While the return of the Lotus Elite model was our first glimpse at the future of Lotus, Esprit is by far the most anticipated new Lotus. The bad news is we still have to wait until 2013 to see one on the street. As it stands, what we've seen seems to suggest the production car will be worth the lengthy wait.
Lotus plans to share its supercharged, Lexus IS-F-derived, 5.0-liter V-8 across the Esprit, Elite, and Eterne sedan lines, although only the Esprit will position the engine behind the driver. Each vehicle will offer a base engine output of 542 horsepower. For those wanting more power, the R versions will deliver 611 hp and 531 lb-ft of torque, although Lotus hasn't revealed what mechanical changes are made to the 5.0-liter to deliver the increase in power.
With a projected 3196-pound curb weight, the Esprit will be the lightest Lotus using the 5.0-liter V-8. Not surprisingly, the 0-62 mph time for the Esprit R is the fastest of the trio at an estimated 3.2 seconds. Lotus will only offer the Esprit with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, which can be shifted automatically or via paddle shifters. A top speed of 205 mph is estimated.
Starting with the Esprit, every new Lotus will offer an optional hybrid system of some type. Hybrid systems are tailored to the individual vehicle's needs and attributes. Like the Elite and Eterne, Lotus plans to offer the Esprit with an optional KERS-style hybrid system that can provide a 49-horsepower boost, thanks to electric motors mounted on the front axle. The KERS system meets FIA hybrid GT requirements, and could play a part in Lotus' future racing plans. The primary reason Lotus wants to offer a hybrid option on future products is the pressure to reduce CO2 emissions. With the hybrid drivetrain, expect CO2 emissions to be 250 g/km, an improvement of approximately 5-10 percent over the standard car.
The Esprit is designed to compete with some of today's most impressive supercars, including the Ferrari 458 Italia, Audi R8, and the Lamborghini Gallardo. Remembering Lotus Group CEO Dany Bahar and design director Donato Coco both came from Ferrari, it isn't surprising the Esprit is less than an inch longer, four-tenths of an inch wider, and 1.4 inches taller than a 458 Italia. What might surprise you is the Ferrari's 3042-pound curb weight is actually 154 pounds less than the Lotus. It will take the Esprit R's 611 hp to best the Ferrari's power-to-weight ratio of 5.4 pounds per horsepower. However, we know numbers aren't everything and the Esprit's specs could evolve by the time we actually get behind the wheel of a production car. Like the competition, expect Lotus to offer a convertible version of the Esprit down the road to renew interest in the product after the base and R coupes reach the market.
Having seen a model of the Esprit at Lotus' headquarters in Hethel, England before, we can assure you the British Racing Green paint shown here does nothing for the car's lines. There's a bit of Lamborghini Gallardo in the aggressive form of the Esprit, and the full LED lighting helps the car look more futuristic. A glass engine cover shows off the mid-mounted 5.0-liter V-8. Interior design is similar to that of the Elite concept, and the proprietary Lotus HMI system will control a 12-inch display in the instrument panel.
Some will undoubtedly question Lotus for building a bigger, heavier, and faster in the future. The sad truth is in order for the brand to have enough money to produce insane track toys like the 2-11 in the future, its mainstream vehicles will have to be competitive. Buyers demand premium features, and governments require a lot more safety equipment and crash durability each year. All of these add weight to a car, and the truth is Lotus works very hard to reduce the weight of every future product while meeting all governmental requirements for new motor vehicles.