£57,260 - £59,025 Price range
28 - 30 MPG
The Lotus Exige S Roadster is a lightweight open top sports car that does without creature comforts in the name of performance. Buyers may also consider the Porsche Boxster, or track-ready alternatives such as the Caterham 7 and Ariel Atom.
Weighing less than 1,200kgs (lighter than a Volkswagen Golf), the Exige doesn’t need loads of power to feel quick, but nevertheless power’s what you get courtesy of a 3.5-litre petrol V6 from Toyota that has been supercharged to produce 345hp. Buyers can choose from a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic gearbox.
Despite being based on the coupe, the Roadster feels quite different to drive. Lotus has softened the suspension to make it less uncomfortable in day-to-day use, while the Coupe’s downforce producing rear spoiler and front diffuser have also been removed. Nevertheless, this is still a two-seater car with minimal space for luggage.
Creature comforts are few and far between – that the spec sheet mentions basics such as a carpet, sun visors and air vents, gives you some idea of quite how spartan the Lotus really is. The kind of equipment you’ll expect as standard on a Ford Focus – air-conditioning, parking sensors, heated seats and the like – are all options on the Lotus.
If you like a sporty feeling cabin then you’ll love the lotus Exige S Roadster. Getting in is tricky, you have to clamber over a tall sill (that makes the car’s construction very stiff) then slide your legs down towards the pedals. The driving position is extremely low and you feel an integral part of the car as a result.
Lotus went for a simple design when it built the Exige’s interior, but the exposed lightweight aluminum on show throughout hints at the car’s sporting pedigree and makes the fancy trim pieces you get in rivals look a little silly.
Luxury of a sort comes in the form of the Premium Pack, which trims the seats, door panels and a large part of the dashboard with quilted leather in your choice of colour. It also makes the interior a little more practical (relatively speaking, of course) by adding a trinket tray for loose change and things like that.
Although few are going to buy a lotus Exige for its load-lugging capacity, boot space is incredibly poor. At 112 litres in capacity, the Exige’s load bay is less than half the size of a VW Up’s. This impracticality means it is best reserved for the seriously committed, or those that own more than one car.
Building cars that are lightweight has been central to Lotus’ ethos since the firm was founded by Colin Chapman back in 1952. Low weight has a number of advantages – making Lotus models quicker to accelerate and faster in the corners than most regular models. But it also means you can get away with fitting softer suspension – because the springs don’t have a heavy body to keep in check.
As a result, the Lotus Exige rides much more comfortably than you may otherwise expect. It flows over cracked road surfaces and absorbs bumps with ease, but always feels well connected to the road with none of the floatiness that often comes with a comfortable ride and almost no body lean.
Driver’s get three driving modes to choose from – Off, Standard and Sport. It’s the latter of the trio that provides the most excitement; it makes the exhaust louder and allows the car to slip and slide in bends – so you can find its limits – but ultimately acts as a safety net, bringing the Exige back into line if you’re judged to be losing control. Spend extra and you also get Race mode, which is specifically designed to get the maximum performance out of the car on track.
The Exige’s unassisted steering offers lots of feel, so it is easy to gauge the car’s limits, and it is both quick and accurate, allowing you to dart in and out of corners with a level of agility that’s missing even from the Porsche Boxster. Powerful brakes, meanwhile, scrub of speed with ease and make it easy to judge how much braking force you need to slow smoothly.
Pay an extra £2,000 and you can have the Roadster with a six-speed automatic gearbox. It may not provide the seemless shifts of the dual-clutch auto fitted to a Porsche Boxster, but it is very quick to change gear and has no impact on performance.
Away from a twisiting country road the Lotus makes less sense and it becomes obvious why the Porsche Boxster is the more popular car with most buyers. Out on the motorway road and noise are more apparent in the Lotus, while in town the feelsome unassisted steering makes a lot less sense making low-speed manoeuvres (particularly parking) a physical exercise that many buyers would rather do without.
While the benefits of a lightweight chassis are clear in the corners, they’re arguably even more apparent when it comes to straight-line performance, where the Lotus makes the most of the 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine’s 345hp and 295Ib ft of torque.
With 0-62mph taking four seconds dead, the Exige S Roadster can complete the benchmark sprint time half a second quicker than the fastest Boxster currently on sale – the 3.8-litre Spyder, which costs around £5,000 more. Infact, to get the measure of an Exige you’ll have to dig deep in your pockets for a top-of-the-range Porsche 911.
The only downside is the convertible roof, which has forced Lotus to limit the roadster to 145mph for fear it could blow off if the car were allowed to go flat out to the 170mph the delimited coupe can manage.
Fuel economy probably isn’t a major concern for potential Exige buyers, but that said the Lotus isn’t crazy expensive to run – liberal applications of the throttle pedal should allow fuel economy of close to 30mpg. CO2 emissions of 236g/km mean road tax is on the high side – it’ll set you back £490 every year.
Buyers get just one trim level to choose from, and it’s basic. Standard equipment is limited to the absolute bare essentials, so you get central locking, a four-speaker stereo, driver and passenger airbags, an alarm, fabric seats and a carpet. In fact, it’s no exaggeration to say a basic Volkswagen Golf is better equipped, on the other hand few cars offer the Lotus’ performance for the price.
Buyers can choose from four options packs that serve to make the Lotus easier to live with day to day, or even better suited to track outings.
The aforementioned Premium Pack is well worth going for because the leather it adds to the interior, gives a premium feel that is otherwise lacking in the Exige.
The Premium Pack Sport offers largely the same, but swaps some of the leather trim for racy Suedetex material, which feels much like suede.
The Convenience Pack, meanwhile, makes the Exige a little easier to live with day to day, by adding cruise control, a cupholder and a USB connection.
That leaves the Race Pack, which transforms the Lotus into a road legal race car by offering launch control, for perfect 0-62mph times over and over again, a bypass valve for the exhaust that emphasizes the engine’s howl and suspension that has been optimised to get the best out of the car’s performance Pirelli Trofeo tyres.
If you are thinking of buying a Lotus Exige S Roadster then chances are you’re an enthusiast that doesn’t mind putting up with a few compromises. Take them on the chin, and you’ll be rewarded with a car that’s faster than most for the money and one that is almost unrivalled in the corners. Its basic approach won’t appeal to everyone – a Porsche Boxster feels almost like a limo in comparison – but for something near to a race car for the road the Lotus is almost unique in its field.
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