7 February 2005

A lightly disguised prototype for Lotus and Proton’s £30,000 sports GT has taken to the roads around Hethel, the Norfolk sports car maker’s HQ. Officially, the project for a mid-size Lotus is still ‘under consideration’, but this prototype looks well finished and is very close to the look of the design registered with the Patent Office by Lotus last year.

Not only is the roofline, windscreen, glasshouse and front and rear styling of the GT identical to that in our scoop shot, but the cooling ducts, door shuts and cut lines on the panels are, too.

Despite this evidence, Lotus maintains the car is ‘still very much a feasibility study’. The mid-size sports car is intended as a softer, more refined and comfortable GT than the track-focused Elise.

Bigger and wider than an Elise and riding on a longer wheelbase, the coupé would provide a cheaper alternative to Porsche’s new Boxster-based coupé, as well as a potential Audi TT rival.

One key decision still to be made is whether to equip the GT with rear seats. Although these would help distance it from the Elise, Lotus is worried that access would be so tight that the seats would be useless.

Also to be decided is the mid-mounted powerplant, although several engines are understood to be in the running, including four-cylinder and V6 Toyota units. One source told Autocar that the project to fit Lotus road cars with a V6 engine ‘is on’. At the same time there are conflicting reports about the GT project’s progress. Some insiders say that new model development at Lotus has slowed to a crawl, despite owner Proton earmarking millions of pounds for new cars, owing to cost-cutting: nearly 20 per cent of Lotus’s engineers were laid off last year.

But a statement from new managing director Clive Dopson, who was promoted from manufacturing director last week, said otherwise. ‘Work on the new Esprit is continuing,’ Dopson said. ‘We are currently building nearly 5000 cars a year, but in the next few years we will be increasing this figure with the addition of a fresh range of vehicles, including a new mid-engined supercar.’

The GT and Esprit are based on the same aluminium Versatile Vehicle Architecture (VVA) platform, allowing both front- and mid-engined models to be built on the structure.

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