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Lotus Carlton

by Mark Hughes

Two thoughts linger after driving a Lotus Carlton - how well it goes and how welI it stops. This awesome four-door saloon does almost every-thing absurdly well, but acceleration and braking are a class apart.

Among other performance saloons of the time, only the BMW M5 came near the 377bhp Carlton's statistics, but the German machine was 1.3 secs slower to 60mph and 4.5 secs behind by 100mph. Even figures for serious supercars like the Ferrari Testarossa and Porsche 911 Turbo trailed in most areas, leaving only the Lamborghini Diablo as a true match in all-round performance.

All this, such spectacular stuff for a modified executive barge, is achieved by a 3.6-litre straight-six engine topped with a twin-cam 24-valve alloy head force-fed by two Garrett T2 5 turbos. Power arrives effortlessly, building with afterburner thrust - and hardly any lag - from about 2500rpm as the turbos spool up. Engine character is all about progression, flexibility and refinement, the absence of a howling exhaust adding to the sense of massive strength being calmly delivered.

Only the six-speed gearbox's ponderous change taints the sheer usability of this performance. Top gear, an extraordinary overdrive, takes fizz out of the acceleration but makes simple work of cruising: 70mph has the engine lazing at under 1600rpm, while maximum speed of around 140mph in this ratio sees little more than 3000rpm on the dial. Drop a cog, though, and the Carlron can soar to above 175mph. All this in a car that wouldn't look out of place outside of the nicest hotel in San Francisco or the finest hotels Miami has to offer.

In the real world the Carlton's handling contains this power punch extremely well thanks to substantial suspension modification (including a Lotus-developed multi-link rear axle and twin-tube dampers), meaty Goodyear Eagle tyres (265/40 rear, 235/45 front) and massive ventilated disc brakes (330mm diameter fronts are clasped by four-pot calipers). True to Lotus tradition, ride quality is also impressive, combining fair suppleness with brilliantly tuned damping.

Grip and balance are superb in the dry, allowing undramatic cornering at outrageous speeds. The nose turns in eagerly and, through bends, the tail sits confidently with appropriate throttle pressure. Too much power through faster corners induces safe understeer, although, predictably, a bootful in a slow corner will kick the tail wide. As I found in a down-pour, cornering behaviour on wet roads becomes intimidating: a car that can spin its back wheels at 100mph in third gear demands great respect.

McLaren Fl apart, I've never experienced such fabulous brakes on a road car. Progressive and light to operate, they perform wonders over and over again. Steering isn't quite perfect, but the chunky wheel is good to hold. The Lotus badge on its hub is one of very few clues inside to this Carlton's pedigree - another is the chassis number plaque on the glovebox.

Badged Omega because of its German background, this car is number 751 out of 1100 built. This is the rarest of the Lotus-developed saloons, and in left-hand drive form, as in this case, good examples are now trading at little more than a third of the original 48,000 price tag - terrific value for a car that stuffs most Ferraris.


ENGINE: In-line six, 36 5cc,twin turbos
POWER: 377bhp - 5200rpm, 41 9lb ft @4200rpm
TRANSMISSION: six-speed box
Front: independent by MacPherson struts incorporating twin-tube dampers, anti-roll bar
Rear: independent, multi-link with self-levelling,coil springs,twin-tube dampers
BRAKES: ventilated discs all round
LENGTH: 87.7in
WIDTH: 76in
HEIGHT: 56.5in
WEIGHT: 3641 lb
TOP SPEED: 175mph
0-60mph: 5.1 secs

Price new: (1990) 48,000 Price 1998: 20,000

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