is now owned by Bugatti but the latest Esprit is still a true Brit through
Auto Express 15 April 1994
by Robin Davies
You'd think that after 18 years in production the Lotus Esprit would be contentedly sipping warm Duckhams in the Dunrevving Rest Home for Superseded Supercars.
But instead of readying the embalming fluid for its old timer, Lotus has brought out the revitalising serum once again to ensure that the spring stays firmly in its step.
Last year the Esprit SE under went some life-enhancing surgery both inside and out, and emerged an undeniably better-mannered, more rewarding and far better looking sports car. Unsurprisingly, Lotus christened it the S4.
Numerous nips and tucks were made to the shapely glass fibre skin, a neater rear spoiler attached directly to the tailgate, and stunning new larger-diameter alloy wheels added. The end result is so pleasing that Nancy Reagan will probably choose Lotus Design for her next face job.
But you can't detect this Esprit's most welcome addition until you twirl its attractive Nardi steering wheel for the first time. You no longer need a six-month course of anabolic steroids to be able to manoeuvre it, because power-assisted steering is now fitted as standard.
Under the bonnet it's business as usual, the trusty turbocharged and intercooled 2.2-litre four-cylinder engine still sitting amidships with evil intent.
Let it have its wicked way and, 4.7 seconds after foot meets accelerator, you're touching 60mph. The top speed is a theoretical 164mph.
The engine certainly delivers the goods, but for the best results it needs a generous supply of revs. The turbocharger answers your call to arms at around 3,000rpm with storming power right up to the 7,250rpm red line.
Below 3,000rpm though, there's barely enough oomph to pull the skin off a rice pudding, and you can get caught in this dead zone, which is very unwelcome if you're overtaking.
Acting as middle man for the engine is a five-speed gearbox with cable linkage, which doesn't over awe you. It's reasonably quick-shifting, but is vague and demands full attention if you're to successfully grab your chosen gear.
Also vague is the feel through the brake pedal. There's a lack of progression and responsiveness to it which makes the efficient anti-lock assisted discs feel less reassuring than they should in a meaty machine like this.
Escape to some suitably twisty B-roads and the Esprit plays its trump card, wiping any minor whinges from your mind in one fell swoop. It rides as stiffly as you expect, but always comfortably too, so long journeys don't leave you feeling like you've spent the day on a pogo stick.
As well as fitting power steering for the S4, Lotus engineers have also tweaked the front suspension geometry to tame the Esprit's tricky handling. Where once it would switch from pushing its nose wide to snapping its tail out faster than you could say 'Hello hedge', it's now far more forgiving.
Grip from the chunky Goodyear Eagle GSA tyres seems inexhaustible, and there's a feeling of unflappable balance and poise which immediately puts you at ease with the car. The steering is fabulous with 100 cent pure response, perfect weighting and pin-sharp accuracy.
A rather high door sill makes settling into the low-slung Esprit far from easy, but once you're in you find the redesigned sports seats offer premium comfort and support, helped by a pump-action lumber adjuster.
Connolly leather upholstery and trim, originally an option, is now standard too. The driving position is fine, although the arrangement of the pedals, particularly the brake, takes some getting used to.
If the chunky instrument stalks and some fittings look strangely familiar, it's because they are sourced from Vauxhall. The squarish instrument binnacle has Been restyled and its attractive dials are now shrouded in a new 'composite-style' material, instead of the original wood. Other minor revisions range from new door inners to a new centre console with lidded storage cubby.
Pull a lever in the door frame behind your right shoulder and you open the engine bay, which also doubles as a modest luggage area with enough room for at least a couple of squashy bags.
Airbags aren't on the list of safety precautions, but you are protected by side-impact beams, as well as the reassurance of anti-lock brakes. To ensure the envious and light-fingered can look but not touch, deadlocks and an alarm are now fitted as standard, and if a thief bypasses these there's an engine immobiliser to deal with too.
Auto Express VERDICT
The changes to the Esprit have enhanced every aspect of the car. With head-turning looks, improved interior, more neutral handling and tremendous power-assisted steering, the S4 is on a different plane to is predecessor. Bugatti has taken Lotus under its wing, so its future looks rosy a new roadster is planned for 1997, and the Elan has been given a stay of execution. But right now the Esprit S4 is the company's lifeblood, and it's a supercar that Lotus, and Britain, can be proud of.
I'm not mad about the Esprit's looks, although the test car's lurid colour didn't help. It's not that easy to get into, but it's snug and comfortable, although finding my ideal driving position wasn't as easy as I expected, considering the car's heritage. The steering wheel doesn't adjust fore and aft and because I'm short in the leg I had to sit closer to it than I would have liked.
The Esprit is quick if you keep it in the turbo range. That's not a problem because the gearbox has well-chosen ratios and is pleasant to use. Visibility is fine on the open road but it's difficult to judge the car's width and length when parking.
The suspension is firm but comfortable and if you do something stupid like back off suddenly in mid-corner it won't lose its composure, if the tail does break away it is smooth and controllable.
This is a very enjoyable car to drive, but I don't think I'd enjoy living with it because the driving position wasn't ideal for me and visibility was difficult at times.