History of the 1988-1993 Lotus Esprit
As the 1980s progressed, the Guigaro-penned lines of the Esprit Turbo were beginning to look dated, prompting Lotus to embark upon a masterful in-house restyling by Peter Stevens at the end of 1987. This new "Stevens" Esprit Turbo was available in the U.S. starting with the 1988 model year. Mechanically, the car was identical to the previous year, with the same Type 910 2.2-liter turbocharged I-4 making 215 hp in U.S. trim, as well as a subtly revised four-wheel independent suspension.
For 1989, the Citroen-sourced transaxle that had been utilized since the Esprit’s introduction in 1976 was replaced by a Renault unit, and horsepower went up to 228 in U.S. trim due to exhaust and turbocharger changes. The really big news for 1989, however, occurred halfway through the model year when the Esprit Turbo SE was introduced. The SE had a liquid-to-air intercooler, or “chargecooler” in Lotus-speak, that helped boost horsepower to 264 continuously and 280 intermittently, secondary to an allowable overboost. Outside, a larger front spoiler, sills, and a large rear spoiler were added. The SE existed unchanged through the end of the 1990 model year, while 1991 saw the introduction of an airbag and ABS as standard.
Lotus did not send any regular production cars to the U.S. in 1992, and 1993 marked the end of the Esprit SE run. These final year cars can be identified by a larger rear wing and one-piece alloy wheels that imitated the three-piece units on the Esprit IMSA Bridgestone Supercar race car. Additionally, halfway through the year the Esprit received an interior redesign that added leg room and carried over to the 1994 Julian Thompson-restyled Esprit S4.
Lotus is known for offering special editions of production models, and the 1988-1993 era cars are no exception. Among others, Lotus produced 88 pearl white cars for the U.S. in 1988 that had a rear spoiler and differing engine cover. A run of twenty green and yellow "Jim Clark Edition" SEs were produced in 1991 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Lotus's 1965 Indy 500 victory. Another twenty street legal X180R race replicas were imported in 1992, and are highly prized today.
Lotus Esprits from the "Stevens" era have depreciated to the point that some have attracted owners who don’t always follow the necessary maintenance regimen. Any such cars with chronic deferred or shoddy maintenance histories are to be avoided at all costs. Otherwise, this era in Esprit history represents fantastic performance with a sub-5-second 0-60 dash in a relatively inexpensive and honest-to-goodness supercar.