Buyer Guide: 2005-2011 Lotus Elise and Exige

[Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the March 2017 issue of Classic Motorsports.]

When Lotus first unleashed the Elise some 20 years ago, the automaker’s message came through loud and clear: We’re back, baby. 

As a small, lightweight two-seater, the Elise was everything the Lotus name represented. It was a fast, minimalist, open-top sportster. And like so many good things, those first 1996-2000 Elises weren’t legal for U.S. consumption. 

The Elise got an updated body for 2001, and U.S. imports officially started for the 2005 model year. Power came from Toyota’s twin-cam inline-four, and despite just 190 horsepower on tap, even the base Elise delivered supercar-like performance. 

But that didn’t stop Lotus from turning up the wick. An optional Sport Pack added forged wheels, stiffer Bilstein dampers and sticky Yokohama track tires. A supercharged engine became optional starting in 2008, boosting output to 220 horsepower. 

Not hardcore enough? Lotus unleashed the hardtop Exige in 2000, with American exports appearing for 2006. Like the Elise, the Exige came in both naturally aspirated and supercharged versions; several track-ready Exige variants were also offered. 

The lack of smart airbags, coinciding with the end of the run for Toyota’s 2ZZ-GE engine, caused Lotus to pull the Elise and Exige from our shores after 2011. However, demand has since remained strong. 

My opinion is that the Elise prices bottomed out several years ago,” says Hayes Harris of Wire Wheel Classic Sports Cars, a South Florida dealer that has sold many, many Elises over the years. “I would say that they are increasing slightly, or at least holding steady.” Harris’s dealership recently advertised a clean-title, low-mileage 2005 Elise for $31,900.

But yes,” he continues, “if a collector or enthusiast wants to buy an Elise or Exige, then they should not wait much longer, as the good, low-mileage examples are being bought up.”

Care & Feeding

Wire Wheel Classic Sports Cars founder Hayes Harris, who has bought, sold and raced many Lotus Elises and Exiges, shares some practical advice.

There seems to be a lot of confusion on the issue of salvage titles versus rebuilt titles. I can mainly speak on Florida rules, but I think that most states have the same definitions. 

A salvage title is applied to a car that has been considered a total loss by an insurance company. This happens quite frequently on Elises and Exiges because the front and rear clamshells are expensive to replace and other parts and labor can be quite costly as well. A car with a salvage title cannot be driven on the road. 

A rebuilt title is a former salvage-title car which has now been rebuilt and deemed to be safe and roadworthy by the state DMV inspectors. A car cannot be driven on the road until it is inspected and has a rebuilt-status title.

An Elise or Exige with a rebuilt title is fine, as long as you know who did the repairs and the repairs were done correctly. Avoid cars that have structural damage to the aluminum chassis or have had chassis repair. A buyer should expect to pay about $3000 to $6000 less for a car with a rebuilt title. Often we have Elises and Exiges with rebuilt titles that have had very little damage, and the repairs and paintwork are done to a very high standard. 

The Elises and Exiges are basically the same from 2005 to 2011, with different specs and different models available during the production run. The 2005 Elises are the most common, as they were imported in the largest numbers. The 2006 had a few subtle changes, such as LED taillights, drive-by-wire throttle and improved ProBax seats. Lotus continued to make more small improvements throughout the production period, with some headlight changes in 2008 and again in 2011.

There was a recall on almost all Lotus Elises and Exiges due to a few failures of the fittings for the oil cooler lines. The Lotus dealer will replace the fitting at no charge to the customer. A faulty oil line fitting could cause engine failure, so it is recommended that you check with a Lotus dealer to see if the recall has already been performed on your car.

A baffled oil pan is recommended on any Elise/Exige that is used on the track with any tire that has a softer treadwear rating than about 200.

Prices on used Elise/Exiges start at about $25,000 for a car that’s in less-than-average condition or that has higher mileage or a salvage title. A good, low-mileage Elise will sell in the low $30s, while the last of the Exige S cars can bring in over $65,000.

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