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It’s been 16 months since we first saw the Exige S with its roof off at the Geneva Salon De L’Automobile in March 2012. Since then Lotus have led us to believe that with the production of the Exige S coupé, quality has risen across the whole supply chain ensuring that the externally supplied components that go to make up the car are as good as they can be, on time and on cost. We had a chance to see this first hand in our first drive of the Exige S Roadster.

We drove the Exige S coupé last May and were impressed with the performance of the car to say the least. Lotus have made a number of small but of course important changes to the car to produce the Roadster version. The first you’ll notice are the external changes which include deletion of the front splitter, the rear wing and of course the roof (which in true Lotus style leads to a 10kg total weight saving!). The removal of the aero package actually reduces the coefficient of drag by a very small amount (0.02), not enough to notice but it does have a more noticeable effect on high speed cornering stability. This is shown on the track at Hethel through the high speed corner at Windsock and through the quick complex that starts at Clark past the pit lane into the Graham Hill bends meaning in real terms that the Roadster is 1.6 seconds slower around the circuit. This is still a remarkable 3.8 seconds faster than the very quick range topping Exige Cup 260 from the car’s previous incarnation so it’s not slouch.

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With the soft top, the car now also features an electronic speed limiter for safety reasons, set to 145 mph reducing the top speed seen in the coupé which is 170 mph.  There’s good reason for this and its a feature seen on many soft top equipped sports cars as there’s a real possibility of the roof literally being sucked off the car at higher speeds. As with the previous car, many coupé owners may elect to remove their hard top but with the soft top fitted, you’re putting yourself and others in real danger if you exceed these speeds. The Roadster also features a revised geometry setup with an decrease in front camber and increase in rear camber to balance the car with the lack of splitter/wing and a thicker rear anti-roll bar to enable better under load cornering stability.

The car we tested was not fitted with the ‘Race Pack’ which includes a more aggressive suspension setup (15% stiffer) and can include Pirelli Trofeo tyres as opposed to the standard Pirelli Corsa tyres. We did however have the upgraded brake package which features a 2 piece disc which will fare better on lengthy track sessions. Other options on the test car are as follows:

  • Exige S Roadster: £52,900
  • Premium Pack : £2,000
  • Convenience Pack: £350
  • Air Conditioning: £1,100
  • Rear Parking Sensors: £350
  • Heated Seats: £350
  • Brake Upgrade: £1,700
  • Metallic Paint (Nightfall Blue): £600

Total Cost as tested: £59,350. Options available but not fitted include the Race Pack (£2,000), hard top (£1,100), Pirelli Trofeo tyres (£800) and various paint options (from £600 to £1,800).

The first thing which is very obvious when setting off in the Roadster is that it’s actually quite relaxing to drive. The coupé is a full on, in your face barrage of driving which makes you feel that you’re at ten tenths even on a trip to the supermarket with road noise from the optional sticky Trofeo tyres, tonnes of steering feedback and that race car feel even at lower speeds.  Making progress around the country roads and lanes of Norfolk in the Roadster with the wind in your hair is a very different experience and for this type of driving, the more enjoyable for it. Of course there’s power in droves, evidenced best by use of 3rd and 4th gear where those bucket loads of torque are always available from the Toyota sourced supercharged 3.5 V6. It’s these two gears which elicit the most fun on our test drive and they still very much retain the ability to make you giggle like a school child after a series of nicely linked corners or an easy overtake. With the roof off, the car also feels less claustrophobic and even though in real terms it’s not, visibility feels much better. This again adds to the relaxed feel of driving the car as do the floors mats and half carpet set which reduce road noise coupled with less sticky Pirelli Corsa tyres. The Roadster, when in ‘Sport’ mode changes certain parameters on the car including setting the ‘Engine Protection Valve’ (aka awesome noise flap) in the exhaust to be always open (rather than just at 4,700rpm and above in Tour) and a sharper throttle response although our car did show a resonance on trailing throttle from the exhaust at lower speeds which proved tiring in town driving. This flap can be set to be permanently open in ‘Race’ mode on the cars equipped with the Race Pack and there’s also an optional ‘closed’ button installation on the steering column shroud for noise restricted track days. Another benefit of the ‘Sport’ mode is a sharper throttle response, so higher input for given pedal travel which incidentally makes heel & toe driving much easier once you’re keyed into the expected reaction to your foot blip.

In terms of the fit and finish of the car, there’s little left to chance. Although the dash area hasn’t changed much the premium interior in Cognac Brown leather with quilted ProBax seats and door cards adds a nice touch of luxury to the interior. The stereo now features a USB port rather than iPod connector to allow for more device connectivity and with heated seats and air conditioning, the car is usable all year round. Everything fits as it should, no squeaks or rattles and it felt a nice place to be, who doesn’t love roof off motoring!?

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Getting onto the Hethel test track we initially used the DPM (Dynamic Performance Management) in ‘Touring’ mode which isn’t ideal for track use as you’re on the limit of the boundaries it’s constrained by, if not beyond them. In ‘Sport’ mode with many of the assistances turned off the car really comes alive. The chassis is remarkable, it’s compliance with the steering and suspension giving you that famous Lotus telepathic change of direction which make the car a real joy to drive. It’s a real confidence inspiring car, backed up by it’s abilities which mean lap after lap you’re getting quicker and quicker, smiling wider and wider! The Roadster has the agility of the Elise/Exige with a tendency to be more communicative when over/understeer is closeby due to the longer wheel base which makes for easier performance driving. It also has the power of the Evora without the weight so feels a lot more nimble and progressive than its elder stablemate and the 2 piece brakes fitted showed no signs whatsoever of even being phased by on-limit braking continuously, they really are more than up for the job . The gear change is smooth and precise, as good as any manual Evora we’ve driven. While never as good as a ‘stick in the box’ change it’s very good for a cable routed system and again inspired confidence in high engine RPM up and down shifts.  In comparison to the coupé on track, at the levels we drive at, there’s very little difference and in truth, I’m not sure I’ve driven a better car on track than the Roadster.

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Given the Exige range now we have the Cup cars for those looking for that extreme end of the spectrum and permanent high performance motoring, a must for track day addicts. The coupé is for track drivers who want some creature comforts and a more edgy Exige and the Roadster for a very usable, very fast and very capable GT car which outshines most when you arrive at the ‘Ring after a 500 mile drive there, as fresh as a daisy!

Images courtesy of TLF’er Malcolm Feth of www.nineteen80one.com and you can keep up with his excellent work on facebook. Click gallery images to expand.

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