Road and Track Articles
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 multi-valve 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.
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
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.
98 Esprit V8 - Road & Track #2
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.
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.
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.
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
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
Reference: RT: 9/97;FEA:
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.
Acura NSX vs. Lotus Esprit Turbo - Road & Track #8
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
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
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