October 1986 to October 1987. The final incarnations of the Giugiaro-styled Esprit had higher compression ratios for the engines was indicated by the ‘HC’ moniker. High-compression version (up from 7.5:1 to 8:1), with Mahle forged pistons and new exhaust manifolds.
The high-compression route for the normally-aspirated SE was a hint of how the final Turbo models ran out of production, prior to the October 1987 adoption of a completely new and much more rounded outline for the Esprit.
The Turbo Esprit HC (High Compression) appeared at the October 1987 Motor show in London. That occasion was also used to unveil another limited edition, based on HC running gear, that was intended to celebrate twenty years of Lotus in Norfolk and up the price per Esprit.
Sharing the limited Earls Court stand space in the autumn of 1986 were two versions of the HC, both offering 215bhp at an unchanged 6,250rpm (a 2.5 per cent bonus in power). Torque (the power to pull you through mid-range blues) was more urgently tweaked: 220lb ft at 4,250rpm representing a 10 percent elevation, and a 250 rpm drop in peak torque engine revs.
To make an Esprit HC yield another 5bhp and an additional 20 lb of torque, Lotus had utilized some Excel SE engine techniques. Compression could not escalate beyond 10:1 with a turbocharger huffing in its four-valve-per-cylinder ears, but 8:1 was then reasonably advanced, especially given that this was not an electronically-managed fuel injection engine. In fact, Lotus increased the size of the carburettors (specifying Dell’Orto DHLA 45M), specified a balance pipe and ensured that the intake tracts were modelled on those of the Excel SE.
Mahle-forged pistons brought the increase in ration from 7.5:1 to 8:1; Nikasil process for the liners was specified once more. Other fundamental changes to the engine at this point included new cast-iron manifold castings ‘to improve gas flow’ and a replacement casing for the Garrett AiResearch T3 turbocharger. Lotus also allow the boost to increase from 8 psi to 9.5 psi, which was approaching boldness, given the increase in the compression ratio.
Full performance results, according to Lotus, are given below, but can be summarized as offering a lot more mid-range acceleration (plus 20 percent, said Lotus). Maximum speed was unaffected; fuel consumption was improved at constant speeds, and acceleration was just fractionally better than the already sensationally rapid 0-60 mph time of 5.5 seconds achieved by the 210bhp turbocharger.
Interior improvements on all Esprits now included adjustable rake for the seat backs, and you could release the rear ‘hatch’ from within via remote control.
Lotus 910 2174 cc four-cylinder in-line, 16-valve DOHC, two Dellorto DHLA 45 sidedraught carburettors
Bore & Stroke
95.3 mm x 76.2 mm
Block & Head
Garrett T3 Turbocharger running at 9.5psi
Via Toothed-belt oil pump, driven at 0.69, of crankshaft rpm; two scavenge pumps
215 bhp @ 6,250 rpm
220 lb ft @ 4,250 rpm
Glassfibre-reinforced plastic body with galvanised steel backbone chassis. Passenger compartment encapsulated in a ‘safety-cell structure’
Five-speed manual unit. Rear-wheel drive.
9.5 in diaphragm spring, hydraulically operated.
Front – 10.1 in ventilated discs, Rear – 10.8 in discs vacuum servo.
Independent, double wishbone. coil springs, telescopic dampers, and-roll bar.
Independent, upper and lower transverse link with radius arms, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar.
Wheels & Tyres
Al alloy,7 ins rims front. 8 ins rear, tyres, size 195/60VR15 F, 235/60VR15 R.
3,052 lb (1,386 kg)
Standing quarter mile
14.4secs @ 98 mph
Lotus Esprit Turbo HC Review
AutoCar April 1987 – What They Said
by John P E Maitland
Invigorated Esprit Lotus Turbo Esprit HC AutoCar April 1987
The Esprit Turbo hc how has a higher-compression engine, hence the hc in its name. The result is an extra 5bhp, allied to an extra 20lb ft of torque. Lotus has improved the performance of the Esprit Turbo with the adoption of a high-compression version of the 912s four-cylinder all-alloy power unit. Specific modifications include a revised cylinder head with valve seat throats and sodium-filled exhaust valves.
The camshaft covers have revised fixings, seals and a bigger oil filter cap. Larger Dellorto DHLA 45A carburettors are fitted to increase performance and a balance pipe is added to improve distribution between cylinders. The exhaust manifold casting is also new to help gas flow and forged aluminium Mahle high-compression pistons with Nika-sil-coated aluminium liners add to conductivity and longevity, as well as lowering oil consumption.
The Garrett T3 turbocharger now has a smaller turbine housing to improve low-speed response and as a result of the quicker turbine acceleration, boost pressure is increased from 8 to 9.5psi. The net result of the engine work is a power output up from 210bhp at 6250rpm to 215bhp at 6000rpm. Torque gains are significant too, up from 200lb ft at 4500rmp to 220lb ft at 4350rmp.
The mid-engined, rear-wheel drive configuration remains unchanged and the new Esprit is identified by ‘hc’ decals on its side – otherwise the car appears almost identical to the previous Turbo we tested in December 1984. On the track the performance improvements are obvious, especially in terms of standing start acceleration. The Turbo hc is significantly quicker from rest to 60 mph with a 5.6secs figure compared with the previous mean of 6.1secs. The 100mph mark now appears in 15.0secs compared with 15.8secs before.
From a driver’s point of view such vivid acceleration feels almost effortless; there is one rapid burst of power in first gear as the clutch is dropped at around 4800rpm – peak revs for a combination of maximum grip and momentum – but from there onwards the power is put down in a smooth and progressive surge that does not let up until 7000rpm.
The revised Esprit Turbo hc is not all about straight-line acceleration, though, and despite a slight loss in torque at extremely low revs the engine still retains a tremendous amount of overall flexibility, response and refinement for a turbo four. As the throttle is squeezed, with as little as 1500rpm showing on the rev counter, the engine pulls almost instantly and without compliant. By 2000rpm the engine is boosting more strongly and 500rpm later there is more than enough power for just about any overtaking manoeuvre.
The hc’s power curve is very broad to provide flexibility through a larger operating band than before. Bottom end performance, however, has not been maintained at the expense of top end power. The 90-110mph span in fifth gear takes only 8.0secs compared with 8.5secs for its predecessor and the 100-120 stretch is also reduced, in this case from 10.6 to 9.3 secs. The 50-70mph dash, achieved in third gear, now takes just 3.0 secs.
On the high-speed track, the Esprit produced a mean maximum speed of 141mph in fifth gear and showed a best of 146mph with a following wind. The Lotus claim of 150mph may well be attainable on a long, flat stretch of road where tyre scrub is less significant than on a banked bowl.
Maxima in the gears are 41, 62, 91, and 123mph – the rev limiter cuts in just after 7000rpm. The gearchange is rather heavy and strong shove is needed to engage each gear. The down changes can also be a little notchy, perhaps because of the long linkage. Reverse is engaged by lifting the gear lever and slotting it back to the right.
A manual choke is fitted and starting from cold is immediate and driveability good during the short warm-up period. The car felt quite at home in urban traffic and would pull asay from low revs without complaint. The only problem we encountered was a minor hiccough during full throttle acceleration after prolonged round town use.
The 1612 miles of the test included a good mix of A and B roads, plus motoway and more sedate urban motoring. Our previous Esprit Turbo recorded 17.6mpg overall whereas the latest, more powerful, version bettered this figure by a substantial margin to record 20.9mpg. Interim brims ranged between 18.5 and 24.1mpg. There is no obvious explanation for such a significant difference.
The fuel range can be stretched to 300 miles once a driver becomes accustomed to the fuel gauge – a more realistic figure, though, is around the 270-mile mark. The most annoying aspect of both the Esprit Turbo hc and the previous car is refuelling. Unless both fuel filler caps are removed (one is found on each C post) refuelling is painfully slow. With only one cap removed the tank will not accept full pump delivery and with both caps removed care must be taken that fuel does not seep out on the opposite side of the car when trickling in the last few drops. Incidentally, Lotus claims the hc will run on unleaded fuel but points out that 4-star is best.
On a happier note, the Esprit has lost none of its charm when a driver takes the car on a long cross-county trip, where it is possible to maintain high speeds without really trying thanks to the superb chassis and power output. In this sort of situation you tend to forget about the poor rear three-quarter visibility and the low-slung driver position. In fact the latter merely serves to heighten the sensation of speed.
With just 2.8 turns from lock to lock the unassisted rack and pinion steering is ideally geared for a quick response in medium to hig-speed driving. Manoeuvring requires more effort and in town use the heavy steering is a less worthy attribute.
The excellent chassis and careful attention to aerodynamics mean that the Esprit Turbo hc is as sure footed travelling at 100mph as it is at 30mph. Some of the sensation of speed is lost thanks to the above-average (for the class) refinement levels. There’s little wind noise, though there is considerable roar from the low-profile tyres. Engine noise is reasonable at high speed but becomes noticeably buzzy at lower velocities.
On dry roads there are always high reserves of grip, body roll is minimal and neither is the car unduly affected by bumps. A driver can pick a line through a bend safe in the knowledge that he can maintain it. Steering loads build nicely in relation to cornering speeds though a driver is often unaware of the high sideways forces as he is lodged securely between the high centre tunnel on one side and the door on the other.
The ultimate handling levels are not easily exploited – at least not in the dry. It is possible to flick the car into oversteer but the natural cornering tendency is neutral. If the throttle is shut mid corner, chances are that the rear will begin to step out of line, but that highly responsive steering means corrections can be made very quickly indeed. Power oversteer is less easy to correct.
Considering the taut suspension and crisp handling, Lotus has done a remarkably good job of ensuring a good standard of rid quality. With such wide footprint tyres to contend with, you might expect some adverse effects in straight stability but that is not the case. Also, over long undulating surfaces the suspension copes remarkably well, soaking up the bumps easily.
For the first time Lotus has fitted seats with adjustable backrests which taller drivers in particular will welcome. The driving position, though, is still not perfect because of the limiting factors dictated by the low-slung shape: headroom could be better and an adjustable steering column would be appreciated by the smaller members of our staff who complained that the wheel was too high.
Apart from the revised seats, and an internal book lock release sited in the driver’s door jamb, the rest of the car is familiar Esprit Turbo and that includes electric windows and mirrors and, in the case of the test car, the optional full leather upholstery. Entering and exiting the Esprit is not easy – the wide sills and limited door aperture means that a driver has to try to slip inside while stepping over the lie-flat handbrake and avoiding the low roofline.
The water-valve design heater could be better regulated since there is little throughput of warm air, no matter what the setting. The turn controls for heat, direction and booster fans are also rather awkwardly placed in front of the gear level, forcing the driver to reach round to operate them. Slider controls would be a far better solution.
Oddment space is not generous though the compartment behind the engine, which is opened by pulling the release for the engine cover, is big enough to take a set of golf clubs. In many areas, the Esprit Turbo hc is a very practical supercar, its docile engine and exceptional ride and handling are all very positive attributes. Its low heigh, limited luggage space and still generally cramped driving position are not.
The Lotus ranks as a remarkably satisfying device with which to cover long distances quickly. But with many less expensive sports cars now offering similar performance, the Lotus begins to look a little less attractive than it did three years ago. The same cannot be said for its styling, however, which remains truly exotic.
Fast Lane – June 1987 – What They Said
When the BOOST BLOWS Fast Lane – June 1987
The latest Lotus Esprit turbo has an HC badge. It stands for higher compression, and it allows the plastic fantastic to sneak ahead of the Ferrari 328 and Porsche 944 turbo in the drag race. It’s still not perfect, but arguably it’s the most exciting road Lotus to date
A COLLEAGUE who worked at a very well known car emporium was once under strict instructions never to buy any Lotus with more than 13,000 miles on the clock. Lotus ownership then was best likened to Ayrton Senna’s last Grand Prix season in a car of the same name. Always elegant, easily amongst the best handling cars on the circuit, when it was working, Senna’s abundant talent assured that the combination was all but untouchable. The Lotus did, however, break down a lot. Bits tended to fall off, and this is the very simple reason why Senna wanted a second string team mate. He wasn’t afraid of being blown off, he just wanted to give his team a chance to prepare the number one car properly. He got his way, and those close to the team say that the bits will have lock washers on them this year.
For Lotus’s road cars, the metamorphosis may well have already happened. The subject of this test had over 6,000 miles on the clock; there was nary a squeak or rattle audible above the wind noise, and nothing broke – not even on the trim, so things are definitely looking up. Neither is the Esprit turbo expensive nowadays, given that you are daft enough to spend £25,000 on something made of plastic that barely seats two with room for their respective toothbrushes. The current Esprit turbo price tag easily undercuts those of the Ferrari 328 and the Porsche 944 Turbo, and does so by no less than £14,000 and £9,000 respectively. Furthermore, the Lotus is now quicker than either of these on everything but outright top speed.
In its latest HC (high compression) incarnation, the turbo Esprit boasts a number of small detail improvements over its predecessor, mainly to the long-serving, slant four 16 valve engine. Compression ratio goes up from 7.5 to 8.0:1, turbo boost rises by 1.5lb to 9.5psi max, and there is a smaller exhaust turbine and housing to reduce inertia and help the turbo spin up more quickly, which reduces lag. The modified Garrett blows through larger 45mm choke (instead of 40mm) Dellorto carburettors which are specially sealed to prevent the boost blowing fuel out of any holes. There are also changes to the inlet ports on the cylinder head and to the exhaust manifold, and a host of detail alterations elsewhere on the engine helps it dissipate the attendant heat that boost develops in large quantities.
On paper the improvements add up to just five extra horse-power, now 215 from 2,174cc, but bring a more useful additional 20 lb ft of torque, up to 220 and still peaking at 4,250 rpm. The gains might well be small, but then they aren’t adding to the price of the car, which stays at £24,980 less stereo, leather trim or air conditioning. These little comforts would add another £2,680.
Externally, Giuagiaro’s original shape has dated just a little, but is still striking and the car’s capacity to turn heads in a crowed high street has to be seen to be believed. Some try not to look. Others gaze unashamedly. Smart ladies always take a sneaky look to check just what the man who has a spare £25,000 really looks like. A sweat-shirted hack must then come as a disappointment. . . Whatever your position left of Thatcher, it’s attention that’s easy to bask in, and rarely is it hostile, which happens when you drive a Roller.
There is, unfortunately, an additional qualification other than money required for Esprit ownership. Simply, you need to be less than six feet tall. The seats are deep and comfortable and, for the first time ever, adjust for rake, but still the car could not comfortably accommodate 6ft 3in of Editor Dron, and my 6ft 1in was decidedly cramped. Add to this twinkletoe pedals that are way to the left of the steering wheel and an awkwardly crooked, across-the-car pose became essential. Then, the welts of my size 12s became tangled between the pedals until I resorted to trainers, but after that the pedals are ideal for heel and toe throttle blipping.
None of this seems to matter when the mood is right. Take the Lotus by the scruff, and it submits meekly like no other chassis in the world. Ease the Bedford lorry-style gearchange that controls the Citroen van-derived gearbox into first, wrestle with the vastly heavy steering as you move away, check the mirrors like you would a van’s, while easing the car’s ample flanks past parked cars, then go. Magically, the steering lightens. A huge fist massages the back, and barely is there time to check the rev counter than it’s another raised elbow grope with the gearchange to grab second. Adrenaline will surely flow as the whole machine comes alive. Take firm hold, and now even the palm-bruising gearchange seems willing to accept swift movements. Aim the bluff snout that dips out of view beyond the flat windscreen, and take pleasure in the fact that the car will make an expert out of you in no time.
In the turbo matching game, Lotus have really succeeded where others more experienced, notably Audi (quattro) and Saab (9000) have failed. The time taken for the Esprit’s turbo to spin up to boost is barely noticeable. You can hear it though, breathing heavy through the intake just behind your right ear. What begins as a whistle at 2,000rpm, grows to a subdued roar at four. Shut the throttle for the shift and the wastegate whiffles like a horse snorting into a bucket. It’s a marvellous soundtrack for rapid progress, never offensive, and Walter Mittys can easily dream of Le Mans as the whistle, rush, and chatter quickly but smoothly punctuate the race car surge through the lower gears.
The engine’s pick-up and power delivery is also deceptive. Renault’s 2.7 litre GTA turbo actually feels more muscular because its turbo happens with such a rush. But by the time France’s only real supercar is awake, the Lotus is already pulling hard. The figures lend support. Any of the 20mph gaps between 40 and 90mph in fourth are disposed of in around four and a half seconds; 60mph from rest takes 5.4 sec, and 100mph just 14.9. The Esprit’s midrange punch is truly enormous, probably a gear up on the earlier model through most corners, so you don’t have to wrestle with the gear-change if you don’t want to. Only on sheer top speed does the HC’s performance fall behind that of the opposition, but there are those, especially the helmeted variety, who might feel that 144mph is more than enough. . .
At all speeds the Esprit’s engine remains utterly smooth, effectively answering criticism from any who would demand more than four bores in the supercar. Indeed it’s necessary to keep a keen eye on the rev counter in the lower gears, because the needle is always willing to shoot beyond the final 7,000rpm analogue; there’s no limiter, and no harshness to remind you to look. But for a boom period at 4,000rpm, the power unit is exemplary when running. Starting, however, brings a reminder that there are still carburettors under the engine cover. At 25 grand, four cylinders might just be acceptable, but much churning to pump out the vapour in hot Dellortos is not. They also bring about the odd hiccup when hoofing the throttle after a gearchange, and besides, there are lots of people who have forgotten how to use a manual choke.
There will also be some who never even reach the limits of grip afforded by this car. Once the peculiar, over-centred feel of the steering at parking speeds has long disappeared, you can add probably 20mph to the maximum safe hot hatch pace round your favourite corner. There is a safe amount of understeer to reassure the wary, and yet, as this increases with the car’s speed, more throttle will tighten the line rather than increase the push as happens with lesser chassis. Lifting off has a similar effect, but even on a wet roundabout, full turbo power can be unleashed in second gear. At first, the car simply accelerates. Then, as the roll angle builds, the inside rear wheel begins to part company with the road surface and spins away the excess of power, noisily but safely. Try that with a Porsche 911 and you’ll understeer off into the bushes. Do it to a GTA Renault and the car will be facing the other way, quicker than you can even think about it. Only by entering a wet corner rather too fast on a trailing throttle and then planting your foot in it, can you persuade the Lotus’ tail to stray out of line. Then, a gentle grasp of the wheel will allow the considerable amount of castor, which had hindered your parking efforts, to take charge of the correction, and the Esprit will step neatly back into line. The steering takes a little getting used to, as its weigh decreases as lock is applied, which is the opposite of the norm. It does help on slower corners though. The narrow-by-some comparisons Goodyear NCTs (195/60 x 15 front, 235/60×15 rear) might well be racing slicks for the grip they generate on a dry surface. All of which really goes to highlight the balance of the chassis even more, and it’s just as well that it never wants to bite. The speed at which this car can be conducted safely defies belief, and yet it has reserves left in the chassis to deal kindly with most inept of drivers. The roads today are simply too crowded to allow full use of the Esprit’s performance, and probably the biggest danger is to arrive on the scene travelling far faster than you thought. Drive it sensibly and it will get you out of most situations.
For all this, the ride is more as you’d expect from a comfortable saloon. Jiggly only at lower speeds, when the car cocks itself to follow the road surface rather than accommodating it with suspension travel, the body control when emerging from a series of sweeps or creasting a rise is simply superb.
The brakes deserve a similar accolade. Immensely powerful, progressive and ideally weighted, they always pulled up square without premature locking of the fronts, and are generally beyond reproach.
When the Ayrton mood departs though, and the horns retract, you soon become aware that good though it now is. This is still a plastic car. The instrument pod shimmies constantly, and there is a constant kicking back through the wheel and into the scuttle and bodyshell. Sometimes it’s reassuring in its constant communication with the road. Other times it’s plain irritating, and feels peculiarly as if the wheels are too heavy for the car, shaking it about. That and the general rumbling of the road and thumping of the suspension does lend a certain air of the less than substantial about the car, rather like sitting inside a fibreglass bass drum. Nevertheless, there were no squeaks or out-of-place rattles from the test car, which had covered over 6,000 press-inhabited miles, so provided you can put up with Ginger Baker as a full-time travelling companion, there would appear to be no practical grounds for concern.
The Esprit is a car that rewards but does not demand. It needs effort to get the pleasure, but then most things do. It has arguably the best chassis of any production sports car in the world in terms of ultimate ability – it even has just the edge over the Ferrari 328, which doesn’t quite have the ultimate grip or the reserves of safety. The Lotus turbo package is among the best anywhere, the ride and the brakes are excellent, and the performance figures speak for themselves.
It is, however, far from perfect. It’s a supercar for shorties. Four cylindered and without injection. The cockpit is spattered with bits of Austin Maxi, doing posthumous duty as door handles or wiper stalks. But then again, in supercar terms, it’s not expensive. Renault’s GTA runs it close on performance, has considerably more room, better visibility, and it’s similarly priced at £24,960. It lacks the class of the Lotus chassis and engine, and lacks the name which makes the lads at the bar look up from their pints of lager. A Renault turbo, to them, spells a 5GT. Never could an Esprit turbo be considered sensible, but a least these days they are day-in useable. If you crave excitement and startling appearance above all else, at the price you need look no further.
Motor, 28 February 1987 – What They Said
Lotus Turbo Esprit HC
A high-compression cylinder head gives the 1987 Turbo Esprit more power to exploit
its excellent handling. The flaws remain, but there are few more exciting cars at the price.
Motor, 28 February 1987
Seven years from its debut, the Lotus Turbo Esprit is still going strong. Now, the latest 215bhp HC (high compression) version promises even more performance for the stunning mid-engined exotic. It looks set to expand upon Lotus’ recent success – undercutting recent price-inflated Italian and German rivals by five-figure sums.
The Turbo Esprit HC costs no more than the old car, remaining at £24,980 – around £5400 more expensive than the un-blown Esprit, which shares the same steel chassis and glass-fibre two seater body. The now 12-year-old Chapman design looks substantially unchanged from the outside – only the ‘hc’ decals distinguish it from the original Turbo – but the 1987 model benefits from a host of subtle engineering improvements.
Most of these relate to the 2174cc all-aluminium 16-valve dohc engine; the compression ratio has been raised from 7.5:1 to 8.0:1, while the turbocharger boost has been raised from 0.55 bar (8 psi) to 0.6 bar (9.5 psi). As before, the Garrett T3 turbocharger blows directly through a pair of twin-coke Dellortos – though these are now larger 45M DHLA instead of 40 DHLA. The size of the turbine housing has been reduced to improve low-speed throttle response, and a throttle jack has been fitted to lower hydrocarbon emissions on the overrun and it increase idle speed when the (optional) air conditioning is working. There’s also a balance pipe fitted to improve cylinder-to-cylinder fuel distribution. Other changes to the induction include larger port areas, bigger inlet valve throats and changes to the exhaust manifold castings, but surprisingly, there is no intercooler to cool the inlet charge.
The net result of these changes is a mere 2.4 per cent increase in power output (from 210bhp @ 6500rpm, to 215bhp @ 6000rpm), but a sizeable 10 per cent more torque (220lb ft instead of 200lb ft, as the same 4250rpm peak revs).
Other improvements deal with the inevitable thermal problems of a relatively small high-output turbocharged engine – there’s a higher capacity water pump, more effective oil and water radiators and an extra air duct for better engine bay cooling.
Inside, the HC gets the benefit of adjustable rake seats, while the tailgate can now be opened by a lever in the driver’s door jamb.
As is well known, the original Turbo Esprit was noted for its responsive and lag-free turbocharged engine. It impressed particularly with its smooth, even power progression and complete lack of temperament whether slogging at 1000rpm or screaming at 7000rpm.
The HC is faster, but the gains are small. Flat out, it circles round the Millbrook bowl at a mean 143.8mph, just 2.9mph faster than the old car – and nowhere in sight of much faster, albeit larger-engined, rivals like the Renault GTA (151.4 mph) and Ferrari 328GTB (158.5 mph). On the flat the Esprit would have gone a little faster, though the maker’s 152mph claim – corresponding to 6700 rpm in fifth – seems a little optimistic. No, devastating acceleration is what the Esprit is all about. Aided by comparatively low weight (1146kg) and good traction as a result of the mid-engined layout, the Esprit blasts to 60mph in 5.4 sec – still in second gear – improving on its predecessor’s performance by just 0.2 sec.
A small improvement maybe, but by this yardstick the Lotus just leads its more expensive rivals – the fastest of which are the Ferrari (5.5 sec), Renault (6.0 sec) and TVR 350i (6.5 sec). By 100mph, reached in 14.9 sec, the gains compared with the old car (15.4 sec) are more marked. Of the rivals, only the Ferrari (13.8 sec) cracks the 15 sec barrier.
But getting the best from the Lotus is not easy. From a standing start, it’s all to easy for the engine to bog down as traction momentarily gets the better of the engine’s power build-up. And the heavy, cantankerous gearshift (the transaxle is still that of the long-departed Citroën SM) tends to preclude lightning-fast gearshifts, unless the driver exercises a firm positive wrist. Certainly, there’s no way that the Esprit can match the Excel, with its slick-shifting Toyota gearbox, and there’s a temptation to use the transmission less as a result.
The in-gear times are clearly those of a turbocharged car. The HC covers the fourth gear 30 to 50 mph slog in 6.0 secs, marginally better than the original Turbo (6.2 sec) – but inferior to the Ferrari 328 GTB (4.8 sec) and Renault GTA (5.7 sec). So bottom-end punch is still good, but it’s in the mid-range that the turbocharger’s not-so-silent assistance makes itself more obviously felt. All the fourth-gear 20 mph speed range increments between 40 and 90 mph takes less than five seconds, for example.
But despite this on-paper advantage over the original car, it’s not all gain. Because of the extra power on-boost, the engine feels much more obviously turbocharged, and the test car had an inconsistent throttle response, often causing a hiccup when the power was reapplied: this made smooth gearshifts especially difficult. Another problem was the occasional bout of temperament in low-speed stop-start motoring while hot starting sometimes demanded a few seconds’ churning to overcome over-richness – no matter that the Turbo HC has a water temperature controlled pump to purge hot fuel vapour from the induction system when the engine has been switched off.
The 17.6 mpg overall fuel consumption might be judged as poor for a 2.2-litre car, but it’s acceptable for one with the Esprit’s performance. Comparative figures for the rivals range from the Ferrari’s 18.9 mpg, to the Porsche’s 21.9 mpg. A touring consumption of 24.0 mpg promises a 450-mile range on a tankful of four-star – though the HC will also run on unleaded fuel.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the power unit’s extreme smoothness and impressive general refinement. It runs even the Porsche 944 Turbo close in this respect, no matter that the Lotus engine lacks the German one’s balance shafts, and that it resides much closer to the occupant’s ears. So there’s no inhibition towards using this car’s full performance, other than keeping it on the road and staying within the law…
With no major chassis changes – the Esprit continues with upper wishbones and lower transverse links at the front, with single upper and twin transverse lower links and radius arms at the back – but with a new specification of Goodyear NCT tyres (195/60 x 15 front, 235/60 x 15 rear) the Esprit’s handling is better than ever.
It’s true that the steering effort as parking speeds is very high (there’s no assistance), and that the mechanism’s high gearing can make the car feel twitchy in motorway driving on first acquaintance, but there the criticism ends. On dry roads, the grip levels are so prodigious that many owners may not transgress them. Pressed very hard, there’s enough stabilising understeer to make the car safe in the hands of the less experienced, and yet – with the Turbo – there’s the option to neutralise this, or turn it into progressive oversteer. The strong self-centring action of the steering makes correction largely automatic and very neat. More respect is needed on wet roads though, and insensitive throttle application can result in pendulous tail slides for the unwary.
Drive the Esprit over really demanding surfaces and the ride is unexpectedly supple, almost limousine-smooth. There’s always firm control when it’s needed, however – when cresting a brow or dealing with a series of undulations for example. And the car’s responses to the helm are never less than crisp.
The brakes are lighter than you’d expect, but near perfect in progression. For the HC, the all-disc system gets its assistance from a separate vacuum pump, instead of having to rely on manifold vacuum (which disappears when the turbocharger is working!).
Despite the fact that the engine is subdued, the Lotus is not a quiet car overall: there’s the inevitable road roar from the fat tyres, and far too much wind noise from the single-seal door frames for that. The driving position is comfortable for those of average height – though the fact that seats now recline doesn’t improve the rather marginal legroom and headroom. And as before, over-the-shoulder rear vision is practically non-existent – though the view directly behind through the slatted tailgate cover isn’t too bad.
Other points that first-time Esprit drivers will notice include the very closely-grouped pedals (ideal for heel and toeing), the large number of rather reflection-prone Smiths instruments housed in the instrument pod, and a number of old fashioned Austin Rover proprietary parts like the stalk controls, door handles and minor switchgear.
Costing £24,980, the Lotus Turbo Esprit HC is reasonably well equipped – but leather trim, air conditioning, metallic paint and audio equipment are all costly options.
Nevertheless, even with the full complement fitted, the Lotus still costs considerably less than rivals such as the Ferrari 328GTB (£38,980), and Porsche 944 Turbo (£34,168) – neither of which offer much more usable on-the-road performance – and for this reason we have listed the cheaper, albeit slower 944S. The strongest rival though comes from France in the shape of the Renault GTA Turbo (£23,635) – a car in much the same mould as the Lotus, produced by the small specialist company (Alpine). Other contenders strong on performance, image and presence but at a lower price include the TVR 350i (£18,275) and Ford Sierra Cosworth (£17,100) which, despite having four seats, shares a similar small capacity turbocharged 16-valve four cylinder engine to the Lotus.
As you will have gathered from the foregoing, the Turbo Esprit has some serious flaws, and can in no way be regarded as a ‘sensible’ purchase like the Porsche 944S, costing a similar amount. But, for those who crave the maximum excitement for the money, and to whom the impact of the Esprit’s shape matters, there is no substitute.