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They're 20 of the world's best handling cars.
But what is it, exactly, that makes them so good?
On road and track, we find out.

CAR Magazine, December 1997

Lotus Esprit GT3
              Lap time: 74.40sec

Here's one of the, shall we say, more senior among our group of 20. But there has never been much wrong with the Lotus Esprit as far as its ability to go round corners is concerned, thanks in part to a well-sorted double wishbone suspension layout at both ends.

That said, some Esprits have been very much better than others as various combinations of springs, dampers, offsets, tyre sizes and the like have worked their way in and out of favour. And the cocktail concocted for the GT3, the relatively stripped-out, (very) relatively low cost 2.0 litre turbo version devised as a base for a race car, is the best there has yet been.

On the track, it feels at ease and under control and does the lap times to prove it. Even on a damp surface, there's enough grip not to lead you into sudden frantic bouts of steering correction. Provided you keep the power flowing on smoothly, the stance is just on the understeering, and therefore directionally stable, side of neutral. Yet the Esprit always feels precise in an almost mechanical, proportional way, and the sharp, accurate steering always tells you what's going on. It's power assisted, but you'd never know once you're beyond parking pace.

Should you breach the limit, the GT3 gives you just a little more time to think than it would if it were shorter and lighter. That breathing space is made the more flexible by the engine's very soft, lag-laden throttle response, which is frustrating when you want to do some fine-tuning but a blessing when you're paddling in the breakers of power oversteer. The brakes inspire confidence, too; they need a hard prod, but the pedal's firm and the bite feels as though it has plenty in reserve. Very race-car, in fact.

On the road, the brakes feel wooden instead because of the high pedal pressures required and the rather gentle graph of effort versus result. Otherwise, the benign nature continues, with the bonus of a ride that's surprisingly smooth and supple for a horny semi-supercar. Trouble is, you can't make good use of all this driver-friendliness. That's because the Lotus is wide, and your view out of it is less than panoramic. Rapid travel along tight lanes is more an act of faith than an act of considered skill, and being outsmarted by a revved-up hot hatch is a real probability. The GT3's ultimate pace and adhesion advantages are no use when you daren't use them.

PRICE £39,950
ENGINE 1994cc dohc 16v four
POWER 240bhp TORQUE 217lb ft
FRONT SUSPENSION Double wishbones,
coil springs, anti-roll bar
REAR SUSPENSION Double wishbones,
coil springs, anti-roll bar
STEERING Powered rack and pinion
BRAKES F/R Ventilated discs
TYRES F/R 215/40 ZR17, 245/45 ZR17
0-60MPH 5.2sec TOP SPEED 164mph
FORM GUIDE Two decades of honing has
given the Esprit much better mid-engined
manners than it once had. But it should
handle well, because it's a Lotus


The Esprit featured is now owned by LEW user Tony Argyrou

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