife-like and fast, although it is a great match for the car's flat, neutral cornering stance. Once you push through the surging and sucking power assist for the Brembo brakes, you have exactly the pedal feel you'd want in Turn One at Long Beach.

Far less race-ready is the Renault-based gear linkage, a high-effort yet mushy affair. "It's like making a long-distance call to Paris to make a gearchange," says Kevin Smith. It is also fragile, not a good trait in turbo cars, which encourage quick shifting to keep the boost on the boil. This may explain why second gear was no longer with us at the end of this test. Similarly unrefined is the Esprit's powerplant, which bangs and bucks as if it were a 2.2-liter K-car engine forced to produce the highest specific output of any in-line four in America. Not a far-fetched analogy.

Still, the Esprit's cuneiform figure--its waist-high profile, even its gaudy wing that overreaches the rear bumper--makes onlookers gawk and chase, although they rarely know what they're looking at. They mouth the word "Lotus," then say, "Oh, the Pretty Woman car." But they always assume that it costs more than its $80,340 base.

Cranky, quirky, and as breakable as Waterford crystal, the Lotus finished last but by only two points. It is eccentric (hell, when did you last hear of a supercar getting a 27-mpg EPA highway rating?), a lean point-and-squirt machine for nasty, unpredictable roads. Such as the wicked little lanes around Norwich. Think of it as half Formula Ford made street-legal, half Barbara Woodhouse on PCP. 

Fourth Place: Dodge Viper RT/10
The Dodge Viper is the antithesis of the Lotus. Where the Lotus is a kind of .22-caliber Olympic target pistol, the Viper is simply an 16-inch cannon yanked off the deck of the USS Missouri. The Lotus is the lightest car in the group, the Viper is the heaviest. The Lotus has the smallest engine in the group, the Viper's 488-cube thunderbox is the most mammoth passenger-car powerplant in production. The Lotus offers the fastest lane-change capability, the Viper possesses the slowest.

Yet in this comparo, the Viper occupies fourth place rather than fifth. Here are three reasons: (1) big torque exists at any engine revolution, (2) its shape evokes involuntary seizures among all onlookers, and (3) it has the lowest sticker price in all of supercardom.

Of course, there are good reasons for the Viper's bargain-basement $62K tariff. No roof, for instance. And a hose-it-down plasticky interior with low-rent switchgear. And a ride like a Ford F150's. And a full-throttle exhaust blat that sounds like a tornado ripping out the seams of a Holy Rollers' revival tent. All of which we graciously accept, because it's precisely what Chrysler promised back in 1992. What we didn't count on was this car's spooky steering and villainous handling.

The Viper hunts and darts under braking. It resolutely follows even minute irregularities in the road. Its rear end steps out when you poke the power. And, as Csaba Csere describes it: "There's a moment where nothing happens between turn-in and when the tires actually hook up. It saps your confidence if you're hustling."

The snaky handling ("This is the only car I've ever spun on the skidpad," notes Don Schroeder) is likely a result of unfinished development. God knows, the Viper has all the rubber it could ever want, and its weight bias is the closest to perfect in this group--an astounding claim for a car whose nose carries an engine the size of John Madden's refrigerator.

In many ways, owning a Viper is like owning a powerful motorcycle. "Without a real top, it's too reliant on the weather," says Kevin Smith, who also noted that removing and replacing those rudimentary canvas pieces is a tedious, fussy, two-man job. "Yeah, it's the world's largest Fat Boy Harley," added Yates, "and you might even want to put your feet down roaring into turns--this is the only non-ABS-equipped car in the bunch." Also the only one without even a single airbag.

Although it's tied with the 911 Turbo in the horsepower wars, the Viper accelerates to 60 mph and through the quarter-mile half a second slower. Put 400 horsepower in nearly any street car and you might want to think about four-wheel drive, a concept that was implemented in Weissach but not at the New Mack Assembly Plant.

The Viper is like using a Louisville Slugger to play ping-pong. You wind up with drastic, if clumsy, results. It is big, crude, deafening, and something of a cartoon. "On the other hand," noted Yates in the logbook, "every time we'd show up in a small town, the locals clumped around one car and one car only: the one built in Detroit." 

Third Place: Ferrari F355
For Ferrari, the F355 is a radical departure. Don't believe us? Consider one entry in its logbook: "This car has a climate-control system that really works; in fact, it works better than the Porsche's." 

C/D has traditionally been slow to praise Ferraris, in part because the manufacturer's performance claims tend to be inflated, in part because the cars have been impractical and unreliable, in part because their sticker prices gave us nosebleeds.

So check out the stats on the company's newest and cheapest offering: 0-to-60 and quarter-mile times only 0.2 second behind the 400-hp Viper's. A stopping distance so close to the Porsche's that Stuttgart's engineers may pull a full Jonestown Kool-Aid klatch. And skidpad grip that, at 1.02 g, not only surpasses everything in this comparo but also bests the company's own street-legal racer, the F40.

Add to that terrific steering with power assist as nearly perfect as the NSX's, not to mention better visibility. Plus a ride that is taut without becoming harsh, not what you'd expect from a one-g suspension. Plus an 8500-rpm redline that produces an engine howl so sonorous, so much like a lightly muffled F1 car, that the driver doesn't really miss the optional radio. (Hey, you want everything for only $128,800?)

"In the details of this car, Ferrari has done a lot of what Acura did to define itself, way back when," wrote Kevin Smith. Indeed, the F355 offers adjustable shocks, unique in this group. It has firm seats that can be twisted into a wide variety of supportive shapes, plus a sophisticated exhaust bypass that meets emissions regs without strangling the 375-horse V-8.

Although it's on such a clear course to modernizing its cars, Maranello ought to continue improving them. The gated, metallic shifter is still a chore and a gratuitous anachronism. The steering wheel, although adjustable, gives you the choice of either a good driving position or viewing the instruments, but not both. Moreover, this is the second F355 we've tested whose sticky throttle made it impossible to pick up the power smoothly in mid-corner. And this engine's 24 inlet valves are so deft at swallowing accelerants that the F355's cruising range (when the fuel light began to glow) averaged just under 200 miles. (Yes, we were driving like Gerhard Berger, though not as neatly. But fuel economy worse than a 488-cubic-inch Viper? Don't tell the Vatican.)

Only two points out of second place, the Ferrari was the Big Surprise in this comparo. "If the thing just cost a little less--say, the same as the Porsche," noted Kevin Smith, "it would easily have been in second place. In fact, I might have voted it the winner." 

Second Place: Acura NSX-T
For the last five years, we've regularly gushed and spouted and pontificated about the essential goodness, the quintessential purity, of Acura's NSX. So don't be shocked that this, the least powerful car in our super five (and also the slowest to 60 mph and through the quarter-mile), finished only three points behind the fastest, most powerful car in the group.

How can this happen? Here's how: track numbers tell you zip about a car's usable performance in Ann Arbor traffic, and they tell you little about making nine-tenths passes on the blind, downhill, off-camber turn just outside Burr Oak Lodge.

The Acura NSX is as user-friendly as the tumblers on a Mosler vault. Check out the expansive view from its low, forward cockpit. Try finding a clutch and shifter combo that so telepathically slides gears into place. See if you can locate any seats that are both this comfortable and this adept at distributing side forces. Locate a steering rack that delivers this much feedback sans kickback. Identify a removable targa top that can be stowed onboard without reducing cargo-carrying capacity by one cubic inch.

Built with the same monumental attention to ergonomic detail as a Honda Accord, the NSX sometimes takes a knock or two for being too familiar, at least inside, where some of the switchgear is pedestrian and the cockpit is an unnecessarily dour arena in which to celebrate so much fun underfoot. On this trip--for the first time--editors fantasized openly, if not vociferously, about obtaining more power, especially when the car was asked to launch itself out of tight uphill esses and switchbacks. One editor suggested a supercharger, another wanted a 3.0-liter V-8, a third asked whether a streetable version of Honda's racing V-10 might fit. Which, in turn, made us wonder whether a six-speed gearbox, rather than the mandatory five, might also make life easier.

At $86,642, the NSX is no longer the striking bargain it was 60 months ago. Still, where the Viper offers a huge bang for the buck, the NSX is big civil subtlety for the buck. This is the brain surgeon's approach to go-fast operations. From its bird-bones suspension bits to its lacy aluminum skin, the NSX delivers supercar precision without beating up its owner.

But beware: Although you can throw it around; you can also throw it away. 

First Place: Porsche 911 Turbo
It's the kind of formula you'd concoct in high-school study hall. Take a chassis four inches shorter than a Jeep Wrangler's, then install a twin-turbo engine with, say, 400 horsepower hung way the hell behind the rear wheels. The result should be something akin to a golf cart powered by two General Electric turbines--the sort of car that would crash as you backed it out of your driveway.

Instead, the outcome is the most obscenely fast and sophisticated Porsche since Weissach loosed upon civilized society the all-wheel-drive 959 nine years ago. The new 911 Turbo is our choice as this planet's most eminently practical supercar, the quickest A-to-B four-wheeled transport to alight on American highways.

About now, you're probably muttering, "What about the Ferrari F40 or Lamborghini Diablo VT?" Forget 'em. If you've got 3.7 seconds to spare, the 911 Turbo will hand you 60 mph. That leaves the F40 half a second in the dust. Or, if you've got some empty road near your house, this Porsche will swallow 1320 feet of it 1.7 seconds sooner than your neighbor's Lamborghini Diablo VT.

Not that those comparisons mean much anyway. The nervous F40 and the fat Diablo are 30-minute cars. After that, you'd like a cool drink and a brief nap. Not so the 911 Turbo. Cruising around town, this Porsche is more docile than a Carrera 2, partly because it's quieter and partly because the standard luxo bits inside are more posh. And when you finally do tip into the KKK turbos, there's no tire squeal, no exhaust roar, no darty nose. Just a seamless, silent, drama-free delivery of endless torque, accompanied by a rush of scenery that within two or three seconds takes on a vaguely hallucinatory hue, as if the nearby trees were all recently vandalized by Matisse.

"Twice on brief straightaways," noted one editor in the Turbo's logbook, "I glanced down and discovered I had innocently dialed up 130 mph. I'd have been horrified if I hadn't had Porsche's brakes beneath me."

Not quite matching this machine's warp-drive potential for effortless velocity are the clutch and steering--one is uncommunicative, the other is simply too light. Porsche intentionally removed 25 percent of the clutch-pedal effort, plus 15 percent of its travel. And as for the feathery steering, well, maybe it's those new 8-by-18-inch front wheels or the GT2's racing power-assist. Whatever the reason, the more rudimentary Carrera 2's steering remains the best sports rack in the world, and we wish the engineers hadn't messed with it.

Ditto the Turbo's security system. An ignition bypass is triggered by pressing a button on the key fob. It sounds simple enough, but you can't imagine the driver's fury when he inserts the key, twists it for liftoff, and absolutely nothing happens. Can you say "gimcrackery"?

We dubbed the Porsche "the lazy man's supercar," at least on the roads of southern Ohio. Although the Turbo is the second-heaviest car in this quintet, Porsche has pretty well masked its traditional tail-wagging-the-dog handling. Give our drivers 400 horsepower plus astounding wet-weather grip and they will--using one hand and half a head of concentration--keep up with any other supercar in this group. "It's almost like cheating," wrote Kevin Smith.

We'll come back to this wonderment, in part to report more definitively on some un-Teutonic assembly glitches. Our test car suffered an inoperative "Litronic" low-beam lamp, a snapped-off hood latch, a sunroof that ate fuses like popcorn, and a glovebox that randomly flopped open and spilled its considerable guts.

Still, no piece of machinery producing 400 horses has any right to feel so tame and violence-free. Said one editor, "I can't explain it, unless this car is powered by dilithium crystals." The new Porsche 911 Turbo is the German engineers' 176-mph answer to whatever the question was, or will be. Captain Swiggett should be told

By John Philips


Lotus Esprit S4s
Highs: Efficient and potent engine, neutral handling, still a dazzling silhouette. 
Lows: Hunt-and-peck shifter, shoebox cockpit, dreadful visibility. 
The Verdict: Aging but lithe Brit in search of dedicated Anglophile enthusiast.

Dodge Viper RT/10
Highs: Thor's own torque, convertible top; a gawker magnet. 
Lows: Mixmaster ride, ragged assembly, knife-in-the-back handling. 
The Verdict: Blockbuster mystique that surpasses its price but also its real usefulness.

Ferrari F355
Highs: Flexible and symphonic V-8, limpet-like grip; the status slaves' hall-of-famer. 
Lows: Fifties-vintage shifter, stratospheric price; talk to your insurance agent. 
The Verdict: Maranello's best-ever all-around sports car. No bull.

Acura NSX-T
Highs: Surgical steering, magical shifter, seats that satisfy all known anatomies. 
Lows: Near-stark interior, some mundane-looking switchgear, but that's about it. 
The Verdict: A comfortable 162-mph slot car available for everyday use.

Porsche 911 Turbo
Highs: Sumptuous luxo amenities, effortless velocity, astounding brakes. 
Lows: Feathery steering, gimcrack security system, shifter that can confuse. 
The Verdict: Ear-pinning performance, probably the planet's most practical supercar. 

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Motorweek Review of the 97MY Esprit V8 & Elise Back in 1997, the highly-regarded Maryland Public Television show MotorWeek did a dual review of the new Esprit V8 and the Elise. (see the video) Here is what they had to say: 
We've always been big fans of the sports cars from Lotus, especially the Esprit. And despite the company's front office upheavals in recent years, Lotus engineers never lost their focus, giving the Esprit continual updates to keep it on par with its newer competitors. Naturally, we jumped at the chance to try out this new Esprit V-8. But you can imagine our surprise when we also were handed a set of keys to this car: the Elise Roadster. Now it's sold out in Europe, and not even available here in the U.S., but for us, this double test was more than double the fun.

The Esprit name has carried many suffixes over the years... S2, SE, and S4S, to name a few, and all signified a step forward in style or performance. But for 1997 Lotus has added the most important suffix yet... V-8.

That one symbol marks the pinnacle of the Esprit's evolutionary journey, finally mating a worthy engine to its already remarkable chassis. The all-new 3.5-liter, twin-turbo V-8 spins out 350 horsepower, 23 percent more than before, and 295 pound-feet of torque. Yet the V-8 takes up little more space than last year's turbo-4, and weighs just 485 pounds, fully dressed.

By now, the shape of the Esprit is familiar to any enthusiast. The original flying wedge styling has been softened over its 22-year life span, but remains one of the most elegantly aggressive designs on the road today.

Unfortunately, the inside has not aged as gracefully. No amount of leather and wood can disguise the '70s-vintage modular design and compromised ergonomics.

But the V-8 Esprit is not all that's new at Lotus. And after our first look at this Elise roadster, we understand why Lotus has had their priorities split. This little buggy is perhaps the only notable result of Lotus' ownership by Romano Artioli and Bugatti, as it was he who set the criteria from the start; to create a new Lotus which reflected the genius of Colin Chapman, and to make it light, efficient and fast. And whatever his failings as a businessman, the mad Italian certainly got that right. The Elise is as simple as a wind-up toy, and as remarkable a display of technology as we've seen.

The extruded aluminum spaceframe is bonded together with epoxy for an extremely strong structure that weighs a mere 143 pounds. The complete car weighs in at a skimpy 1,488 pounds. Which is hardly taxing for the Elise's 1.8-liter Rover 4-cylinder. Power output is 118, with good bottom end punch and a willingness to rev to the heavens. Covering it all is a lightweight composite clam shell body. The styling harkens back to early British sports cars, but is thoroughly modern, too.

Inside you will find the definition of minimalism. Sliding through the half-door and down into the seat is an exercise in agility, since you sit literally on the floor. The tiny gauge cluster is a nice mix of analog and digital, while the other controls have been limited to just the basics. Its appeal is hard to describe, except to say this is what the Mazda Miata dreams it could be.

What we dreamt about, though, is hot laps on a race track. In this case, the asphalt roller coaster known as Road Atlanta.

Adding a V-8 to the Esprit allows the chassis to work up to its potential. The extra torque of four more cylinders helps in exiting corners, but the throttle must be modulated to avoid the rush of turbo boost that can upset the car's balance.

The Esprit has never been a car to drive gently. Like a true thoroughbred, it expects a firm hand on the reins to coax the best out of it. And thanks to the V-8, there's more to give. 0 to 60 sprints have dropped to 4.5 seconds, while top speed has risen to 175.

Shifting action is improved thanks to a revised transaxle and new Valeo twin-disc clutch. While the ABS system has undergone a complete overhaul. Pricing was overhauled by about $5,000, up to $81,620.

At the other end of the fun spectrum lies the tiny Elise. Demanding nothing of the driver but eyesight and a strong right foot, there is no mid-engined car that is easier to drive fast.

Remember your first motorcycle ride? Your first bungee jump? Or maybe your first ride in a power boat? That same feeling of freedom is what you get behind the wheel of the Elise. Turn-in is go-kart quick, with a neutral balance, and a surprisingly supple suspension. The high power-to-weight ratio makes this car an ideal race track performer.

Lotus would like to sell the car in the U.S., but is not sure they can pass the bumper and emissions roadblocks. For now, we'll continue our love affair with the Esprit V-8, and enjoy the memory of our flirtation with Elise. 

To order a videocassette of this program call 1-800-422-0064 or send $19.95 plus $4.95 shipping and handling to: 
MotorWeek Home Video

P.O. Box 55742
Indianapolis, IN 46205


Or to see a streaming format version of the video on your computer click here.

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Motorweek Review of the 99MY Esprit V8 & Elise Sport190 In 1999, MotorWeek again did a dual review of the new Esprit V8 and the Elise - this time a Sport 190. (see the video) Here is what they had to say: 

The name Lotus is one of the most renowned in the world of automotive performance, with a history of superb road and race cars, that stretches back to 1951. But the last decade has seen much of that glory fade. The Formula One race team long ago closed its doors, and the road cars have struggled as the company has passed through a series of owners. But today, Lotus is slowly regaining its early form, and the newest products once again show the energy and adventurous spirit that made founder Colin Chapman, and his Lotus cars, a driving legend.

To fully appreciate the genius of Lotus' engineering, we looked at both of the company's current offerings, cars that represent the best of both traditional and modern automotive design. The 1999 Esprit V8 is the culmination of a 24-year evolutionary journey. While the three-year-old Elise 190 Sport is just now coming to the U.S. market, but brings a growing cult-hero status with it.

In our previous test of the Esprit V8, we complimented its elegantly aggressive flying wedge styling, superb suspension, and that wonderfully gutsy twin-turbo V8. Our opinion still hasn't changed in 1999, but in the meantime, Lotus has given us more reasons to love this iconic British supercar.

Starting with an all-new dash in '98, and a reworked gearbox tied to a twin-plate clutch for reduced effort and more positive shifting control. At our test track, the 3.5 liter V8's 350 horsepower propelled us from 0 to 60 in a short 4.4 seconds. Quarter mile runs were over in 13 seconds at a blistering 110 miles-per-hour.

But believe it or not, the Esprit is not meant to be a sprinter. Where it really shines is out on the open road. It's here, carving through our favorite corners, that the Lotus suspension demonstrates a supple and controlled nature equal or superior to more contemporary designs. Cornering is flat and fast, and power comes on with a wallop when the turbos come into play. It takes experience to drive this car at the limit, but the reward is a thrill ride second to none.

Unfortunately, we weren't able to enjoy the Elise 190 Sport in the same way. It's imported to the U.S. strictly for race track use and is not yet street-legal. We'll take what we can get though, so we wasted no time getting our hands on the Elise and taking it to one of our favorite tracks, Road Atlanta.

From the first note of its snarly exhaust, to the last 8,000 RPM blast down the front straight, the Elise had us grinning and sweaty-palmed, and begging for more. This Elise is set up for serious track use with lightened front and rear bodywork, an FIA-approved roll cage, sport seats, lowered suspension, and even an onboard fire extinguisher system.

The power plant is a modified Rover 1.8 liter four that makes 190 horsepower and 140 pound-feet of torque. That may not sound like much, but consider that this car is dwarfed by a Miata, and weighs a mere 1477 pounds, and you're talking about serious performance. Enough performance to post a 4.4 second 0 to 60 time, and hit a top speed of 141 MPH. Demanding nothing of the driver but eyesight and a willing right foot, there is no mid-engined car that is easier to drive fast.

To get your kicks in an Elise 190 Sport, you really need to be under 6 feet tall, and be willing to part with $55,620. Lotus USA reports that sales are brisk, and we're not surprised. As-tested price for the Esprit V8 is $86,420. Big bucks indeed, but not out of line in the supercar league.

After years of front-office turmoil, Lotus appears to be settling down again as a company, and is hard at work developing future products. They're already designing an Elise-based roadster for Opel, and we're looking forward to testing two all-new Lotus' for the 2002 model year.

The Lotus Esprit V8 is, in some ways, the antithesis of the modern supercar. It's not easy to drive, not packed full of the latest gadgets or electronic suspension tricks. It won't forgive your mistakes or massage your back, or call for help if you get lost. Rather, the Esprit V-8 is a driver's car, and as such demands to be driven with a firm hand on the wheel and a steady foot on the gas, and passion in the soul.

The Elise 190 Sport is a fun-loving burst of pure adrenaline, an overgrown go-kart always looking for the next hairpin or flat-out sweeper.

And both cars embody the Legend of Lotus... timeless designs, few frills, and maximum thrills.

To order a videocassette of this program call 1-800-422-0064 or send $19.95 plus $4.95 shipping and handling to: 
MotorWeek Home Video

P.O. Box 55742
Indianapolis, IN 46205


Or to see a streaming format version of the video on your computer click here.

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Vector M12
vs Esprit S4s
One day in September 1999 I was at a bookstore buying a copy of Sport Compact Car magazine that had a review of the very same Esprit Fact File web site you are now reading (!!!). While I was there, I also I saw an ad in the Dupont Registry for a 1997 Vector M-12. The ad had a phone number with my area code!

So there I am waiting in line to pay when I look out the window and the Vector in the addrives by in front of the bookstore!! I took this to be fate so I called and scheduled an appointment to go check the car out. When got back from test driving it I wrote down this review so I could share my experience with you.

Let me begin by saying that, if you think the Esprit looks outrageous, you ain't seen nothin'! The car was in Cocoa Beach which has a lot of tourists with cameras. There were more tourists than usual this particular weekend because we had just had a space shuttle launch. It's amazing how much attention a bright yellow Vector attracts. People were pulling over by the dozens (I'm not exaggerating) to take a picture of this car!

Some details: The car was bright yellow with black leather and alcantara interior. Only 4 cars were produced in 1997. This one was number 1 and had 3,800 miles. Asking price is $129,000US.  A new one will cost you $184,000.

The car is made just 175 miles North of me in Jacksonville, FL. The same Indonesian company that owns Lamborghini also owns Vector. Because of this, the car has a Lambo (Diablo) V12 engine in it. The sound of all its 490 horses singing at full open throttle is *glorious*. It cannot be described, but suffice it to say this is what supercars are supposed to sound like.

The doors open Diablo style and it is *very* difficult to get into or out of because the doors don't seem to raise enough. Because of the shape and configuration of the doors, the windows don't roll down. You have to rely on the a/c for ventilation and that day was a scorcher. With heat indexes over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, I was sweating profusely until the a/c finally started cooling things down.

Seating position is fairly race car style once you figure out how to climb in. The design, like with the Diablo, is extremely cab forward. You literally feel as if you were on the nose cone of a rocket. And with all the sound coming from behind you and the breathtaking acceleration, the metaphor is complete.

Forward visibility is not as good as the Esprit's. This is because the top of the window starts too far away from your head which limits your angle of vision at stop lights. The nose of the car, as on the Esprit, is invisible while you're seated. The rear view is not blocked by the wing as much as on a Esprit SE, S4s or V8, but because of the angles of the mirror and rear deck you actually see more sky than road behind you.

Steering on the car was light, almost too much assist if you ask me. In parking lots however, the car's light steering and small turning radius helped it maneuver easily,  And maneuverability is something you want in a car like this because the car is extremely wide; even wider than a Diablo at over 7 feet! Backing up, like in a Diablo, is not something I would look forward to doing.

The (squeaky) clutch wasn't too heavy and take-up was very progressive. Even so, I managed to stall it once, probably from inexperience. The accelerator pedal, on the other hand, was heavy and felt like it had three settings: idle, fast, and "Oh my God!".

So how fast is "Oh my God!"? Well, this car leaves the Esprit S4s in the dust! The term "explosive" comes to mind. Within a few seconds I was going 100 mph while going uphill on a causeway (bridge)! Seconds later I was at 140 mph and I still had 2 more gears to go! Mind you this is on a public road in the middle of a Saturday summer afternoon, so common sense finally kicked in and I slowed down. The car showed every indication that it was ready and willing to go over 200 mph without any
hesitation. What a blast!

When the time to go sub-sonic approached, the large Brembo brakes retarded the Vector's forward motion promptly and with only a squeal of protest.

The car is surprisingly civilized and perfectly content just plodding around at 35 mph. If, like me, you're used to driving an Esprit, you can get used to driving this car pretty quickly. The shifter is another story however. The exposed metal gates are very narrow and require a combination of precision and brute force to select a gear. This is no snick-snick affair. Consequently, I had quite a lag time between gears as I managed to get the lever into the next gate. Had this been a turbo car like the Esprit, the turbos would have spooled down below boost levels long before you could let out the clutch.

So will I buy this car? Unfortunately, I have to say that the answer is No. As unique and outrageous as the Vector is, I have some serious concerns about its workmanship. These concerns were reflected in the bits and pieces falling off the car or not working properly. These included a missing power antenna trim surround, poor quality and scuffed up leather, missing interior trim pieces, and a boot lid (to the tiniest compartment to grace a car) that refused to close. All this on a 3,800 mile car.

This car has serious merit for a collector who wants to add another fun toy to his stable. The asking price is a bargain in that regard. However, at almost $130K, the price starts to enter the range of a new Ferrari 360 Modena; a car regarded as one of the best new supercars to grace the road. When it comes to show-stopping looks, there's no contest. The Ferrari (or most other cars for that matter) doesn't even come close. For a while, my Esprit and the Vector were side by side and no one was even looking at the Esprit! In fact, park the Vector anywhere and it'll be surrounded by crowds in seconds. But compare their relative build quality and the Vector pales in light of the Ferrari and even the Lotus. At this price range, build quality is (or should be) inexcusable.

On the drive home, I saw the Esprit in a different light. All those reviewers who say it has a kit car feel should drive the Vector first. By comparison, the Esprit feels solid and reliable. It was an odd feeling to have people look and stare as I drove the Esprit home. This is common behavior that I have (sort of) grown accustomed to. But after driving the Vector I was actually wondering why people were looking at such an "ordinary" car so much. After all, there are now thousands of Esprits and only 12 Vector M-12's. I had to remind myself that the sight of an Esprit is still a wonderful thing to most people. I am truly
spoiled to see one in my garage all the time.

Maybe a few years from now I will add the Vector to my collection. In the meantime, I will continue searching for the next supercar to share a spot next to my beloved Esprit.

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Even More

The wonderful Lotus Esprit World web site has a great collection of articles on the Esprit. Many of these are from various road tests done by European publications such as Car, Evo, AutoCar, and Top Gear.  Click here to check out all these articles.

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