New Esprit: End of the Legend?
AutoExpress, November 2001
by Martin Sharpe
It has starred in a Bond film, been in a string of other movies and numbers some of the world's most famous celebrities among its owners. But one of Britain's longest lived sports cars in now facing the final curtain. The legendary Lotus Esprit is set to be axed but only after being given one final facelift.
Sources within the company have suggested that the new 2002 model seen here for the first time will be the final incarnation of the supercar to roll out of the Norfolk factory, 30 years after it was first shown as a concept.
These first official pictures show a new Ferrari-style look for the rear lights, along with revised front and rear spoilers which are said to offer greater stability at high speed. The car has also been given a fresh look inside, with new high-backed seats finished in two-tone leather and incorporating an embossed Lotus logo. The cabin has a metallic feel, with alloy touches on the gearstick, handbrake sleeve, inner door panel and sill, which also features the Lotus logo.
New crystal titanium-finish multi-spoke OZ racing alloy wheels have been fitted, and they hide powerful four-pot brake calipers, brake pads and discs are all race-spec, ensuring the Lotus stops as quickly as it goes.
Surprisingly, the wedge-shaped two-seater's pop-up lights remain. Russell Carr, Lotus design chief, said: 'The Esprit is a classic supercar that has evolved over three decades. We decided not to alter it too dramatically as this would be changing the true spirit of the Esprit.' Tough new European pedestrian safety legislation has led to fixed-light designs being adopted on all but one of the Esprit's rivals, the soon-to-be revamped Ferrari 456. That has further fuelled rumours that the Lotus's days are numbered. In addition, the current 3.5-litre twin turbocharged V8 engine won't pass strict new emissions laws being introduced in America the Esprit's major market and the firm is said to have balked at investing the money necessary to make the modifications. The facelifted car retains the existing 3.5-litre twin turbocharged V8, producing 350bhp at 6,500rpm. It's mated to a five-speed manual gearbox, giving a top speed of 175mph and 0-60mph time of only 4.8 seconds.
When the Esprit is finally axed, its role will be filled by a version of the M250, the baby supercar put on hold earlier this year. Lotus boss Terry Playle plans to rework the M250's platform so it can be used as the basis for a range of different models, including an all-new Esprit and an Elise replacement in four or five years' time.
Playle has also hinted that the M250 itself will be available in a variety of bodystyles, including a convertible. And he's said to be considering an ultra-high-performance rival to Ferrari and Aston Martin, to be built on a unique platform at a rate of about 1,000 a year. Until the all-new car is ready, though, the Esprit will have to hold off newer competitors such as the Porsche 911 and Maserati 3200GT. It goes on sale at the start of next month, priced £49,995.