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Lotus Esprit V8-GT
Car Magazine, June 1998

How quickly can you get round a corner? Not a whole lot faster than this, I can assure you. It might be the Tupperware supercar, but there's a unique delicacy to the Lotus Esprit V8 GT, as you loop together a ribbon of spectacular roads, that hoists it clear of pretty much all of its contemporaries. Premier division acceleration (0-60mph in just over 4 seconds). Heart-stopping, but not cardiac-arresting braking ability. Laser-led turn-in and a career-best cornering capacity. For one flying half-hour period pounding along some empty back roads this is the Esprit in existence, an engorged Elise without an inch of slack in its whole being, but it's still no masterpiece

This should have been the one of course, the Esprit that finally redeemed the V8's sullied reputation, lighter and cheaper than its range topping brother, punchier than the chaotically four-cylinder GT3, nifty exploiter of the tightest ever niche, even by Lotus standards. At a few quid short of 50 grand, the V8 GT sounds like the ultimate Esprit. Except that it refuses to rise to the simple but devastating challenge of everyday driving.

The V8, you'll remember, received some remedial attention a few months ago. In came new instruments, heating and ventilation controls housed in the revised cabin (much needed, but still constructed out of low grade plastic); more significantly: a twin-plate AP racing clutch with a reduced diameter and half the rotational inertial was reduced, which - when wedded to some refreshed hydraulics - made the simple task of operating the clutch about twice as easy as it was. The gearbox, too gained a re-engineered selector mechanism (less slop and transmission noise, though still related to some Jurassic Renault design), while the anti-lock brakes were drastically overhauled.

The V8 GT, meanwhile is tweaked further, out goes the air-con, the leather chairs, the rear wing and the ugly steering wheel, in comes the GT3's composite racing seats, some suede trim, a three-spoke wheel and an aluminum clamping ring around the gear lever gater. The V8's wheel arch extensions, alloys and meatier kerbside menace stay. And, as befits its early 70's bloodline, the Esprit remains the acme of supercar silliness with its recumbent driving position, large windscreen and wrist snapping gearstick location.

The V8 GT is almost impossible to get off the line smoothly, though, new clutch or not, it's still weighty and bites late and hard, which wouldn't be such a problem if the throttle pedal had a modicum of feel; in town especially you need such a bootful of revs to get moving that onlookers blithely assume that your L-plates must have fallen off. Use less power and the resulting judder sends a shivery shockwave through the whole car. It's also hideously easy to stall (although our car might not have been in peak condition - its gearbox had just been rebuilt), Whatever the reason, it's not cool at all, and this is a very bad car not to be cool in.

Not can you reply on the brawny 350bhp flat-plane V8 to paper over the cracks in the Esprit's charisma - the only thing more impressive than its ballistic in-gear acceleration times is the fact that is sounds no better than a boggo MGF while it's doing it. Blame the bureaucrats.

Still, bits of the Esprit V8 GT are about as good as you can get in something with four wheels and an engine. When its two blowers are on song and the roads are right, for instance, its abilities become beautifully and addictively focused. But the rest of the time, sadly, this is yet another Esprit viewed through cracked glass.


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