Let’s Remember How Bonkers The 2010 Lotus Esprit Concept Was

As the Lotus leadership changes shape again, we take a look back at the most surprising, dramatic and ultimately doomed concept car in recent memory

Remind me later
Lotus - Let’s Remember How Bonkers The 2010 Lotus Esprit Concept Was - Car History

Lotus pretty much hosed the entire automotive world with cold water back in 2010. At the Paris Motor Show it revealed a near-completely-unexpected quintet of concept cars, from a futuristic Elise that was gunning straight at the Porsche Boxster to an Elite supercharged GT with V8 power and an eye on Bentley.

It was the maddest, most unprecedented unveil we can remember. Mickey Rourke and Naomi Campbell were on stage, taking the wraps off one headline-stealer after another, but after the frantic (and it was) keyboard-bashing had started to slow, one car stood out as the flagship and standard-bearer: the new Esprit.

Anyone born in the 1980s and into video games will probably have had a bit of a crush on Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge. The model became one that defined the company in that time period, after earlier success as a Bond car. It looked spectacular, sounded brilliant and would kick you square in the baby-maker if you overcooked a corner. In short, it was a legend.

The prospect of a new one was a milestone moment for a lot of car enthusiasts. Within just a few short years, we were told, a new Esprit will be on sale, and it will genuinely compete with Ferrari, Lamborghini and the then-new McLaren Automotive. What’s more, it would have a Lotus engine.

Lotus - Let’s Remember How Bonkers The 2010 Lotus Esprit Concept Was - Car History

Most CTzens will know about Lotus’ long-standing relationship with Toyota, where Lotus provides money and Toyota turns it into engines. Toyota couldn’t offer a unit powerful enough for the planned Esprit, though, and a Lexus IS-F lump was judged to be the wrong way to go. But building an engine from scratch is horribly expensive. Even McLaren bought the basic design for its 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 from a Nissan-designed engine called the VRH35.

Back to Lotus. A bespoke 5.0-litre V8 was planned. Rumours made it naturally aspirated, then turbocharged and eventually boosted by a kinetic energy recovery system (KERS), similar to what was going to be used by the reborn Lotus F1 team at the time. None ever made it to production but it’s said that Lotus did actually get a prototype not just up and running, but actively testing.

Lotus - Let’s Remember How Bonkers The 2010 Lotus Esprit Concept Was - Car History

While selling nowhere near enough ageing Elises to cover the R&D expenses on the new Esprit, Lotus somehow managed to get its big V8 to work damned well, producing 600bhp and notching-up a tonne of test bed run-time. A further fascinating twist involved a Ferrari 458, the benchmark rival for handling. Lotus allegedly ripped the 4.5-litre V8 out and replaced it with its own prototype powerplant.

That would have allowed them to compare how the superbly-resolved Ferrari felt under Lotus power. When the car felt even better than with the F136 on board, they’d know they were winning. Alas, though, money ran out. Not surprising, really. The other four concepts had already been shelved. Late in its gestation the Esprit project was aborted and the Lotarri/Ferrotus test mule was destroyed. It’s okay to cry.

Lotus - Let’s Remember How Bonkers The 2010 Lotus Esprit Concept Was - Car History

To this day it remains one of the most over-ambitious supercar projects ever, and it’s not totally dead. The Esprit idea remains on the table, albeit behind the controversial SUV in the plans. The fact that its engineers eight years ago got so close to achieving their goals was incredible; the closure of the project all the more bitter.

What might have been? We’ll never quite know, but we can’t help feeling like we missed out on something special. And bonkers.