The mid-engined Esprit was designed as a replacement, although larger, faster and more specialised, for the Europa, which had been Lotus’s first mid-engined, rear-drive road car. As with the Europa, the Esprit was a two-seater and it was fitted with Lotus’s own newly designed 16-valve twin cam 2.0-litre engine positioned behind the cabin.
A fibreglass body covered the separate chassis that was fitted with independent front and rear suspension. The more rounded X180 shape was the product of in-house stylists and it continued from 1987 with only slight modifications to the end of the century.
In turbocharged SE form, the revised Esprit was capable of 256 km/h when powered by its four-cylinder, twin overhead camshaft engine developing 160 kW. It was fitted with two horizontal twin-choke Dellorte carburettors.
Over its lifetime a variety of Esprit turbos were built, some in rather limited qualities, including a 225 kW version which proved very popular. Due to a demand for even more performance, in 1996 the Lotus 3.5-litre V8 engine developing 260 kW and capable of pushing the car to a top speed of 288 km/h was finally introduced.
The Esprit was in every way a true sports car with the accent on performance rather than comfort. The cabin only accommodated two people of average build, luggage space was small and noise levels were higher than average. Its handling was exemplary and body styling certainly matched its performance.
By the end of the 1990s sales of the Esprit had slowed dramatically. But there was still a sufficient number of drivers who would not trade its nimbleness, small size and undoubted appeal for any other make or model.