Market Finds: Is The Lotus Esprit The Most Affordable ‘Exotic?’

Is The Lotus Esprit The Most Affordable ‘Exotic?’

Andrew Golseth By Andrew Golseth
February 5, 2016

Photography Courtesy of Auctions America

I sort of have a “checklist” for vehicle characteristics. For instance, the Ferrari Testarossa is not my favorite Italian supercar, but it’s on the bucket list because it checks off so many novelties in one package. Flip-up headlights? Yup. Gated manual? I can hear the metal snikt now. A howling 12-cylinder? What a song. Mid-engine? Sì. Unmistakable exotic looks? Pininfarina has it covered. I remember when Testarossas were in the $70-$80k ballpark…but not anymore.

So what else is out there?

It may not be the fastest car in the world, or as prestigious as a Maranello car, but the Lotus Esprit certainly covers a lot of exotic car commonalities at a fraction of Ferrari pricing. If you don’t mind turning your own wrench, which we here at Petrolicious believe to be a healthy ritual, a Lotus Esprit might be the bargain supercar for you.

For example, this 1992 Lotus Esprit S4 Turbo that’s going up for auction on April Fool’s Day, with no reserve, is estimated to fetch between $25,000-$35,000—no joke. While that may not be pocket change, when you look at the big picture, it’s a lot of car for the money.

Five generations of the British wedge were made over a nearly 30-year production run, but Lotus kept the same overall look throughout. Why wouldn’t they? Its well-tailored proportions still look great today. The mid-engine layout not only provides exceptional balance, but also gives the Esprit that forward cabin supercar vibe. The short overhangs keep the design neat and purposeful. This rare fourth gen Turbo specimen (one of 625) isn’t as angular as the one 007 drove, but it still has that origami fold look.

Under the hood—I mean bonnet—rests a 2.2-liter turbocharged four-banger that puffs out 260 horsepower. Not mind-bending figures by today’s standards, but in a sub-3,000 pound fiberglass package it surges from naught to 60 in 4.7 seconds—nearly a second faster than the 5.7-liter C4 Corvette of the same year! No replacement for displacement? Puh-lease.

When quoting its specs when new, its quickness off the line and ~165 mph top speed compares favorably to modern-day sports cars—and that’s just sheer speed we’re talking about. Handling? Have you ever driven a mid-engine car? If not, you should as soon as possible. They’re delightful. With independent suspension and disc brakes at all four, its performance threshold is likely higher than your driving ability.

This S4 example being offered at Auctions America has enough modern creature comforts to stay usable. It was the first Esprit generation to get power steering standard—not necessary, but convenient without losing detrimental road-feel. The cabin has power windows, a radio, ample leather, air-conditioning, and a glass roof—how’s that for 1992?

If you’re in the market for a performance vehicle in the $30,000 range, the Lotus Esprit S4 Turbo is a tempting proposition? It’s got the looks, it’s got the layout, it’s got great pedigree, and the entry fee won’t break the bank. Just don’t blame us when you’re tired of convincing bystanders that it’s not a high-priced exotic.

– One of 625 S4s built (one of four such built in 1992, according to Auctions America)
– Factory books, keys, and service records

~264hp, DOHC 2.2-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, five-speed manual transmission, four wheel disc brakes, front and rear independent suspension. Wheelbase: 96 inches.

Vehicle information
Chassis no.: SCCFC20B6NHF60100

Auction house: Auctions America
Estimate: $25,000 – $35,000 (No Reserve)
Price realized: TBD; Auction on April 1


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Buzzcrushtrendkillrob.eYohannBrunoCJason Fitzpatrick Recent comment authors
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In 2020, ’03 and ’04 are being listed $60-$70K. So, no longer affordable. But I’d be willing to bet it is mostly because of articles like this. The market will adjust shortly. I hope.


That car is a “SE high wing”, not an S4. Still very nice though and pretty rare. Looks great in silver (the “pretty woman” colour scheme). Non standard exhaust but suits the car.

I had a GT3 then a V8-GT.. still miss that car. When funds allow i’d like to buy it back. Yes it cost a bunch of cash to run (my daily driver for five years, yeah, not a good idea in hindsight) but what a car.


Prices are rising, and that’s logical. The first ones designed by Giugiaro are just gorgeous, One of the best paperfold design of this period, which reminds Lambo Countach or BMW M1. The engine is a small one, but the car has been thought as a race car, the handling is just exceptional. And, it’s a James Bond car!!!!!!! It won’t be affordable a long time, people will soon re-discover it.


For me the Esprit has two major problems:

Lotus own Elise which is a purer sports car in the Lotus tradition, prettier and, I bet, easier to maintain.

The Porsche 968 which has, imho, its four cylinder engine in the right place for a road car. It also has the edge over the Esprit in build quality, reliability, looks and, quite probably, on a mountain road.

Having said that I would love to have an Esprit, only less than a 968 or Elise!


I like the 968 too, especially the clubsport/sport versions but it’s not in the same league as an esprit in terms of ride, handling, steering feel or performance IMO. Porsche wins on build quality though, but the esprit turns heads and is much rarer.

Vs. an elise, the esprit handles just as nice (nicer?) has the same build quality issues and doors that clang but that’s just the lightness thing really.. but the esprit performance is in a different league (my v8 had around 375bhp and weighted 1250kg or so..)

Jason Fitzpatrick
Jason Fitzpatrick

I accidentally deleted the first sentence. The car in this article is actually a SE not an S4. Great to see more Esprits.

Jason Fitzpatrick
Jason Fitzpatrick

S4 has the upgraded ground effects and mid-mounted spoiler. It looks the V8 minus the wheel arches. I’ve owned my S4 for 13 years and never had more than maintenance to deal with. The reliability claims are bogus and only seem to be said by those who don’t own one. If you follow the maintenance schedule and utilize some of the upgraded parts that have been made available, the car will perform better than its contemporaries. You Esprit is hard to beat. They won’t be long considered a bargain. Prices are already on the rise.


shh. keep this a secret.

Martin Philippo
Martin Philippo

And you still drive tastefully 😉

Guitar Slinger
Guitar Slinger

Are they affordable to purchase ? Why yes … at this point in time they are . But are they affordable to own ? With parts and repair prices that can equal or exceed that of say Ferrari or Lamborghini … abjectly horrible reliability and a propensity to fall apart at will . Not hardly . e,g.

Buyer most definitely beware . But have a ball in between … hoping for a few ‘ in between times ‘ along the way …… 😉


yes they’re expensive to maintain (i know from first hand experience) but i’d guess no more than a simlar era lamborghini, ferrari etc.

In fact, one of the reasons the contemporary reviewers slated the esprit was aound it’s use of “borrowed” components (mirrors from citroen, door handles from GM etc) is in fact now a benefit to the current owners when considering maintenance/repair costs – need a door handle -just find a vauxhall cavalier /calibra at a breakers and you’re sorted, cheap.