Joie de Esprit

Faithful readers of this blog might recall my somewhat disparaging impression of the Elite concept car that Lotus digitally previewed shortly before the car’s official unveiling at the Paris Motor Show early last month.  As it turned out, Lotus used Paris to showcase not just the Elite, but an entire new line of concept cars that offered a glimpse of the potential route the company might take in the coming years.  The revelation of no less than five new models seemed a rather abrupt strategy departure for a company that has essentially created only three new models over the past twenty-five years.  As a report from one of England’s leading car magazines promptly clarified, Lotus’s Malaysian parent company, Proton, determined in recent months that the brand either needed to be expanded significantly to realize its potential, or sold off.

While most of the motoring press, myself included, welcomed Lotus’ evocation of their history by dredging up some of the classic monikers of its past, most notably the Elite and Elan, there was also reasonably unanimous opinion that of all the projected models, only the new Esprit truly reflected traditional Lotus values of lightweight no-frills construction driven by a powerful engine.  The other new cars, such as a bloated next generation Elise, a retractable hardtop Elite, and the 4-door Eterne, all seemed to place an unprecedented premium on luxury, a consideration that usually results in heavier, less well handling cars.  This is, of course, anathema to the principles that have guided Lotus’s philosophy since its earliest days.

Which is exactly why it was such a relief when the same British mag reported last Friday that Lotus seems to have backed off their ambitious plan in a minor reversal of course.  That is, Lotus is apparently prioritizing development of the sleek Esprit only, meaning that, at least temporarily, the luxurious concept cars will be relegated to the metaphorical back burner, where they will hopefully remain for the indefinite future.

Many people will recall the original Esprit of the 70s and 80s as the Union Jack-clothed James Bond car that turned into a submarine in The Spy Who Loved Me.  Indeed, my first unforgettable view of the car was watching it get cinematically blown up by a very protective alarm system in For Your Eyes Only (a middling Bond flick that I can actually claim to have seen in the theater at 10 years of age).  Though the original Esprit is now a dated symbol of its era’s obsession with wedge-shaped design, the model remains a favorite for many enthusiasts, and may forever be pegged as the car by which the brand is popularly identified.

With a modern take on the wedge, the new Esprit definitely lives up to its predecessor’s dynamic stance (particularly with its one-piece glass windshield/roof), although from some angles, the front fascia bears a surprisingly strong resemblance to Lamborghini’s Gallardo.  Performance is expected to be no less riveting than appearance, with a 5.0 liter Lexus V-8 delivering 550 horsepower and propelling the car from 0 – 60 mph in the low to mid 3-second range.  Mated to a seven-speed paddle shift transmission, the engine should provide the kind of exuberant driving experience that has defined Lotus cars since the 50s.  Production examples are scheduled to hit showrooms in 2013.