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Esprit: the remake
Lotus is readying a completely new version of one of it's finest ever moments, the Esprit supercar. And it really could look this good
CAR Magazine, May 2006
by Phil McNamara
For men of a certain age, there's only one James Bond and only one James Bond car. And that's Roger Moore and the Lotus Esprit, of course. To those of us in our thirties that white, snub-nosed wedge pirouetting in the Sardinian sun in The Spy Who Loved Me left an impression as deep as a bit from Jaws' metal teeth.
The original Esprit survived for 28 years, before production ceased in February 2004. Behind the scenes in Norfolk, though, work is underway on an all-new Esprit, due in production in early 2008. It's the biggest project in Lotus Cars' history, involving 160 employees.
With a V8 engine mounted amidships and driving the rear wheels, the new Lotus copies the post-1996 template of its predecessor, although it's far from certain to be called Esprit, despite Lotus dusting off a familiar badge for the Europa S. One school of thought argues that as this supercar writes a new chapter for Hethel, it deserves a new name. 'The jury is still out on calling it Esprit,' says a spokesman.
Don't expect Lotus to airbrush the MkI entirely out of its history, though. 'Like the Mini, the new Esprit design captures the spirit of the original,' says Lotus Cars managing director Clive Dopson. It's an evolution of Giorgetto Giugiaro's 1972 icon rather than a carbon copy, although it retains 'quite a lot of the wedge shape'. Some say it resembles that wide, squat bullet of a supercar, the ultra-modern Lamborghini Gallardo.
The exterior design has been signed off; the aerodynamics are being scrutinised in the wind tunnel. At launch, the Esprit won't have a prominent wing, although higher performance models will, like the 1989 SE. Top speed should reach 200mph.
Cabin space will take a huge leap forward. The original's driving position was like reclining in a baby's bath. The MkII won't be so cramped: it can accommodate a giant of 6ft 5in with size 14 feet. So American basketball players won't be denied a slice of the 600-odd cars heading annually to the US, some 50 percent of production.
The Esprit is a 'super sports car', according to Dopson. 'The main selling point will be its power-to-weight ratio,' he predicts. Lotus engineers know the efficient way to produce blistering acceleration is to keep weight down. That's the Colin Chapman way – the spirit of the engineer who founded Lotus in 1948 and coined the company's 'performance out of light weight' doctrine.
Hethel's not-so-secret weapon in pursuit of this goal is its 'versatile vehicle architecture'. Four years in development, and the backbone of Lotus's APX concept at February's Geneva show, it's the latest example of the lightweight aluminium thinking employed spectacularly by the Elise.
Think of VVA as a Lego Technik kit, but to human scale. The key building blocks are a series of connectors – or 'high-pressure die-cast corner nodes' in Lotus-speak – into which plug extruding aluminium chassis members. So the chassis is constructed around these ultra-rigid nodes, which also support the suspension, and channel impact forces away from the passenger cell in a crash.
The corner nodes can support different length extrusions and varied floorpans, so cars with diverse layouts – mid-engined/rear-drive sports car; front-engined/four-wheel drive crossover SUV; front-drive trad saloon – can be spun off the same building blocks. With VVA, the most expensive parts – the nodes – are shared among all vehicles, making it quick and cost effective to create a multitude of niche cars, say 30,000 seven-seaters such as the APX, 10,000 coupés and 5,000 supercars. Like the Esprit. Ingenuity that would make Q, James Bond's armourer, proud.
When riveted and bonded together, the VVA provides a featherlight, ultra-rigid platform. The rigidity allows very precise suspension tuning, increases refinement and means there will be an open top Esprit (confirmed by Lotus); the weight yields mighty performance.
'The first Lotus production car to use the VVA will be the new mid-engine supersports car,' confirms Simon Wood, director of Lotus Engineering. Performance won't merely be high but 'phenomenal', he promises.
Here's why. Despite bearing seven seats and four-wheel drive, Lotus has restricted the APX's weight to just 1570kg. That's only 140kg more than the Gallardo. With VVA as its base, the new Esprit should weigh less than the 2002 Esprit, which totalled 1380kg.
Enough of the 'light weight' bit, what of the 'performance'? The industry grapevine suggests Lotus has struck a deal for the Esprit to use BMW's legendary 400bhp 4941cc V8, from the E39 M5 – an engine with response and torque rust so intoxicating that some pine for it even after sampling the latest M5's 500bhp V10. In the BMW, the V8 produced 400bhp. But it's hugely tunable – Ascari has ramped peak power to 500bhp in its KZ1.
Sources say the V8 will produce at least 400bhp in the Lotus, which would give a 1300kg Esprit a power-to-weight ratio of 308bhp per tonne – a decent advantage over the Porsche 911 Carrera S and BMW's M6. Forced induction would boost peak power beyond 500bhp for a 21st century Turbo Esprit.
'The super sports car will be a serious challenger to the Porsche 911,' vows Lotus chief executive Kim Ogaard-Nielsen. 'There are more people out there who deserve to drive Lotus cars. Why should people by a Porsche when they could by a Lotus?'
The new supercar forms a crucial plank of Lotus's growth strategy. By 2010, Ogaard-Nielsen wants Hethel to sell 10,000 cars a year, over three model lines: Elise/Europa, Esprit, and a third sports car. Executives are considering a 2+2 positioned between the Elise and Esprit, possibly with a front-mounted engine.
After years of uncertainty, Hethel has a clear vision and the technology to make it an affordable reality. Hell, if it wasn't for Ford's stronger marketing muscle, the renasent Lotus brand could be enough to turn a certain secret agent's head away from Aston Martin – assuming the new Esprit lives up to its billing.
Why the Esprit matters so much
by Jason Barlow
After 30 years of dodgy gearboxes and low budget styling tweaks, the Esprit was the British supercar that surely had a Dorian Gray-style portrait in the attic. But no. On a good day, even at the very end, it could deliver a drive that tiptoed right up to transcendence then tipped into nirvana. Yes, that good.
Of course the Esprit had rubbish visibility and a cranky transmission. But the '96 GT3 was a devastating showcase for Lotus's chassis genius. No mid-engined car before had steering this pure, or such exquisitely balanced handling. The tiny Elise casts a big shadow, but the Esprit remains the definitive British supercar. And for me, the definitive Lotus.
This is a re-hash of two year old information. They concentrate mainly on the VVA, which has been about for a while and covered before. The model shown, which is also on the front cover, isn't the signed off design. Rumors of a BMW engine have been around for over a year. Not much new to shout about really and they've given it the cover and a six page spread. Wait for the truth from LEW on the new Esprit. Car magazines are almost as bad as the tabloid press!