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.
Engine: 3.0-Liter Sohc V6
Torque: 205 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 7.6 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 16 Seconds @ 90 MPH
60-0 MPH: 134 Feet (w/out Abs)
EPA Mileage: 20 MPG City 28 MPG Highway