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Remember When the Lotus Esprit Used a 4-Cylinder Engine?

The 1970s and 1980s gave us a lot of amazing wedge-shaped exotic cars from Europe — cars like the Ferrari 308 and Testarossa, the Lamborghini Countach and Jalpa and the DeTomaso Pantera and Mangusta, among others. One of those others was the Lotus Esprit — but unlike the other European exotics, the Esprit used a 4-cylinder engine.

I remember discovering this as a kid and being totally blown away. The Lotus Esprit — this midengine, ultra-low, wide exotic car — uses … a 4-cylinder? How can that be? Even BMWs use 6-cylinder engines. How is it possible that the Esprit can only use four cylinders? Eventually, when I learned about lighter weight and turbocharging, it started to make sense, but at the time, I couldn’t fathom it.

It’s still sort of surprising. The Esprit used a 4-cylinder from its debut in 1976 all the way up to 1996, when Lotus apparently saw things the way that I did as a child and dropped in a turbocharged V8. The 4-cylinder initially generated about 160 horsepower, which wasn’t much, but it was in keeping with Lotus’s usual preference for light and simple over powerful and muscular.

Before it was replaced by the V8 engine, the 4-cylinder grew, adding more power and a turbocharger and ending up around 300 hp at the end of its life cycle. With 350 hp out of the box, the V8 was a big improvement, and it brought the car into the modern era of wedge-shaped supercars with big powertrains.

But while the V8 Esprit is probably the most memorable model, it did, indeed, spend two decades being powered by just four cylinders. Find a Lotus Esprit for sale 

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  1. All those  years, Road & Track magazine in their review under “cons” would say “Should any car with a four-cylinder engine cost this much?”  Got tiresome after a while.

  2. I remember the car mags used to repeatedly refer to the Esprit’s motor as “the world’s hardest-working 4-cylinder” back when 100 hp-per-liter was unheard of.

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Doug Demuro
Doug Demuro
Doug DeMuro writes articles and makes videos, mainly about cars. Doug was born in Denver, Colorado, and received an economics degree from Emory University in Atlanta. After graduation, Doug spent three years working for Porsche Cars North America. Eventually, he quit his job to become a writer, largely because it meant that he no longer had to wear pants. Doug’s work has been featured in a... Read More about Doug Demuro

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