The last iteration of the four-cylinder Esprit was the GT3, a turbocharged, charge cooled variant with the 2.0 L Type 920 which had previously been used only in Italian market cars. The GT3 was produced alongside the Esprit V8. Got some updates for MY 1998.
The 1997 GT3 is the same as the Esprit S4 except for the following changes. The 2 liter was the type 920, 240 bhp engine. It had no back pressure valve or throttle jack, no tailgate mounted aerofoil, Swiss type rear transom spoiler lip, single fuel filler on LH side, GT3 decals along door bottoms, Sport 300 type seats with backs painted body colour, Cloth/vinyl interior trim, Senotex instrument mask, Body colour composite gear lever shroud, Aluminium gear lever knob, Optional panel lamps rheostat, alarm, door edge, bonnet and footwell lamps, lights on buzzer and one touch windows. The 1998 model year retains the classic characteristics and pure driver appeal of the GT3 while incorporating a number of the refinements developed for the Esprit V8 and V8 GT.
These all increase the user friendliness of the car, complying with the successful GT3 concept of ensuring that the appeal of the Esprit is within the reach of newcomers to the supercar market. The Esprit GT3 possesses the legendary Lotus ride, handling, and styling, powered by a special 2.0 litre variant of the 4-cylinder Lotus turbocharged engine.
This highly developed engine produces 179 kW (240bhp) at 6250 rpm and 294 Nm (216lb.ft) at 3750 rpm and enables the car to produce performance figures to shame more expensive supercars – 0-60 mph in 5.1seconds (0-100 km/h in 5.2 seconds), 0-100 mph 12.9 seconds (0-160 km/h in 12.5 seconds) before reaching a top speed of 163.5mph (263 km/h).
A new light weight Kelsey Hayes ABS braking system developed for the Esprit enhances stopping performance and increases vehicle stability in extreme conditions while maintaining a progressive feel.
The centre console has been dramatically improved with all the primary and secondary controls, including new electric window switches, within easy reach of the driver and passenger.
The fascia has been designed to maximise interior space, ergonomically improve the layout of the instrumentation and controls. The new, smaller binnacle, centre console and lowered transmission tunnel top, all combine to make the cabin much more spacious while graphically wrapping around the driver. The instrument layout has been honed down to the absolute minimum. The four highly legible VDO instruments: speedometer incorporating a LCD odometer and trip, electronic rev-counter, fuel and temperature gauges, together with the warning and indicator lamps, are all laid out for maximum clarity.
Fuel tank release, dashboard rheostat, window override and alarm immobiliser are now discretely housed within the tunnel behind the gear lever. The result is a more spacious, ergonomic cabin complemented by the specification and equipment selection, such as the racing style fixed back composite bucket seats, and reflect the motorsport pedigree of Lotus. On-board comfort is further improved by new heating and ventilation controls and graphics with repositioned air vents, allowing more precise cabin temperature and air distribution control.
The exterior appearance brings back memories of the classic line of the early Lotus Esprit, which did not use added wings the aerodynamic downforce at the rear of the Lotus Esprit GT3 has been achieved with just an extended lip on the rear bodywork.
A new wiper has been designed comprising a new wiper arm and blade. This new pantograph wiper system improves screen clearing with an increased sweep area and quieter operation. The windscreen wash system also adopts of a more powerful pump and a larger capacity reservoir.
The 1998 Esprit configuration is completed by the introduction of a new Cobra alarm system. This EC approved Thatcham Category 1 system incorporates remote arming and disarming, central locking and key operated dead locking on both driver and passenger doors.
The Lotus Esprit GT3 is available in European specification markets, in both left-hand and right-hand drive and can be personalised with a full range of options.
GT3 Braking Systems
The early GT3 cars had the Delco ABS Braking system (as used on S4 & S4s) There was limited stock of this component (originally only enough to build the originally planned build quantity of GT3s)
The GT3 proved to be more successful than thought and more were planned for build. This meant they had to take the new Kelsey Hayes ABS Braking system developed for the V8. This system relies on using a conventional vacuum brake servo which was developed for the V8 vacuum levels.
As the 4 cylinder engine does not have the same vacuum characteristic it was easier to keep the same braking components and generate the vacuum in another way – with an existing electric pump. The remaining GT3s were built to this condition (the change happened during 1997)
Mid-mounted Lotus 1973cc aluminium alloy 16-valve chargecooled engine.
Water-cooled TB03 turbocharger with integral wastegate.
Multi-point fuel injection system and distributorless ignition.
Maximum power: 179 kW (240 bhp) at 6250 RPM (DIN).
Maximum torque: 294 Nm (216 lb ft) at 3750 RPM (DIN).
Compression Ratio: 8.0:1 Bore: 95.27 mm
Stroke: 69.20 mm
High torque 5-speed manual transaxle with hydraulically operated clutch driving rear wheels.
Rigid steel zinc-coated backbone chassis, composite bodywork with seating for two.
Fuel tank capacity: 73 litres (16 gallons).
Fuel requirement: 95 RON minimum octane UNLEADED.
Independent by upper and lower wishbones, with revised anti-roll bar, coil springs and telescopic dampers. Power steering (PAS) fitted as standard.
Independent by upper and lower transverse links, with radius arms, coil springs and telescopic dampers. Aluminium hub carriers.
New Kelsey Hayes “430” three-channel ABS controller with tandem master cylinder and vacuum servo assistance.
5-spoke alloy, 17″ diameter. 7J front and 8.5J rear rim sizes by Route OZ to Lotus design.
Lotus sport seats, vinyl interior trim, power steering, ABS brakes, catalytic convertor, single key central locking, tilt/removable roof panel, front fog lights, electrically adjustable heated door mirrors.
Airbags, leather trimmed sport seats, leather trimmed seats, Lotus alarm system, air conditioning, Alpine radio cassette, Alpine radio/CD, Alpine radio with CD multichanger.
AutoCar 1996 – What They Said
There is an irony about the Lotus Esprit GT3. For years Lotus has been adding to its legendary mid-engined supercar. Adding power, adding cylinders, adding status – in theory. But with the GT3, it has chosen the opposite path. And thus the ‘clubsport’ Esprit has been born.
Lighter, less powerful, and toting half the number of cylinders of the only other Esprit now on sale, the 2.0-litre turbocharged GT3 is now the definitive cut price supercar. And although it has ‘only’ 240bhp compared with the V8’s 349bhp, the knowledge that it cost £39,450 would be hard to ignore even if you were able to spend the £59,995 required for the V8.
Performance & Brakes
Because the GT3 is not destined for the US, Lotus has managed to carve over 100kg out of the kerbweight compared with the V8 and S4s. This is largely due to the removal of some sound insulation materials from the cabin, and a lot of the diagnostic systems required by US emissions laws from the engine bay. The result is not simply a lighter car, but a louder one too. To our ears, that’s as good as it is bad.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that this engine is merely a tweaked version of the old 215bhp, 2.0-litre, 16-valve turbo. It’s actually a smaller version of the more recent 2.2-litre chargecooled turbo engine designed for the Italian market. Which is why the power and torque, as ever, can vary from the quoted 240bhp at 6250rpm and 216lb ft at 3750, up to anything as much as 250-260bhp, depending on the ambient temperature.
This is typical of chargecooled, turbocharged Esprits. In cold weather you can get momentary bursts of unusually savage acceleration when the boost pressure rises to almost one bar. In normal circumstances, it hovers around 0.75 bar, dishing out big but not immense chunks of acceleration. Unlike the V8, which feels almost uncomfortably quick sometimes.
The result is an extremely raw and peculiarly intoxicating style of delivery. The was the turbo suffers from lag below 2500rpm, then comes in with a rush at 3500rpm, boosting even more strongly at 5700-5800rpm is a far cry from today’s virtually lag free light pressure turbo engines. It’s a strangely exciting experience all the same. You have to measure throttle inputs accurately on the way out of bends, opening the taps as much as a second sooner than you would in normally aspirated cars of similar performance. Judged correctly, however, it’s an immensely satisfying technique.
Were the GT3’s gearbox less recalcitrant going from second to third and from fourth to fifth (or vice versa in either place) it would be no problem keeping the motor stoked in its optimum 3500-7200rpm rev band. On the other hand, compared with the V8’s notchy gearchange, the GT3’s lighter, faster shift is almost a delight.
As are the figures that spewed out of the test gear. Esprits always get off the line well, the GT3 rocketing to 30mph in a scorching 1.8 sec. But it’s the 4.8 sec 30-70mph times that really set the cat among the pigeons. In each case the GT3 is only fractionally slower than the old 285bhp S4s (4.7/12.1/4.7sec). Even the V8 doesn’t put more than a few lengths between them with equivalent times of 4.2/10.3 and 4.0sec. The fact that the GT3 runs out of puff at a mere 159mph as opposed to 162mph for the S4s and 172mph for the V8 makes little or no difference in this country.
So it’s all the more a pity that Lotus, depite the GT3’s weight savings, still hasn’t managed to come up with a truly decent set of brakes. As always the anti-lock triggers too readily and disengages too slowly on rough surfaces, while pedal feel and all out stopping ability remain at best mediocre.
Laggy delivery is strangely addictive, not so the poor gearshift and brakes
Design & Engineering
Recognise the formula? Strip all the heavy, performance-sapping, luxuries from a slow-selling or outdated sports car. Add Day-Glo paint, garish door graphics, a spartan interior, thinly-padded composite racing seats and an evocative motorsport-inspired name.
Conceptually, the Esprit GT3 is identical to Porsche’s 968 Club Sport or Lamborghini’s Diablo SV. In engineering terms, that means little more than a new permutation of old parts.
Power, for example, comes from the familiar turbocharged Lotus slant-four. But its capacity has been reduced to the original 1973cc of the very first naturally aspirated Esprit. (Officially this engine was chosen to placate customers who paid significantly more for the last of the 2.2-litre S4s’ – but factory insiders say clearing stock of unsold Italian-spec 2-litre engines is the real reason.)
Externally, it loses the S4s’ rear wing and 18in OZ Racing split-rim alloys, while air-conditioning, plush seats, airbags, sound deadening and hi-fi have all been ditched from the cabin (although not from the options list). Total weight saving is officially 150kg compared with the V8, 106kg according to our scales.
Otherwise, the GT3 is pure S4s. Identical from its zinc-coated steel backbone chassis, composite body and double-wishbone suspension, to its power-assisted rack and pinion steering and Brembo brakes.
In fact, boy-racer graphics apart, the GT3 is actually better looking than the S4s. Narrower S4-spec 17in alloy wheels and bespoke Goodyear GSA rubber mean there’s no need for clumsy wheel-arch extensions, and its rear and side profiles (if not its aerodynamics) benefit immeasurably from the loss of the rear wing. Even the bright orange paint of the test car looks good, although the classier metallic silver option might be a safer bet in the long run.
Of course, like all Esprits, the GT3 still suffers from poor panel gaps and questionable build integrity compared with its metal-bodied rivals: there was a squeaky rear spring and a rattly door on this 4000-mile example. But it is more durable than it feels, and much easier to forgive at this price.
Inside, the GT3 is sparse but not naked and, as a result, is rather more appealing than the gadget-packed high-spec versions. The Sport 300 seats, doors and dashboard are all trimmed in functional dark-grey vinyl and synthetic ‘alcantara’ suede, which flatters the build quality and helps to disguise the ugly plastic door handles and ancient eyeball air-vents. This fails, however, to disguise the fundamental space and packaging flaws of the Esprit.
A very effective rummage through the parts bin, but the cabin needs updating.
Given the less sophisticated origins of the GT3’s 2.0-litre engine and the smaller brain of its Delco management system (compared with the more complex Lotus-designed system of the V8), it would be fair to expect a small drop in economy, as well as a drop in power. Not a bit of it. We drove the GT3 as hard as its maker intended for 1100 miles, yet its consumption emerged at a creditable 19.9mpg, well ahead of the V8’s 16.5mpg. We saw broadly the same improvement over our touring route, where it managed 24.7mpg against 22.1mpg for the V8.
But it’s what happens when you sit back the trundle along a motorway that highlights the real difference in economy between four and eight-cylinder Esprits. In spite of its shorter overall gearing – 23.1mph/1000rpm in top instead of 25.5 – the GT3 consistently puts 2-3 more miles under its tyres than the thirstier V8. That’s because its bigger turbo lies almost dormant at 80-85mph; not so the V8’s.
20mpg overall is a fine result for a 160mph supercar: improves on thirsty V8.
Handling & Ride
Ever since Lotus equipped the Esprit with power steering, back in 1993, it has handled, steered and cornered beautifully; but never more so than this. Perhaps by luck, but more we suspect through find judgement, when tuning the steel backbone chassis and its wishbone/coil spring suspension, the Lotus engineers have surpassed themselves with this one by creating the friendliest, most predictable and, we think, best-handling Esprit ever. A car which, even in the pouring rain, can be driven quickly and securely without requiring huge amounts of skill or commitment from a driver, the true marker of a car that handles. Rather than just grips.
Best off all is the power steering, which manages to combine a lightness of touch with a feel and precision that is equalled by no other car save Lotus’s own Elise. But supporting roles played by the absorbent ride, crisp body control, well-judged roll control and iron resistance to pitch and dive under acceleration and braking are all unusually strong, even for an Esprit.
Indeed, without back to back comparison between this car and the all-conquering Elise, we would not like to say which we would actually prefer from a pure handling viewpoint.
Where it fails to match its smaller brother is on ride quality, particularly at slow speeds over pockmarked surfaces. Although it’s a more comfortable car than most mid-engined supercars (bar the fine-riding Ferrari F355) the Esprit thumps and crunches its way into and out of ruts that the softer Elise casts arrogantly aside. It’s also quite a noisily riding car, the big(ish) 245/45 ZR17 Goodyear GSA Eagle rear covers relaying a fair bit of rumble and roar over coarse tarmac. But when the trade off is this delightful when the road opens out, the GT3’s noisy ride is easier to forgive.
Chassis is friendly and very communicative, despite and loud ride.
Market & Finance
A dealer said it all when he told us that most of his Esprit V8s and S4s sell to company buyers. When private people aren’t buying, you wonder whether a car isn’t just too expensive. Inevitably, confirmation follows on the used market, where Esprits take a pounding.
So, enter the GT3, an Esprit whose £39,450 price better reflects private buyers’ view of the car. It should win a few sporting souls from the £37,000 TVR Cerbera and £37,460 BMW M3 coupe. It may even reward them with 30 per cent first-year depreciation, compared with the V8 and S4s at around 40 per cent. And they’ll certainly appreciate its two-year warranty.
Better buy than other Esprits but the GT3 is no £20,000 Elise.
Comfort Equipment & Safety
Don’t think of the GT3 as a stripped out, pared to the bone racer inside. True, Lotus has chucked out a fair bit of sound deadening material compared with the S4s, and the seats are racing style Recaro buckets rather than the usual leather covered recliners. But by no means does the cabin feel sparse or compromised alongside other Esprits. In fact, the seats themselves are fabulously supportive, if a little hard on long journeys. And you can even specify air conditioning for an extra £1185 (fitted to this car).
Which makes it all the more difficult to see where Lotus has shaved the money out of this car. There’s even a beautiful piece of body coloured composite surrounding the aluminium Momo gearlever that looks as if someone’s melted down a section of the rear wing and spilled it like hot wax all over the transmission tunnel. The only evidence of penny pinching we found was a single rather than twin fuel filler release mechanism and a slightly cheaper but still leather covered Momo steering wheel. And to the fact that the (fairly crummy) Alpine stereo now appears on the options list. In the V8 you get a superior Clarion system with a CD autochanger as standard.
Surprisingly civilised compared with pricier Esprits the GT3 may be, but it still suffers from most of the usual idiosyncrasies. The footwell remains as cramped as ever, while the screen reflections at night, poor direction of ventilation on the passenger side and absence of any real head room still serve as reminders of the car’s age. As does the lack of a passenger airbag option. But at least you get a fraction more head room than normal with the thinner bucket seats. Rear visibility is improved too, because the surfboard rear spoiler has been ditched.
Not as bare as you’d expect inside, but cabin design remains badly flawed.
The Autocar Verdict
Lotus must have thought unusually long and hard before showing the GT3 a green light. Imagine the debate that ensued when the engineers came back with a car that isn’t just cheaper and more economical than the V8 but also one that, in a variety of ways, is simply more fun to drive. More Lotus.
But given the go ahead it was. Presumably Lotus considered the scenario of customers turning away from the faster and cylindrically more prestigious V8 and opting for a GT3. They must have ignored it on the grounds that anyone with £60,000 to spend isn’t likely to trade down to a £40,000 car with half the number of cylinders, a good deal less visual drama and not as much straight-line performance. Placed in such a formal context it’s difficult not to see the distinction, we admit.
In practice, however, things are rarely so simple. The fact is that the GT3 is better balanced, louder, more agile and, critically, more engaging to drive than any other Esprit save, perhaps, the limited edition Sport 300 of a few years back. And when the argument comes down to sheer performance, you’ll not find too many complaining about the car’s sub five second 0-60mph, 160mph potential. Truth be told, the Esprit starts to feel a bit uncomfortable with it’s made to go much quicker than this.
Which makes the GT3 something of a double-edged sword for Lotus. On the one hand, Hethel has come up with what we feel is the best ever interpretation of its legendary mid-engined supercar. By subjecting it to the lightweight ‘clubsport’ treatment Lotus has gone back to its roots and created an absolute belter of a driver’s car, a genuine big brother of the pared-to-the-bone Elise. On the other hand, there’s no getting away from the fact that this car makes the V8 seem at best a rather expensive and not much swifter alternative to the main chance, and at worst obsolete.
If the GT3 remains imperfect, it does so because of only two things: its brakes, and the age and design of its interior. As an overall prospect, though, there aren’t many other reasons not to be extremely excited about this car. If you’re in the market for a £40,000-£60,000 mid-engined supercar, this is the only direction in which to look.
The most accessible Esprit in history.
Car Magazine 1997 – What They Said
Beneath this tasty orange paintjob is the best Esprit ever. It’s the low weight, high excitement GT3 and,
says Richard Bremner, it’s the supercar bargain of the year
Orange, isn’t it? How very trendy, modern and hip. But don’t be deceived— as I’m sure you’re not — for the Lotus Esprit is old enough to have been around last time orange was a fashionable hue, in the mid-70’s (I remember painting my bedroom a similar shade when Marc Bolan and T Rex were regularly conquering the charts). Now more than 20 years old, the Esprit should by rights have become a subject for our friends at Classic Cars. Yet in fact, it has evolved in a major way this year, first with the V8, and now the GT3
The GT3 is yet another variation on the charge-cooled four-cylinder theme, which has been an Esprit powerpack since 1989. Nothing special here, you’ll be thinking, but don’t yawn before we tell you the price. It’s £39,450. All right, a lot of money in absolute terms, but not for a mid-engined supercar that can breach 60mph in around 5 seconds and top 160mph. Not only does the GT3 cost significantly less than similarly dramatic rivals (the cheapest of which, the 911 Carrera, will set you back £61,250) but it also costs less than the original charge-cooled Esprit Turbo SE in 1989, when Lotus asked £42,500. Admittedly, there are some modest differences, the most significant being that the GT3’s engine is a 2.0-litre rather than a 2.2. That means you get 240bhp rather than 264bhp, and 60mph in 5.1sec rather than 4.7sec, but that’s not a great sacrifice — either way, this car is damn quick.
So potentially, the GT3 is a terrific bargain. I say potentially because it rather depends on how the thing goes, of course. But the answer will come quickly, because a swift trip to Norfolk is in order, and that will throw a huge variety of roads at the GT3’s Goodyear Eagles.
GT3’s 2.0 litre four-pot 240bhp rather than the 264 of the S4’s 2.2 litre.
But you won’t miss those 24 horses. With 60mph coming up in 5.1sec, you won’t have time.
Starting with the snarled streets of London town. An Esprit is not your ideal transport for such roads, but it could be worse. Though you’re sitting low, visibility out front and, more importantly, to the sides, is not too bad. The steering is assisted, and blessed with a surprisingly tight lock, which makes NCP manoeuvres less of an exasperation, even if the thing regularly wipes its nose on up-ramps. Getting gears is easy, too, the shift on this car almost velveteen, if not as flick-switch quick as an MGF’s. So that only leaves you with the minor problem of getting moving.
What? Yes, it’s true. There may be 240 horses, but they are remarkably reluctant to leave their pen when you’re starting from zero — the engine just doesn’t want to pull. You need a big head of revs to get going, which is just the thing to goad traffic-light grand prix artists, and never mind that the engine sounds like a Foden’s.
Once it is moving you soon discover that the Esprit must be kept one gear lower than usual if you’re to make any headway in the nip and tuck of town traffic. Otherwise, you’ll be thwarted by off-boost indolence. Get it onto a stretch of open road — to wit, the North Circular — and you discover that it can bring new scope to the phase ‘merging with traffic’ by mashing its nose into the tail end of whatever it was you were hoping to trail. Once the blower’s boosting, the GT3 gathers momentum like a brick dropped off a cliff. So just watch it. That’s one surprise. Another, and it’s more subtle, is the GT3’s civility; it rides so well. It’s not 406-smooth, but it isn’t far off, especially over small bumps that can be so jolting in some sporty cars. The Lexus GS300 Sport is less soothing, for instance. And the GT3’s driveability isn’t bad once you’re moving either — the infuriating driveline jerks that regularly sent seismic shocks through the S4’s structure are largely gone. If the effect is slightly spoiled by an over-heavy clutch and the wearying whine of the engine’s drivebelts, you nevertheless reckon that the car is just about livable-with daily.
As A406 turns to M11, the cruising speed rises, and with it the engine’s eagerness. Frequent glancing at the speedo is essential if you’re to avoid flagrant speed-limit transgressions — at these revs, the blower is on the brink of spinning hard. On the concrete that makes up much of the M11, you have another gauge, too, and that’s road noise, which puts up a fair fight with the stereo.
Ambling along motorways gives you plenty of time to take in a car’s cabin and indeed, it’s impossible to miss the splash of orange that is the GT3’s centre console. Picking up the theme begun by Fiat with the Coupe and Barchetta, designer Julian Thomson has emboldened the cabin with a body-colour moulding around the gearlever (itself of turn aluminium) and the shells of the seats, which are one-piece lightweight glassfibre shells faced with just enough padding for occupants to dodge discomfort, despite the fact that they don’t recline. There’s no walnut trim — it has been replaced by a more appropriate, textured, matt-black material — nor a stay for the glovebox lid which, as a result, flops shut every time you flip its catch. Infuriating.
There’s been no skimping with the steering wheel, however, a sculpted and leathered Momo that’s a tactile treat. And it’s connected to some of the most sensitive steering gear you’ll find in any car at any price. This is apparent even on the M11, for the Esprit needs to be guided sensitively if it isn’t to wander drunkenly between lanes. It’s not that it lacks stability — just that most cars don’t enjoy the same sensitivity to input.
Electric windows are on of the creature comforts to survive weight-loss programme. Gearknob is aluminium.
Off the M11, the roads get narrower and the bends turn tighter. As long as you’re in the right gear, you can sear through corners with eye-widening pace. Subtle wheel-swivellings are all that’s required, and they have to be accurate because the car slices into corners as keenly as a Sabatier blade. Indeed, it is a fine demonstrator of the ‘goes-where-you-point-it’ cliche.
Surprisingly, the GT3 rolls a bit when you load it with g-forces, but this is a useful measure of foolhardiness. Substitute foolhardiness for stupidity, and you’ll hear it spinning its inside rear wheel before the surfeit of power brings on a tail-wag — and even then it’s quite possible to heave it back into line. It communicates well and it’s manageable — essential qualities in sports cars that invite you to explore their limits.
The Lotus might be on the wide side, and not endowed with the most potent-feeling brake pedal, but it’s dead easy to maintain an entertainingly brisk pace. Particularly satisfying are its agility and consistency of response. And, of course, the fact that it’s so damn rapid.
As I sweep the long, gentle curve that bounds RAF Lakenheath, my breath is taken away. A large American jet roars in to land. But it doesn’t. Instead, its wheels hang tantalisingly close to the tramac before the pilot levels his plane, whacks open the throttle and sweeps upwards in a long, curving arc. It looks hugely entertaining.
But then, this Lotus is hugely entertaining, too, and at its new, low price, makes a certain amount of sense. I could never have considered spending £50,000 on a plastic car fabricated in some Norfolk sheds, no matter how outstandingly engineered, but at under £40,000 it’s easier to make a case for the Esprit. It offers more drama than any other car at the price, and is the most effective and pleasing Esprit to date. So, suddenly, Lotus has another winner on its hands, to join the brilliant little Elise. And never mind that the Esprit comes of age next year.