Block Buster

This report was taken from the What Car? January 1991

Eight-and-a-half seconds. It's roughly the time taken by most fast hatchbacks and sporting saloons to reach 60mph during a road tester's tyre smoking, no-holds barred acceleration run. It's also the time that the Lotus Carlton takes to sprint from zero to 60mph .... and then back to zero.

But then the Lotus Carlton always was destined for jaw-dropping performance. Initially heralded as an environmentally unfriendly, anti-social monster with it's 'lethal' top speed, it is fast, true - but it's also safe. Safe because it will stop from 60mph in half the distance of the average family runabout, safe because it has the power to accelerate out of trouble, and safe because Vauxhall and Lotus couldn't afford to make it anything but.

And, contrary to some people's wishes, the engine will not be governed to 155mph maximum. All out, on a flat and legal stretch of road the Lotus Carlton will - if it's driver has the guts and the ability - run to a maximum the other side of 180mph, making it the fastest four-door, four-seater family saloon ever.

Not that many drivers will get the opportunity. In a two-and-a-half year production run, Lotus (the car is based on a standard 23V 3000 GSi donor Carlton, and handbuilt at the Lotus factory in Hethel) will make just 1100 of these 'supercar' Carltons, of which only 440 will be sold in the UK through 17 specifically chosen dealers. And if you haven't put in your order yet, you'd better be quick because up to 75% of the UK's quota is already spoken for, deposits having been placed as long as a year ago when the Lotus Carlton was nothing more than a development project.

Looking at the final product, overtly aggressive with its mean but coherent aerodynamic bodywork and compulsory Imperial Green paintwork, it's not hard to see why the car has attracted so much attention. The Lotus looks like a prop from sci-fi film The Terminator, evil and gruesome, ready to devour anything in its path through those two huge nostril-like cooling ducts in the front apron.

The specification? If 377bhp does not sound impressive enough, try adding a torque figure that only Ferrari's F40 and the Lamborghini Diablo can better - an incredible 419 lb.ft. at 4200rpm. Transmitting these awesome outputs to the road is a six-speed gearbox taken straight from the General Motors Corvette ZR-1, a beefed-up limited slip differential and 265/40ZR17 rear tyres that leave yeti-sized footprints on the tarmac.

But, despite its looks, the Lotus Carlton is no bare-boards racer, far from it. Inside, you are treated to handcrafted Connolly leather trimming, subtle Lotus badging, extensive sound proofing over the standard 24V Carlton, plus every electric gismo under the sun - all for a 'mere' £48,000. Nevertheless, it still feels very much like an every day Carlton inside, which is a touch disappointing considering the price.

Yet any disappointment vanishes the instant you turn the key and fire up the engine. Initially there's just a gentle rumble from under the bonnet, but as the revs rise there's an altogether more menacing growl accompanied by the odd whistle and scream from the twin turbochargers. And boy, does this car go; floor the throttle at 50mph in third and you'll reach Britain's legal speed limit in under three seconds, which is enough to leave Porsche 911 Carreras and Ferrari 348s trembling in your wake.To 60mph from rest the official figure is 5.2 sec but, if anything, this claim seems pessimistic.

Arguably even more impressive is the handling. Thanks to the odd Lotus tweak to the front and rear suspension set-ups, this Carlton has quite outstanding agility; though it is in fact 260kg heavier than the standard 24V car, it feels lighter, more nimble on the road. There's virtually no inertia or yaw when flicking from one direction to another through a sequence of bends which, for its size, is remarkable.

Lotus has also worked wonders by ridding the Carlton of the slightly vague patch in steering feedback around the straight ahead position. Response is immediate, whereas the standard car takes rather more effort to stir the front wheels into action. It's a subtle improvement but one that has sharpened the overall effect tremendously.

What Car? verdict: The worlds most exciting saloon, but surprisingly refined too!

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