Handling Day @ Silverstone
The mission: to find this year's best handling car.
The place: the home of the British GP.
The cars: 15 greats
Autocar Magazine, September 1997
by Stephen Sutcliffe
We expected the Esprit to be patchy. We weren't anticipating much from its brakes, for example, or from its gearchange, and we weren't wrong. But when it came to grip, balance, steering feel and manners on the limit, we expected the old timer from Norfolk to excel. Maybe even dominate.
And in some respects we were right. From the way it could be thrown into and leaned on so cleanly through the quick corners, to the way the steering wheel relayed intimate details about every grain of tarmac that passed beneath the front Michelins, the GT3 was a joy to drive hard at Silverstone. Even when it had gained our confidence so convincingly that we started to over-drive it and make howling mistakes, it still had sufficient ideas in reserve to defuse potentially disastrous situations.
Yet this particular example also suffered from understeer in the slower corners, which was against all our expectations. It was as if this car had been specifically fettled for this characteristic. If so, it was a pity, because in virtually every other aspect of its handling it was fabulous.
No other mid-engined car feels as absorbent as an Esprit when you clip a kerb or encounter a ripple halfway through a really quick corner. There's body roll, but also immense body control and terrific stability. It's a balance that feels very friendly and accessible, unlike most other stiffly sprung mid-engined supercars.
With better brakes, a more responsive engine than its laggy 2.0-litre blown four, a sharper gearchange and fractionally less understeer, it might well have won this contest outright. But then, how many times have we said similar things about Esprits in the past? Roll on the new car, but only so long as it handles like its predecessor.
Wonderfully well balanced for a mid-engined car, but let down by drivetrain and brakes.
What the Experts Think
Plato: 'Love the way you can chuck this car around, even though the brakes are heavy and vague. Wish it had more power to expolit the chassis.'
Postlethwaite: 'There are two whole seconds of turbo lag. Chuckable and great fun, the chassis is terrific – very obviously a Lotus – but it really needs a decent engine.'
The Esprit featured is now owned by LEW user Tony Argyrou