Lotus Esprit Turbo: PH Used Buying Guide

For a car that sold in modest numbers when new, the Lotus Esprit notched up an impressive spread of model variants that included many with a turbocharger. For the purposes of this buyers' guide, we're going to stick with the post-1987 Peter Stevens' revised X180 models as they offer a more modern driving experience and cabin. The earlier cars are just as much fun to use, but they are also more fragile so should be considered solely as classics. We'll also leave the V8-powered models for another day as they deserve a dedicated guide.

That leaves us with the models powered by the 2,174cc inline four-cylinder Type 910 engine. It used a Garrett T3 turbo running at 0.65 bar to give 218hp, which was 5hp up on the pre-facelift model. A modest gain, but performance improved to offer 0-60mph in 5.3 seconds and a 152mph top speed, which was sufficient to keep the Brit in the hunt with other junior supercars of the period.

The next big step in Esprit Turbo evolution came with the addition of an intercooler, which Lotus called a Chargecooler. It helped up power to 268hp in the SE so that 0-60mph arrived in 4.9 seconds and maximum speed rose to 159mph. At the same time, Lotus also shifted from the Bosch K-Jetronic injection system to a Lotus/Delco multi-point set-up. These models were identified by a lager rear wing and small changes to the body kit.

By 1991, the 268hp engine was the standard Turbo fitment, with the 218hp and slow-selling 231hp version dropped from the price list.

For 1993, the Sport 300 model launched with larger spoilers and wheelarches, 90kg lower kerb weight and 306hp thanks to a new Garrett T4 turbo. Only 50 were made with the intention the would be used for racing, and they provided 0-60mph in 4.7 seconds and 168mph.

Soon after, the S4 Esprit arrived with styling by Julian Thomson. It used the Sport 300 specification as its base and had a claimed output of 305hp. Performance was quoted at 0-60mph in 4.6 seconds and 168mph.

There was also an S4 S with 289hp, while the last hurrah for the four-cylinder Esprit Turbo was the GT3 in 1996 with a 2.0-litre motor delivering 243hp. It covered 0-60mph in 4.8 seconds and had a top speed quoted as 163mph.

All Esprit Turbos offer a great driving experience thanks to the superb handling and steering. Expect to pay from £20,000 for a cared for car with good history. After that, rarity, condition and mileage come into effect and prices can reach up to £40,000 for perfect examples in today's market.

Buyer's checklist

Bodywork and interior
Glassfibre body means rust isn't a concern, but check closely for stone chips and star cracks. VARI (Vacuum Assisted Resin Injection) production method ensured greater quality and consistency of panels.
Poor resprays will show up in mismatched colours, microblisters and sinking.
Crash damage also needs to be checked for and confirm it was carried out by a specialist in glassfibre bodywork.
Pop-up headlights that don't rise when the lights are switched on are probably due to water getting into the motors, which is easily solved by drying out the motor.
Windows can stop working because of a faulty switch that's cheap and easy to replace. If it's the motor, this is a more expensive an time-consuming job to rectify.

Engine and transmission
Type 910 four-cylinder turbo engine needs regular oil changes at 6,000-mile intervals. Correct Lotus oil filter with a non-return valve is also essential to avoid con rod big end bearings being starved of lubrication. Listen for any tell-tale rumbles from the motor when starting from cold.
A misfire can be caused by oil collecting in the spark plug cavities. The oil comes from a leaking cam cover, which is often overtightened and warps the cover.
Cambelt service comes every 24,000 miles or two years. Lotus increased this to 32,000 miles later in the Esprit's life, but specialists advise sticking to the shorter routine.
Engine mounts fail, especially the one closest to the exhaust. This needs to be addressed straight away as movement will damage pipework and the exhaust manifolds.
Seized wastegate is a known fault. Listen for a flutter when you lift off the throttle to show it's working correctly.
Exhaust manifolds crack and it's a day and a half's labour to sort plus the cost of a new manifold at £545.
Overheating is most likely a failed fan or blocked radiator and either can result in a blown head gasket.
Look for leaks from the water pump. Any sign of this and budget for an immediate replacement.
The chargecooler's elements can break down with age, but fixing this isn't too pricey at around £150.
A smell of petrol is usually down to ageing pipes that will need to be replaced.
The Renault UN-1 gearbox is tough, but any slip from the clutch means it needs to be replaced very soon. A new clutch is affordable at £170, but it's 11 hours' labour to complete the change.
A stiff gear change is most likely a rusted shaft that needs to be re-lubricated.

Suspension and steering
The Esprit Turbo's 1,384kg kerb weight means it doesn't tax its steering or suspension components much.
Cracked springs can occur, but are inexpensive to replace.
Power steering became standard in 1994 and is a useful option on any earlier car you're thinking of buying.

Wheels, tyres and brakes
Brakes are strong and easy to service. Renault gearbox means the rear discs are outboard, so much cheaper and simpler to work on than the earlier Citroen-sourced transmission with inboard discs.


Engine: 2,174cc 4-cyl turbo
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Power (hp): 218@6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 220@4,250rpm
MPG: 26.4
CO2: N/A
Price new: £28,900
Price now: £20,000 upwards

Search for Lotus Esprits in the PH classifieds here.

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Comments (49) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Turbobanana 19 Jul 2018

    This made me laugh:

    "These models were identified by a lager rear wing"

    If Carlsberg made sportscars...

  • belleair302 19 Jul 2018

    If you have feet over a size 9 you may struggle. Footwell is tiny!!

  • J4CKO 19 Jul 2018

    They still look good, I know it would most probably be hard work to own and keep on top of but still very desirable, I remember in the mid nineties a new estate was built at the end of the road when we lived and one of the first residents bought an Esprit V8, I was transfixed.

  • jmcc500 19 Jul 2018

    Bought a chargecooled one of these with a couple of mates for £4.5k about 10 years ago. Fixed the things that were wrong, shared it for a couple of years and then sold it for enough to cover all of the running costs for the period bar petrol. Very fast in a straight line when on boost, particularly at motorway speeds when even the TDI brigade were left in its wake. Ours seemed to tramline badly so suspect there was something awry with the steering. Wheels were made of chocolate - think we ended up picking the best from 3 sets but even then they needed lots of lead to get them to balance.

    Rear engine lid cables can fail, replacing is a nightmare, particularly if you do as we did and drill through the inside of the rear arch with a hole cutter to get to the cable - Lotus routed half the loom over the other side and we ended up having to get an auto electrician colleague to sort out the consequent mess!

    We thought we did well to get out ahead, but I guess it's another of those we should have kept hold of (like my 47k mile 968CS which I sold for £12.5k a few years ago!)

  • InitialDave 19 Jul 2018

    What happened to that thread where the guy bought a truly shocking Esprit unseen from Ireland?

    Quite a few people popped up in there with interesting info on shell damage etc.

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