“No” the Lotus fan screams at the thought of the manual gearbox taking another step towards obscurity and who would have thought it from their favourite manufacturer! Panic over, the Exige S Automatic from Lotus is an option, not a requirement. The car is Lotus’ answer to the swelling markets worldwide and especially Far East where manual cars just aren’t the norm. “Pure Driving Pleasure” does help with the involvement of the gear change for sure, but the dynamics of the car will never be enjoyed by a huge chunk of the car buying world without an auto being available. Bearing in mind that Lotus are building more IPS Evora’s than manual now it makes sense to offer the Exige S with a similar option.
We got the chance to get a first drive of the Automatic this week at the Lotus factory in Hethel and on the wonderful, albeit icy roads of Norfolk. First impressions would be based on a comparison to the Evora S IPS Sports Racer that TLF have recently spent 3 months driving as part of our Long Term Test series but it’s important to remember these are different cars for different reasons. The Exige is a track focussed 345bhp growling monster, the Evora being a 345bhp GT car which although more than capable on track is more suited to the family man with a passion for a B road blast on the way home from work or a road trip to the Alps which is also fun when you get there too!
As opposed to the Evora’s steering wheel mounted paddles the Exige S has them mounted as part of the steering column shroud and this is for a reason. As the car is more track focussed (and you’ll notice this paddle position on many touring car setups), the paddles are kept static to encourage gear changes with a straighter steering wheel. There aren’t many times on track when you’ll be wanting to change up or down with extreme steering angles at play as the weight transfer caused by the change could go a long way towards unsettling the balance at the worst time. Lotus quote a shift speed of 240ms, that’s less than a quarter of a second although this is the ‘Shift Speed Phase’ of the change which is purely the time taken by the U660E gearbox to swap gears entirely, not the time from your first touch of the paddle to the next gear being fully engaged. This quick shift is faster than you’ll be able to perform in a manual and this in turn brings the Automatic’s 0-100kph down 0.1 second to 3.9 seconds although the revised ratios bring the Coupe’s top speed down to 162mph from 170mph and the Roadster is unchanged at a limited top speed of 145mph. The other benefits of the longer top gear ratios is an increase in fuel economy and lowering of CO2 emissions (now 222g/km from 235g/km).
While the Exige’s TCU (Transmission Control Unit) shares the same architecture as the Evora IPS the setup is again more track focussed. Using the new DPM selection switch (now a vertical rocker with left being ‘minus’ and right being ‘plus’ to move between DPM modes) if you select ‘Sport’ mode the Exige performs the automatic heel-toe throttle blip for you but now it’s a lot more aggressive with the car hitting the throttle harder and quicker for you. With the exhaust valve on the Exige now open and a more raspy note than the Evora this is not an unpleasant experience, very race car and very much in keeping with what you’re driving! For those moments however when you’re on a long and boring drive or stuck in traffic, with the DPM off and the gearbox in full auto mode the experience is all together more relaxing with the gear changes almost seamless both up and down and barely noticeable.
Automatic upshifts feel rapid and in Sport are approaching the redline (7,200rpm in Sport) so you’ll only see changes up to 3rd gear while keeping in the speed limits in the UK with a flat throttle as the top of 3rd gear is just over 100mph! Using the paddles the upshift felt a little slower than the Evora but this is likely due to the paddles having a long and softer throw on the Exige so you need to get on with the shift slightly earlier in the rev range although the shift actually is physically quicker than the Evora, again in keeping with the purpose of the Exige. The control panel for the gears is where you’d expect it in the centre console and is artfully created, giving easy access to everything you need.
This car will sell in the right markets and will open up a new customer base previously alienated by manual transmissions. It makes a lot of sense for the company to take advantage of the option and will lead to more sales of an already very successful model which is no bad thing and remember, it’s an option (£1,667 in the UK, €2,185 in the EU before tax, RoW pricing tbc).
Click any image below to open the gallery. Photos courtesy of nineteen80one.com