£57,260 - £64,355 Price range
28 - 30 MPG
The Lotus Exige S is a track car for the road. No, really, it is. Too many car manufacturers remove the carpets, pop in a roll-cage and claim that it’s a road-legal racing car but in the case of the Exige it is really true.
The result is spectacular. It handles brilliantly, devours straight pieces of tarmac in the blink of an eye, yet it rides beautifully, and thanks to being so small and wieldy, it never feels intimidating to drive on the road. It’s safe to say that we’re dealing with quite a special car here.
But it’s still a road car that you may well consider buying – so under the carwow microscope it goes!
The first challenge for a prospective Exige owner is just getting in. Due to a seat set inches off the ground, a wide door sill and a narrow opening, the whole process is rather tricky. It is slightly easier with the roadster model because you can almost fall in from above, but in the coupe, the easiest method of ingress involves ungracefully falling in head first into the skinny seats. Not recommended for those wearing short dresses who intend to maintain their modesty…
Once you’re inside, well, it’s got two seats and a steering wheel. Oh, and three pedals and a gear lever – but not much else. The driving position is excellent, the pedals are ideally spaced for heel-and-toe downshifts (where you can brake and blip the throttle using a rotated right foot), and the seats will hold you securely during high-speed cornering (of which you’ll do a lot…).
Pretty much everything else is optional, though you can specify heated leather seats and iPod connectivity if you’d like your Exige to be more of an everyday proposition. On the plus side, a lack of kit means there is less to go wrong, and as most Exiges will be used as second cars, most buyers don’t mind too much. Just make sure you get air-con, unless you want to disappear in a pool of your own sweat.
Lotus has an uncanny skill of producing well-resolved chassis that not only handle brilliantly but ride far better than you’d expect too. The Exige is no different.
It drives like few other cars, offering an immediacy, a sensitivity, and a fluidity that will boggle your senses. It darts from bend to bend in a riot of noise and sensation that is utterly addictive. The steering is sublime and the brakes are as powerful as anything you’ve ever driven; the chassis is pretty much ideal for fast driving, whether on the track or the road.
The unassisted steering needs “considerable physical effort” – particularly at parking speeds – but that is the trade-off for a feel that is “magical, precise and pure” once on the move.
Ride quality in the marginally softer Roadster is described by one reviewer as “exquisite”, and another describes how even when fitted with the firmer settings of the optional race pack, the Exige “skims across the asphalt with considerable aplomb”. In fact, were it not for the seats that lack lumbar support, the Exige would even be quite a bearable tool in which to cover long distances.
In the 2012 update to the Exige, the old four-cylinder engine was replaced for something a little more potent. In its place sits a Toyota-derived 3.5-litre supercharged V6 engine. It produces 345hp, which in a car that weighs about the same as a five-door Ford Fiesta, results in a startling turn of speed. It’ll hit 60mph from a standstill in 3.8 seconds, and on to a top speed of 170mph (145mph for the roadster – the speed is limited to stop the flimsy fabric roof from flying away.)
It isn’t just the speed, but also the character of the V6 that has gone down so well with testers. Throttle response is “scintillating” and it is torquey enough to pull forward eagerly in any gear, at any speed. One critic sums up the performance as being “as fast as you could realistically want”.
If there is any criticism that can be levelled at the drivetrain, it is that the gearbox isn’t the best. One reviewer goes as far as describing it as “recalcitrant”.
If you judge the Exige’s value in terms of toys-per-pound then it is spectacularly poor value. If you judge it in terms of engineering excellence then it is spectacularly good value. Which one are you more concerned with?
It’s not just about the performance; if you can exercise a little restraint then the Exige can be an economical car too, and testers reckon you can achieve more than 30mpg. Good luck with that – you’ll need to resist the urge to drive like a lunatic everywhere.
As well as the coupe and the roadster models, there is also an even more hardcore ‘Cup’ version. The Cup comes equipped with fancier springs, brakes and tyres, and sheds a further 66kg from the standard car by chucking out airbags, carpets and sound deadening and replacing the regular seats with some carbon fibre buckets.
Knocking up the rawness by several notches, the 0-60 dash drops to an incredible 3.6 seconds, but this is perhaps a car for only serious track driver, especially considering that it also costs £10,000 more than the roadster and coupe versions.
For some, the Exige may be a little too uncivilised to be considered an everyday road car, but for those who take the plunge, they will be buying one of the most well-sorted chassis that money can buy.
If you indulge in regular track days, there are few cars to touch it. It’s fast and handles like a proper racing car – alive and rewarding. If that’s your thing then you’ll love the Exige.