Is Lotus reliable? An honest assessment of the British brand

We look at how reliable the sports brand really is...

“Lots of Trouble, Usually Serious”. That was the acronym coined for Lotus back in the 1960s.

When the Lotus Elan was first launched it was seen as a triumph for British engineering but it was soon plagued with problems. Soon enough, the Lotus Elan was known for being badly built and filled with draughts and leaks and was considered positively unreliable.

Unfortunately, Lotus have struggled to shake off this reputation of being unreliable, and there are many people today that will still think of Lotus as the untrustworthy car manufacturer they were back in the sixties.

But is this still the case? Are Lotus still unreliable? In this article, we look at whether Lotus are dependable, and compare their reliability to their main competitors.

Are Lotus reliable?

You can’t shake off sixty years of unreliability with a click of your fingers, but you can definitely try.

Consumer feedback for the Lotus Elise has been widely positive. Owners on carbuyer have given it a 4.8 out of 5 and 88% of owners would recommend the Lotus Elise to a friend.

When rating reliability, it has also been pretty positive. Reviews have ranged from average to a full five stars, with many having their Elise for 5 years or more and having very few complaints.

That said, there have been some reported problems with the engine, electrics and suspension but the source and the extent of these issues is not known. Therefore, they could simply be from wear and not specific to the Lotus Elise.

2017 Orange Lotus Exige Front on the road

If we look at the Lotus Exige, the reviews are very similar to the Elise, with the reliability coming in even higher at four and five stars throughout. There were some problems reported with the clutch and suspension but again, the cause and extent of these issues is unknown.

So it appears that Lotus are considerably more dependable than they once were and owners seem to be more than pleased with their Lotus model.

Why are Lotus reliable?

Okay, so what’s changed?

Actually, many put their reliability down to the fact that many of their models are now equipped with Toyota engines. The Toyota engine can be found in the Evora, Elise and Exige, and since that has happened, there have been very few problems reported.

Everyone knows how dependable Toyota are, and many customer reviews have pointed out that their Toyota engine hasn’t given them any trouble at all.

So there is a chance that Lotus using Toyota engines has increased their models reliability.

What are some common Lotus problems?

If you are buying a second-hand Lotus, or you want to know the problems you might encounter later down the line, then here are some of the problems you may encounter with an older Lotus;

  • The steering rack is prone to wear
    • They tend to wear quicker than on other makes and models
  • Under tray
    • Some have reported that the under tray can often come loose
  • Stone chips
    • Because Lotus models are quite low and travel fast, they can pick up quite a few stone chips. You can buy plastic guards for these, and you may find that some models already come with these.

How reliable are customer reviews?

We’ve discussed how reliable Lotus are, but how reliable are the customer reviews we are using?

Consumer reviews are an accurate way of determining a cars longevity because they ask those who are driving the models on a daily basis. Therefore, they are the best people to ask for daily reliability of a model. 

Green Lotus Exige front view on a track with its reflection in a puddle

However, there are some issues with this, particularly when looking at a manufacturer such as Lotus.

Lotus aren’t hugely popular. That is to say, they aren’t part of the mainstream, you don’t see many Lotus cars about on your daily commute. In fact, just 2,015 cars were sold last year. Which, in the automotive world, is not a lot. The less cars that are sold, the lower the amount of customer feedback. This can affect how accurate customer surveys are.

Another issue with Lotus is that those who buy a Lotus, do so because they want a Lotus. The customer reviews were full of people saying how much they loved their Lotus and wouldn’t change it for the world. This is great for Lotus, and it’s always good to have a loyal following. However, could this affect what they say about the reliability? Possibly. We have no way of knowing, but it is something that should be taken into consideration.

At the moment, customer surveys are our only way of knowing how reliable Lotus are. There are not enough Lotus cars sold or on the roads for them to be included in consumer survey reliability tables. Therefore, customer surveys are currently our most accurate way of telling whether a Lotus is reliable or not.

This issue is fairly common with sports cars and ultra-prestigious cars such as Bentley’s. But it does mean that it can have an impact on the reliability of customer surveys.,.

Generally though, customer surveys are one of the most accurate ways of telling if a car is reliable or not.

Lotus vs. Porsche vs. Alfa Romeo

Three vastly different brands, but who create three pretty similar types of car. The Lotus Elise, the Porsche Cayman and the Alfa Romeo 4C are perfect competitors, but how does their reliability stack up?

In all honesty, none of them do particularly well when it comes to reliability. In fact, Porsche have finished 31st out of 32 for dependability in the past. That said, owners have reported to AutoExpress that there have been few issues with their Cayman’s. There have been a few faults, with one customer reporting a consistent engine fault that took a long time to repair, but other than that, the feedback has been widely positive.

Grey Porsche Cayman driving on the road at night

And, if we look at the most recent reports, Porsche have come top in the J.D Power Dependability Survey. They scored an industry low of just 110 problems per 100 vehicles. This is a huge jump from their bottom place ranking a few years prior.

metallic red alfa romeo 4c spider driving down desert road

Alfa Romeo were very much like Lotus. People would buy an Alfa Romeo because it was an Alfa Romeo, not because it was reliable. However, now Alfa Romeo is owned by Fiat, they have worked hard to improve their reliability and it seems to have paid off. The engine and gearbox in the 4C have been taken from other Alfa Romeo models which means that they have already been tried and tested for dependability and there have been few faults reported.

However, Which? Did rank Alfa Romeo as one of the most unreliable car brands, coming in only above Land Rover and Chrysler. Although, repair bills aren’t as high as first thought and are on par with Audi and Lexus.

In conclusion, if you want a sports car that is going to be reliable, then it looks like it’s going to have to be a Porsche. While they definitely wouldn’t have won any awards for being reliable in the past, recent studies have shown that they are becoming increasingly more reliable. So if longevity and sportiness is for you, then it will have to be the Porsche Cayman.

Lotus have come a long way since the 1960s, when they were famed for their unreliability. Their use of Toyota engines means their reliability has increased hugely and has ensured that there has been little engine trouble since. That said, if you are looking for a reliable sports car, then you might want to look at a Porsche as they were placed at the top of the reliability table this year. However, many who are looking at buying a Lotus do so because it is a Lotus. And if you want a British brand that is full of history and heritage with a loyal following, then there is no reason you shouldn’t be looking at a Lotus.  

Now you know how reliable the British brand is, find out how well they did in  other areas in our latest Lotus car reviews!

Holly Martin

Content Co-ordinator at OSV Ltd
Holly enjoys: Reading, music and spending time with friends.

Within a week of Holly starting work at OSV she became an indispensable part of the marketing team. She's very intuitive and gets on with the whole office effortlessly.
Holly Martin

2 Comments

  • Jasper| 3rd May 2019 at 12:44 am Reply

    > While [Porsche] definitely wouldn’t have won any awards for being reliable in the past
    Depends how far back you look, the 1978-1983 911SC and 1984 – 1987 911Carrera are known to be super reliable with engines easily going 300,000 km between rebuilds.

    • Rachel Richardson| 3rd May 2019 at 8:08 am Reply

      Hi Jasper,
      Thank you for this information. The reliability data which we have access to is from warranty companies, manufacturer data and user surveys, therefore it tends to not be from people who are driving cars that are up to 40 years old. The majority of data used in such reports is from cars that are up to 8 years old. We will certainly look into the history of the cars you’ve mentioned for future reports.

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