Motorweek Articles

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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