Panoz Esperante--D&M Motorsports Video Test Drive Review 2012 Chris Moran

SEE OVER 100 IN-DEPTH AUTO REVIEWS @ www.SUPERCARNETWORK.com. A first drive for Chris in the Panoz Esperante. Presented by D&M Motorsports, hosted by Chris Moran. Our intentions were good. This would be the first magazine to pit two similarly priced, low-volume, Ford SVT Mustang Cobra-powered sports cars from a pair of young and eager companies in a breathtaking shootout. The fatal flaw was the timing. Qvale Modena is already shipping Mangustas to customers. The company diverted one for this test and certified that it was fairly representative of that which citizens of the land may purchase. On the other hand, Panoz Auto Development Company in Hoschton, Georgia, is still developing its Esperante. It did produce a prototype with Irish-green paint and oatmeal leather for testing, but the car was clearly yanked out of the oven while still a little squishy. Regular production of the aluminum body panels had yet to begin, the interior is still undergoing minor revisions, and raising the unperfected convertible top occupied two engineers with tools for 20 minutes. In short, the Esperante's test numbers have too many asterisks to be used in an honest comparison with the Mangusta. Not to say that the time spent with the Esperante was a complete waste. The Panoz shows promise of maturing into a shapely, competent roadster, and Danny Panoz promises the first buyers will be able to unload their extra $81,961 on one by this fall, once he obtains tops and bodies for the 100 or so completed chassis sitting in his factory. That's just a few thousand clams shy of the Mangusta's price, but philosophically, the Esperante is a completely different animal. Panoz splices in far more Mustang DNA, including the steering rack, the ABS-equipped brakes (not available on the Mangusta), the independent rear suspension (IRS) module, and parts of the floorpan and fire wall. After modifications, those bits bolt to a space frame of interlocking aluminum extrusions that form the main structural skeleton. Oddly enough, despite the high Mustang content, the Esperante feels less like a Mustang than the Qvale does. Panoz is aiming for a more classic sports-car experience and succeeds in part with a lower driving position, a compact three-spoke steering wheel that neatly conceals its airbag, and two pontoon fenders that bracket the view out the windshield. The crisply tuned Panoz also behaves lighter on its feet. It turns in with Ginsu sharpness and bites the pavement hard in corners. But the Esperante demands a smooth hand near the limit because the rear end is easy to fluster and difficult to collect after it breaks loose. Blame may lie with the Cobra's IRS module. Ford engineers designed it first and foremost to bolt directly to the Mustang's live-axle pickup points, sacrificing weight and performance for packaging convenience. Panoz adds only a cantilevered coil-on-shock assembly to make it work in the Esperante's space frame. Perhaps more tweaking will get the Panoz and Ford ends working in better harmony. Throttle response is lustier in the Panoz, and it trounces the Mustang Cobra and the Mangusta in acceleration and braking. An oppressively boomy, low-restriction Exhaust may have helped contribute to the scorching drag-strip times. Danny says they are still tinkering with different systems. Since it last appeared on these pages (January 1999), the Esperante has experienced some noteworthy revisions. "Nobody liked the pursed lips," admits Danny, so Panoz widened the tiny oval mouth that gave the first Esperante a face out of The X-Files. Inside, the company inched the shift knob closer to the driver by installing a remote shift linkage. It also repositioned the center-mounted gauges so that their binnacle is flat to the panel a la BMW Z8. Fine, except that they are even harder to read quickly and the reflection of the sky washes out the dials. The Panoz may need to bake some more, but with Qvale out booking sales, the temperature should be hotter than ever.

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