Why an Esprit?

Lotus, Porsche, Acura, Corvette, Ferrari, Lamborghini, etc. Which should I buy?

This is a totally subjective matter, but then you wouldn't be reading this if you weren't at least a bit of an Esprit fan.

The limited production of the Esprit puts it in the company of a select group of exotic supercars. Try as they might, the folks at GM can't really consider the Corvette an exotic. Sportscar yes. Supercar, doubtful. Exotic, not a chance. The Corvette is a very competent sportscar - especially the newer C6 models which have about 400HP and do 0-60 runs in the low 4 sec. The new 6th generation Z06 will prove to be faster and even more powerful.  Indeed it will be faster than most Esprits. However, Corvette annual production is in the tens of thousands, versus under 300 for the Esprit. This means that the exclusivity enjoyed by Esprit owners is something Corvette owners will never experience. Furthermore, over 70% of all Vettes are sold with automatic transmissions - not a very sportscar-like option.

Such is also the Porsche's failing. How can you take a sportscar seriously when most are built with the Tiptronic automatic transmission? Also, while the 911 Turbo, GT3 and GT3 are incredible performers, the standard 911 and Boxsters are a dime a dozen. Another unfortunate aspect is the stigma usually associated with Porsche (and BMW) owners. Unlike other car brands, these cars have built a reputation for snobbery that is often unwarranted. It is a shame, but I have met many Porsche owners who have had their pride and joys keyed by envious people.

The Esprit's most common rivals are the Acura NSX and the 8-cylinder (3xx series) Ferraris. The NSX is a hand built exotic whose excellent reputation for performance is exceeded only by its reliability. The problem with the NSX is that it is often accused of lacking a soul. That reputation was partially earned by having Honda build a supercar that "even your grandmother" can drive. Many believe that a sportscar should demand much from its driver. If you don't have to work it, then it's not worth it. Ironically, companies like Ferrari and Porsche have recently been accused of "going soft" by building cars that are now more user-friendly like the NSX. Suffice it say that many Esprit owners used to own NSXs.

The Ferraris, in particular the 308, 328, 348, 355 and 360 have always been the Esprit's other natural competitor. Throughout the long histories of these cars, performance has usually been matched with a slight edge going to the Italian marque. The Esprit is often referred to as the poor man's Ferrari. While it is true that the Esprit costs between 1/2 to 2/3 of an equivalent Ferrari, at close to $100,000US, I would hardly consider the Esprit a poor man's anything. One area where the Italians win flat out is badge recognition. There is a certain panache that comes with Ferrari ownership. Everybody knows what a Ferrari is. By contrast, Lotus owners know all too well that the most common questions asked about their cars are: "Lotus? Who makes that?" and "Is that a Ferrari?". One area where Esprits excel over the Ferraris is reliability. Although the Italians have improved much over recent years, they are not still up the level of reliability of the Esprit. The other area where the Esprit leads is in lower maintenance costs. You might think a timing belt or other service is expensive for an Esprit. However, these costs pale in comparison to those paid by Ferrari owners for their 15K and 25K mile services. All those expenses seem to be worth it though when you experience the magic of that classic Ferrari sound. There's something special about the melodious buzz-saw sound of a Ferrari engine that seems to replicate the music of a Formula 1 car. Compared to this, most people seem to think a 4-cylinder Esprit sounds like a sewing machine while the V8 Esprit sounds remarkably like two sewing machines.

The Lamborghini Gallardo is also a car often compared to the Esprit. Although it has 500HP and a V10 mean it has slightly better performance, the price is twice as much as the Esprit and it is by no means a twice-better car. The Gallardo's shape is very reminiscent of the Esprit and in fact, Lotus is now looking at this car as the target for the design of the Esprit's replacement.

Lamborghini Diablos are cars that are in another category beyond the Esprit known as the Ultra-Exotics. This category includes cars such as the McLaren F1, Ferrari F50, Vector M12, Bugatti EB-110, Porsche Carrera GT, and Mercedes SLR. Although annual production of the Diablo actually exceeds the Esprit's by a substantial margin, the performance of these cars puts it in a totally different league. Also in a different league is their price (over $200K US) and maintenance costs. However, if you can afford them, get them. There is nothing else like them in the world. I know I'm saving my $$ for a new Lamborghini Murcielago (and a 360 Spider).

One of the things that has always set the Esprit apart from most of its competitors is its outrageous "doorstop wedge" look. With its low, wide stance, wings, spats, and spoilers galore it is a shape that screams supercar and yells to the world "look at me!" This is both a good thing and a bad thing. Although the Esprit is truly a car to admire, when you drive one you feel like you're on display. Every time you're at a stoplight or walking to your car in the parking lot you will be greeted by stares, pointing fingers, thumbs-up , waves, cheers, and whistles. Total strangers will walk up to you at the gas station to ask you about the car. Some of them will even be brazen enough to ask you how much it costs - a very personal question to ask a stranger. People who don't know you will judge you based on the car. Individuals you've never seen before in your life will brag that they know you to their friends. Every teenager with a Mustang, Firebird, Camaro, or one of the myriad of "Fast and the Furious" cars out there will chase you through city streets or challenge you at every stoplight. People on the highway will prevent you from switching lanes as they drive alongside to look at the car. Be forewarned - the Esprit is not a car for the timid. Only cars in the Ultra-Exotic category command more attention. If you're more of the conservative type, perhaps you should consider a more toned down car such as a Corvette, 911 or NSX. These cars, and even some of the Ferraris have have a more toned-down appearance that allows them to blend more into the scenery of traffic.

All in all, the Esprit offers the perfect combination of exotic car looks, exclusivity, high performance, reliability, and great customer service at a "reasonable" price. It is fitting that the Esprit's slogan is "For the few who know the difference...". Are you one of the few?

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Do I Really Want an Esprit?

A fellow TurboEsprit list member, Edward Avila, once told me a story about an S4s that was for sale with less than 400 miles on the odometer. Apparently, a woman bought the car, then was unhappy with the way the car drove. The dealer tried to convince her to give it a few hundred miles, as it would be different from anything else she would have ever driven, but she just thought it was too hard to drive, uncomfortable, and had limited visibility. She traded the car in with less than 100 miles driven and she lost $10,000 in the process.

Obviously, this is the kind of person who shouldn't be an Esprit owner. She probably expected that if she paid enough money, she could buy an ultra-sexy Toyota Camry. A test drive should have proven to her that this was not the case.

That case may be a little extreme, however, there are many cases of people who think they want an Esprit. Many people look at my cars and tell me how they wish they had a car like that. I've come to the conclusion that they simply don't realize what they're saying. They just think it looks cool but fail to understand the demented personality required to be exotic car owner: 

    First of all you have to be a real Lotus Esprit fan. I'm talking a real nutcase for the marque here. Anything less and you'll be selling the car real soon. I guarantee it. It's kind of like being married to a spouse with many idiosyncrasies. If you truly love them, it's easy to overlook these trivial things. If you don't, a divorce may be in your near future. 

    Second, test drive as many Esprits as possible and decide if this is the type of car for you. You may discover that you always have liked the car's looks, but you don't really like how you fit in it. Or that your bad back makes it very difficult to enter the car through the narrow opening doors. Or that your neck is compressed and your thighs rub the bottom of the steering wheel. Or that you can't stand all the stares and attention that you get at every stop light. Believe it or not, there are many reasons not to own an Esprit.

    Thirdly, make sure that you own more than one car. This is almost a requirement. At some point, you will need other transportation. Be it because you're waiting for parts, or you don't want to leave your sexy Esprit parked in a bad part of town, or you need to haul some pine bark mulch back from The Home Depot.

    Finally, it doesn't hurt to have tons of money. As you'll see in the next topic, owning an Esprit can sometimes be deceptively expensive.

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