Esprit S4s
1994 to 1996MY

In late 1994 a special package was introduced known as the S4 "Sport" or S4s. The most dramatic external cue to differentiate it was a new "hoop" rear wing that gave the car a more contemporary look but again made rearward visibility very difficult. This is also the same wing found on the Sport300.

In non-USA cars, gorgeous OZ Futura 3-piece alloy wheels, again from the Sport300 (albeit in different sizes and with a center cap to cover the lug bolts) were mounted on the car. Just as with the Sport 300, wheel arch extensions had to be added to the fender wells to meet certain European countries' regulations that restrict the amount of rubber extending beyond the body. The new arches however looked better blended with the body's styling. Still, many purists thought they looked "tacked-on" and were reminded of the Countach as it started to sprout wings, spoilers, and arches during its model evolution.

Regardless of how you felt about the wheel and arch extension package, it would not make its appearance in USA S4s cars; although they were introduce a year and a half later with the new V8 for the 1997MY. In the USA, the S4s came standard with the same 1-piece 17-inch OZ wheels but OZ Futuras in the same sizes were available as an option. Either wheels were wrapped around a new set of Brembo calipers and discs which were introduced with the S4s and also made standard for the S4 in 1995.

So, essentially the S4s is a Sport300 in S4 clothing. The Sport300 engine with its 300bhp, enlarged inlet valves, modified cylinder head, re-calibrated ECM with higher boost (1.0 bar), increased capacity oil sump, Garret T3/60 turbo with enlarged compressor wheel, 300 horsepower is all there.  The one glaring omission is the Lotus Limited Slip Differential which was standard on the Sport300. However, this was and is still available as an option for all Esprits with the Renault gearbox.

In summary, the main differences between the S4s and the prior S4 model are:

I have had the good fortune of owning an S4s since new. The following is some of my personal impressions with my baby:

The clutch pedal is *a lot* heavier than before. It probably requires twice the foot pressure as my SE. It is also much more digital (on-off) in nature, so it takes a little more skill to release smoothly. I think this has to do with the fact that they moved the pedal box forward in the car to increase leg room. In doing so, they have limited the travel of the pedals. This has caused two unwanted side effects: 

  1. the clutch pedal releases much closer to the front bulkhead than before. What this means is that the wheel well now interferes a little more with your feet than before. It takes more concentration to make sure that the clutch is fully released than before. If your foot is a little too far to the left, the pedal won't go all the way down to the floor. 
  2. There is now very little room left behind the clutch pedal. This used to be my favorite place to put my left foot when I wasn't using the clutch. Now, my foot doesn't fit back there. I feel a bit more uncomfortable in longer drives because I don't know where to put my foot. 

In any case, I still find the S4s clutch easier to operate than the one on the V8.

The accelerator is a lot more responsive than before. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. The "foot travel-to-RPM change" ratio is a lot smaller than it used to be. While this throttle response is definitely a good thing when you're trying to accelerate, it is more annoying when you're trying to relax. Your foot has to be in the same, rock-steady position, otherwise you may find your speed varying by 20 MPH. In a long trip, your legs and feet will get tired more quickly. I solved this later by adding a Rostra aftermarket cruise control unit to my car. This feature has been a true godsend in some of the longer trips with our local Lotus group: FLOG.

Turbo lag is almost non-existent. Now you may be asking yourself:  "Why on earth would this be a bad thing?". It isn't. However, since boost comes on a lot more quickly and smoothly, the trademark "whack on the back of the head with a nine iron" is gone. Consequently, the car feels slower than the SE. Trust me, IT'S NOT! It's just that the sudden, instantaneous power rush is gone.

The steering wheel sucks. It came out of the GM parts bin and it shows. The rim is stitched but it's made out of imitation leather. It is definitely thinner than the Nardi wheel on the SE without the airbag. This became annoying enough that eventually I replaced the wheel in 1997 with the Lotus-Momo wheel from the GT3. Although this wheel does not have an airbag unit, it is leaps and bounds more attractive than the standard wheel. Years later, I coordinated a group buy with TM Tuning in Germany to help acquire replacement wheels with airbag units. Thanks to fellow "FLOG-ger" and dear friend, Jim Knowles, who took on the task of fabricating a new steering hub adapter, now dozens of Esprits no longer have that hideous GM-Saturn steering wheel adorning their interior.

You get the smoother body of a S4, but with a Sport 300 style wing replacing the awkward little S4 wing. Some people don't like the S4s wing and prefer the smaller SE wing instead. I like both, but I think I might prefer the newer one. The S4s has outrageous looks and the new wing seems to fit this image a lot more than the understated SE wing. I definitely get a lot more compliments on it. Both the SE and S4s wing block rear view about the same amount. However, since the SE wing sits lower, the view is bisected by the wing. This allows you to see vehicles that are up close below the wing and those farther away above it. In the S4s, the wing blocks the upper portion of the view, so you get a little more view of things close up, but the vehicles farther away are completely concealed.

The brakes are a lot better. They have ABS and have Brembo calipers and huge ventilated discs. The shiny black Brembo front calipers look nice through the wheels too. Now don't get me wrong, the brakes still suck compared to the later V8 brakes, but they are an improvement over the previous Toyota-sourced units. The problem with the S4s brakes has nothing to do with the Brembo calipers and everything to do with the awful Delco-Moraine ABS unit that drives it. The ABS computer is all too eager to take control at a moments notice. The result is that it sometimes releases the brakes when hit bumps or small potholes that may cause momentary wheel lockups. Your heart can't help but miss a beat as you feel like the brakes have failed, only to kick in again a fraction of a second later. Many owners have felt that this particular ABS unit is more likely to get you into an accident than out of one. Due to this, many of us have actually disable the ABS feature completely.

The shifter has a redesigned short-shift mechanism. This means that the mile long travel of the 1-2 shift has been significantly reduced. It is now slightly less than 2 inches from first to second. The shift feel is also more precise with less slop. You can reduce the travel of the 3-4 shift even further by making a small modification of the cables where they connect to the gearbox.

The S4s has an upgraded spring and shock package. It doesn't feel any less stiff than the SE suspension, yet it seems to take bumps on the road in a much more civilized manner.

The leather is a lot nicer feeling. It is no longer the same Connolly leather found in the Rolls Royce. Instead, it is now provided by Muirhead. It has a softer, silkier feel.

This is the first Lotus I have owned with power steering. It makes a real difference when you're trying to park. The only annoying part is the noise the power steering pump makes, but this is typical for all Esprits with power steering and not an anomaly. In our Lotus group, things like these are known as TADTS for "They All Do That, Sir!"

The turn radius on the car is spectacular. It literally feels as if you are rotating about the center of the car. It's almost like when a military tank puts one tread in forward gear and the other in reverse; the tank just sits there spinning. Between this and the power steering, I seem to be able to maneuver around the tightest turns.

The S4s is more civilized and smoother at speed than the SE. It almost feels as if you're going slower than you really are - which is not a good thing when you're trying to avoid getting speeding tickets.

The doors open wider, allowing for easier entry/exit from the vehicle. However, the larger seat bolsters of the S4s seats do restrict access a bit more than the SE. Because of this, (and a country with a serious obesity problem) it is common to find used cars with excessive wear of the leather in this area. Although the lumbar area of the seats is much more supportive, the seat cushion is not. The SE seats felt like they held your rear in place under the tightest turns. The S4s seats feel like you would be sliding all over the place. Although the lumbar area of the seats is much more supportive, the seat cushion is not. The SE seats felt like they held your rear in place under the tightest turns. The S4s seats feel like you would be sliding all over the place.

While not standard, my S4s came with a Flowmaster muffler with dual exhaust. The sound is absolutely glorious! It's got that deep, gurgly V8 rumble and that throaty wail at high RPMs. The only problem is that it's hard to sneak into my neighborhood without waking everybody up. :-) Of course, I couldn't leave well enough alone and in 2002, I replaced the exhaust with a straight pipe with twin center tips and a "cheesegrater" rear panel as found on the USA V8 anniversary cars. While it will never compare to the glorious music of a Ferrari, the sound is now even better that before.

The car has an ultrasonic alarm/immobiliser and the US-standard JVC in-dash CD player. The stereo sounds very nice, but usually prefer to pop up the roof panel and listen to the exhaust note instead. The new roof-mounted whip antenna  is nicer than the power antenna on the SE and will be one less thing to break. Some people say it makes the car look like a remote control car, though! Oh, the stereo actually talks to you!

I miss my glove compartment. I usually drive alone, so having a passenger-side airbag is of limited use. I mostly used the glovebox for storing CD jewel cases. Later on I replaced the stock CD player in the car with one capable of playing MP3 encoded discs. Since each disc can now store over 12 hours of music, CD storage has not become that much of an issue any more.

Norfolk Mustard is the most perfect shade of yellow on the planet. It has just the right amount of orange in it to keep it from looking "lemony". The color is extremely similar to the yellow used in traffic signs and the envelopes that Kodak photos come in. I call it "Kodak Gold" or (more appropriately) "Arrest me Yellow"! I get tons on compliments on the color of the car.

Finally, during one of the first time when I took the car for a spin,  I was shifting between second and third, I glanced down to the speedo to see I was going about 90mph. All I could think of was: "I still have 3 more gears to go!"  Another time I was on the on-ramp to the interstate. Before I merged in, I was already going 115. Pray for me not to get a speeding ticket in this thing or someone will have to post bail.


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