Top Gear - Lotus Esprit Turbo
Supercar styling inside and out, pop-up headlights, ruched leather...
this is the Lotus Esprit
Gear Magazine, April 2013
by Richard Hammond
photography by Justin Leighton
The Lotus Esprit Essex.
Hold on just a minute and think about that. Essex. You've got
a special edition celebrating the launch of the first-ever turbocharged
version of your flashy, British supercar coming up, and you need
a name. Having rejected, ooh, I dunno, ‘The Turb-o-liser',
‘Turbo Death Ray Special', ‘King Dong' and ‘Mighty
Excalibur', Lotus went for ‘Essex'.
The guys had their
reasons: keen to cash in on F1 glamour, they linked the car with
their F1 sponsor, Essex Petroleum. I'd have gone for the Lotus
Esprit Petroleum myself, but, hey...
There are other reasons
for the Essex moniker being a good fit: one look at the interior
is enough to back it up as an entirely appropriate call. That's
a lot of orange leather; it could be the face of any of those
Essex people on TV. And it's been ruched to within an inch of
its life. Settling into the driver's seat is like sitting on the
wrinkled face of an Essex 60-a-day smoker. I should imagine. Once
in, though, it's not all bad news.
Peel your eyes away
from the orange ruched leather, and look at the stereo. It's got
a cassette player, and it's mounted on the ceiling. It's like
being on the flight deck of a jumbo jet. My God, but this must
have felt special in 1980, when, don't forget, everything was
pretty awful. And then this comes along. It's bigger, brighter
and bolder than just about anything else. And, best of all, it's
British. If that doesn't get your kipper tie twitching, nothing
The Essex was based
on the S3, the third incarnation of the Esprit. The interior of
this limited-edition special was, like the body, the work of Giugiaro.
But this thing was far more than a restyle. The Esprit had been
around since the S1 version arrived in 1976. Yes, we'd all fallen
in love with it when Bond drove it under the sea and shot a helicopter
with a frankly ridiculous missile thingy, but that was a long
time ago, man, things have moved on.
This was the first
turbo charged Esprit, it had a dry sump engine, the chassis and
rear suspension were redesigned, and the new Giugiaro-designed
aerodynamic bodykit made the whole thing look bigger, bolder and
angrier. However, it struggles to sound anything special when
you fire up the four-cylinder, 2.2-litre engine behind your head,
and the whole thing feels fantastically dated. Plus, the gear
linkage is a very long way indeed from the rifle-bolt action you
might dream about... The outlandish interior creaks and groans
a bit, the switchgear is clearly lifted from other, more pedestrian
cars, and, after five minutes in the ruched, orange leather cocoon,
you can't help but suspect you might be rolling around inside
an elephant's scrotum.
What else? It's quick
enough to keep you entertained, but never to startle. It makes
210bhp - not a huge number - but it's light at just 1,220kg, so
0-60mph takes around six seconds, and it'll top out at 155mph.
But this is still
the original ‘wedge’, if you ask me – a proper
supercar with pop-up headlights and everything. And even in this
outlandish colour scheme, it’s a gorgeous-looking thing.
True to Lotus form, it’s light and makes the very best use
of its power. And it’s got history and pedigree; it was
around in one form or another for 28 years. There are better cars,
more sophisticated, ground-breaking cars, but the Esprit has properly
earned its place in the halls of motoring folklore, and to own
one, any version of it, will always be to own, and drive, a legend.