The Verdict: Lotus blossoms

With its V8 engine and complete redesign, the Lotus Esprit no longer resembles a `doorstop on wheels'. Will our readers approve?

When I was little I was consumed by motor cars. I would chirp out the manufacturer and model of every one I passed. One day, my father returned home and told me he'd just seen a Ferrari. A Ferrari in Burgess Hill! I pedalled excitedly across town, only to find not a Ferrari but a Lotus Esprit. I was crestfallen. It wasn't my dad's fault, of course - one Seventies super wedge looked much like another to him. But to a Top Trumps fanatic it was like comparing Placido Domingo to Harry Secombe. Ferraris had eight or 12 cylinders, bewitching steel bodywork and were made in Italy. A Lotus was plastic, four-cylindered and made in Norfolk.

Twenty years on, having at last driven an Esprit, I owe my dad an apology. Supercars really do come from Norfolk.

There have been many major changes to Lotus's flagship model since that early encounter. Designer Guigaro's 170mph doorstop was softened and curved in a thorough redesign some years ago; the interior has also seen several makeovers. Most importantly, the four-cylinder engine has just been superseded by a twin turbo-charged V8 with gargantuan grunt and eye-popping acceleration (0-60mph in 4.5 seconds).

If it is possible for a car to have too much power, the pounds 50,000 Esprit V8GT could be it. With little hope of spotting the police through its tiny rear window, I escaped down a country lane to test the car. Trouble is, at speed over undulating surfaces, you don't drive the Esprit, you hang on for dear life. It feels very wide and very low - I could barely see over daisies, let alone hedges, so I ended up crawling in first, beeping the horn at every turn.

Unlike a Ferrari, the Esprit's engine doesn't truly sing. Also disappointing is the effort needed to change gear. You have to work to get the best from this car, but once you do master the gearbox and learn to live with the lack of visibility and shoddy build quality, no car rewards you with finer balance, more forgiving handling, or more electrifying speed.

And there are other pleasures to be had. Pull up behind a family saloon and you'll soon have a row of wide-eyed kids staring at you above the parcel shelf. These days, it seems, the younger generation recognise a supercar when they see one.

Road test

If you would like to take par, write to The Verdict, The Independent Magazine, One Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL, giving a contact phone number, your address and details of the type of vehicle, if any, you drive. For most cars, participants must be over 26, and have a clean driving licence.

Louise Robinson

26, food buyer from Camberley, Surrey. Currently drives a VW Golf

"The windscreen wiper misses a huge area of the screen, right in the driver's vision. The acceleration is fantastic but there is a little delay as you put your foot down. Otherwise, it felt really, really smooth and wide. It's nice to get lots of looks. The design has dated well. The build quality wouldn't put me off. It's the sort of car to own just for going out for a blast in, there's not much luggage space."

John Ridd

47, ergonomist, from Woking, Surrey. Currently drives a Mazda Xedos 9

"You can really squirt this; there's no roll, you just point it and it goes - it's magic. It takes a while to get used to the gear shift's short throw and it is a bit bitty inside; the buttons are all different designs. It looks more like an evolution of a racing car than something designed for comfort. It's very wide and may not be practical, but I'd change my life to suit it."

Michael Stockton

36, Porsche salesman, from Godalming, Surrey. Currently drives a Porsche Boxster

"This feels very cheap and nasty, and not well screwed together, but it's fast. The road-holding is good. It's noisy and the seats are rock hard. The interior is horribly dated, and looks a bit Seventies medallion man. At speed the steering feels light. It has a bit of a drug dealer's image, especially in this colour. To sum up, I hated it, but then I suppose I would say that, wouldn't I?"

Joanna Mitchell

35, PR manager, from Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey. Currently drives a VW Golf

"This is a really sexy car, with real `wow' appeal - it looks like an old Ferrari. When you pull up at the lights you can almost see blokes' willies shrinking when they see a woman driving. The brakes were quite hard but you get used to them, and reverse is a long way away if you're 5ft 4in. It would be great for country lanes, but it could be a bit of a bunny slayer!"

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