Well, I was very well looked after by Paul Yip today, brand manager for Lotus at Wearnes, who have been Singapore's agents since just last year.
After checking in for the usual Covid procedures here - location tracing check in using a QR code - I was directed to the 5th floor of one of the showroom buildings (Wearnes are agents for a number of marques), and met with Paul by appointment. The small showroom contained two cars - a solid orange painted Exige with its hardtop on, and a solid red Elise 220 Sport with its hardtop off.
What a presence these cars have. It was my first time to even look at the cars in the metal. First impressions - low, squat and purposeful design. The cues are all there that this is serious stuff, and not for-show. That impression was amplified when I opened the door. I had read all about how Lotus cars are light, and I know the curb weight of this Elise is under a tonne, so I suppose I expected a door with less substance. It felt solid, and opened and closed with a reassuring clunk. While open, you see immediately too the special aluminium tub structure, and the whole thing feels solid, rigid.
Now, I have watched a few videos on getting in and out of this car on Youtube, so with that and a few tips from Paul, I managed to get in first attempt (admittedly roof-off on the Elise). The standard sports seat was snug around my (admittedly not exactly svelte) bum, but I got used to that. I was impressed by the cockpit feel of the driver's position, and the simplicity of it all. I'm 183cm - just a bit over 6' in old money, and I found just the very top of the rev and speedo numbers partly obscured by the fixed position steering wheel, but I suppose you get used to sitting just a touch more slouched into the seat. That open gear lever gate is fun, and the gears felt very positive.
Next I got in to the solid orange coloured Exige, with its roof on. A little more human folding required! But having had a go on the Elise I managed the extra contortion required by the solid roof. I was happy to find that there was at least a small amount of head room.
"Okay?", said Paul, "shall we go for a drive? I have an Exige ready in the garage on level 3." Oh wow! So, down we went in the lift, and there it was - a 2019 Exige Sport 350 in 'Porsche Riviera Blue' livery, full alcantara, and colour pack with a black pack roof.
I got into the driver's seat. OMG! The throttle blip when this fires up. Doesn't that get the pulse quickening a bit? And my first task is to negotiate the car out of its parking slot and circle down two levels to the carpark building exit. Steering at low speed in the carpark? No problem. Lighter than I expected. Clutch was lighter than I expected. (The clutch on my Alfa 164QV was a workout, all those years ago). Gear shift lovely. Gently down the exit lane of the dealership, and time to merge into traffic. I wait for a generous gap and off we go. Within two or three gear changes up and down and I feel atuned already. Everything is so intuitive and direct. I had adjusted the three mirrors before we set off, but still, some lane changes made me nervous - acres of blind spot it seems, but I suppose you start to become 'third eye' aware of what's around you. Light turns red and I'm in front. Green - I decide to give it a 'medium' sort of push, and wow, a good positive shove into the seat back and we are off. Even from around 1500 rpm the car will accelerate so easily, but, it felt to me, predictably. Within 15 minutes I felt very comfortable, as if the car had wrapped itself around my brain. Braking was good too. At one point a guy in a car wanting to turn into our road just gawped, but while gawping, just pulled in front of me (when he should have given way), while continuing to gawp. Braking felt positive, and no problem. Paul took me to a twisty little road that apparently had once, many years ago, been part of a GP circuit. Not much rise or fall, but good tight corners, so I got to experience that bit of increase in weight on the steering in the corners. That, and the view over the wheel arches, and positioning the car felt easy.
So, just 30 minutes or so in the car, but what a treat. I had an absolute blast, even at city traffic speeds. (I was careful not to speed - this is Singapore!).
So, conclusions from this next step in the process?
Firstly, it's everything I hoped it would be, and I haven't even been out at highway speeds, or on some winding hill climb yet. I can already see that a city drive could offer a really positive experience. The car felt really well put together, with great feedback, and I love the simplicity of it. It's amazing that you can still buy into this new in 2020.
Secondly, the V6 is amazing. I can see why even street drivers get the Exige (or Evora) just for this. What a thrill. I wonder if the temptation to really let it open up gets too much. I suspect the Elise engine would be enough for me. If the Elise drives like the Exige (minus some of the shove and symphony) I think I could live with that deficit. The way it drives is already rewarding enough.
I was open with Paul, and said that it would be a longshot to buy this in Singapore. I'm more likely to buy in the UK at some future point. But, let's see. 😉
There's always that warning - never meet your heroes - and I did have a little of that trepidation today. I had put a lot of time into reading, and watching videos on these cars, and there was the niggling doubt - what if I don't like them as much in the metal? So, I'm pleased to say that that concern is comfortably dealt with. There is always a chance of course that my more likely target - the Elise - will leave me wanting the Exige. But if so, so be it. What I can conclude for sure from today is this: a Lotus - at some point and in some place - is on my horizon.
I need a few more driving experiences first to draw enough of a conclusion to choose the model, but I can see what the fuss is about, and becoming part of it is very tempting.
Thanks everyone here for the welcome, and for the advice. I can tell already that there is a nice community here.
Photos - (I have obscured the licence plates, not sure if that is etiquette here for cars you don't own, but no harm in doing it) - first sight of the Exige in the dealership carpark. the beautiful 'Porsche Riviera Blue' paint is well framed by the giants either side. And then a smiling me right after the test drive.