The Lotus Exige has been around since the Elise was made a little more hardcore some 12 years ago. A more track focussed car than it’s predecessor the Exige was further updated to the S2 in 2004 and received power boost through a supercharger in 2005 in the shape of the Exige 240r. Lotus sold a supercharged Exige until the end of 2010 when Euro V emissions regulations made the Toyota-sourced 1.8l 2ZZ-GE no longer available in Europe.
Fast forward to the Frankfurt Motor Show in September 2011 and Lotus unveiled the new and improved 3.5l V6 supercharged Exige S with a promised sub 4 second 0-60 sprint and 170mph top speed. The car has now made it through homologation for the UK and Europe (it will be available as a track only car in the USA, as per the 2-Eleven) and TLF have now been lucky enough to have the chance to experience the car on the road and track.
While many reviewers are more than capable drivers of this level of car what we wanted to know is how exactly the car felt for the sort of person who is likely to be heading into their local showroom and placing an order for the Exige S. With a few track days, some fairly decent driver training and over a decade of Lotus ownership experience including almost a year in a variety of Evora’s hopefully you’ll be able to relate to the way this car makes an average enthusiast feel and what enjoyment we can get out of the car. Not every journey is a sideways, tyre smoking, rev limiter bouncing festival of consumption but when the opportunity presents itself it’s nice to be in a car which can extract maximum pleasure from the roads we find ourselves on. Track days are fun too.
Firstly we were able to spend a decent amount of time on Norfolk’s back roads, the kind of roads that this car has no doubt covered many miles on with the Lotus dynamics engineers working their magic. The Toyota-sourced 3.5l 2GR-FE V6 has really transformed the drivability of the Exige S on these roads with huge levels of torque available from fairly low down in the rev range. Not to say that the car doesn’t enjoy being revved highly, but having instant access to a tidal wave of torque (74% increase compared to the previous Exige S 240) gives a shove in the back that elicits giggles, yes giggles from the driver. It’s bonkers. Sorry, I’d love to find another way to describe this but this is where 99% of the fun in driving is and this car accelerates like a rocket ship! Nail a corner just right, bury the throttle at the apex and you’re propelled through the 2nd half of the corner with the Pirelli P-Zero Trofeo’s gripping for all they’re worth as you realise time and space are flexible and you’ve just entered a new dimension. This is all the more clear as our test car is fitted with the optional Race Pack which includes the grippier tyres and a bespoke geometry and suspension package to match them. Overtaking requires less thought as you spend less time doing it, it’s a much quicker process often using the gear you’re in rather than needing to drop down. You’re in front of the car you just passed in double short time. See, Bonkers!
Driving on such road surfaces it’s not obvious that the car is so track-focussed if you’re not leaning on it so much. With the Lotus DPM (Dynamic Performance Management) in ‘Touring’, the exhaust growls but doesn’t deafen and decent miles could be covered with ProBax (heated!) seats offering good and comfortable support. Certainly not the GT that the Evora is but a more than reasonable car to travel distances in, tracks on the continent would be easily accessible. It’s even got a usable boot! The Trofeo’s are however noisy on the concrete surface of the A11 through Norfolk and sticky enough to kick stones into the arches when warm, you’ll struggle to have a normal conversation at the national speed limit but smoother tarmac shouldn’t be half as bad, not dissimilar to A048 or comparable tyres in truth. There’s also the benefit of the reduction in steering ratio reducing the turning circle significantly aiding every day drive-ability.
There are 4 modes now to the DPM system: Touring (everything on – Anti-lock Brakes, Hydraulic Brake Assist, Electronic Brake Distribution, Corner Braking Control, Drag Torque Control, Electronic Differential Control, Electronic Stability Control & Understeer Recognition) which is ‘normal driving’ mode, Sport (sharper throttle response, more slip allowed, exhaust bypass valve open at high RPM, increased redline from 6,800 to 7,200 & no understeer recognition) which is your ‘pressing on’ mode, Race (as Sport but with even less stability control intervention, exhaust valve fixed open, launch control available and race traction control) and finally Off (brake assists only). Just for reference, the Off mode is accessed by holding the self centering selector in Race for 3+ seconds, the dash display changes to show you what’s what as the word Race disappears and the traction control warning light stays on, it’s not easy to accidentally turn everything off!
Moving onto the track the Exige S can really be explored further. In Sport mode the car behaves just how you like it to, the brakes are more than you’ll ever need showing no signs of fade or vibration even under heavy braking into the chicane on Hethel’s test track a number of laps in. The exhaust note is amazing, a real motorsport roar higher up the RPM range and very enjoyable too. I’m sure the chassis is as clever as they say, it certainly does what you want of it and tells you everything you need to know about the available grip and balance of the car and the steering really is telepathic, you really don’t have to think consciously about it, you’re that in tune with the car. The gearchange is fast, smooth and positive thanks to the motorsport derived gearchange cables lifted straight from the MY12 Evora. Fun stuff.
Something Lotus have done is to offer a comparison of how this car compares to the most extreme Exige in it’s previous form, the Cup 260, around the new track at Hethel. The car shaves over 5 seconds off a 2.2 mile lap and peaks 11mph faster down the old runway straight towards the new chicane. Here’s a speed trace to give you an idea of the comparison.
There are various other enhancements Lotus have made to the car to improve it’s on-limit handling such as on the front of the car increasing the back-lock angle (better for catching oversteer), redesigned wishbones to widen the track, reducing castor and increasing camber plus an increased diameter ARB with a revised mounting system. The rear axle features increased lateral stiffness, bespoke forged wishbones, increased anti-squat (for all that bonkers torque!), a rear ARB and dual path mounting system for the springs/dampers to isolate the subframe from some of the road imperfections in everyday use.
Going back to the DPM on the Exige S, the Race mode features a first for Lotus. The system, developed in conjunction with Bosch specifically for this car is for those people who are taking their track work to a further level. The system constantly measures the available grip to the rear tyres at any given time on any given surface and then delivers the optimum power and slip to maximise acceleration. What this means is that you concentrate on the braking and turn in and when you’re leaving the corner you can just bury the throttle. Usually with this much power you’ll see some oversteer as the rear tyres break traction. With normal traction control you’ll notice a lack of power as the TC reigns the rear in but the Exige S carves a perfect line on the track every time. If track days are where you see yourself in an Exige S, the Corsa tyres are priced at £294 front and £334 rear, Trofeo tyres are £324 front and £374 rear and a set of front pads are £142 (all plus VAT). Being a relatively lightweight car it should, in typical Lotus fashion be easy on these consumables, these are current Lotus prices from a dealer so you know. Obviously you can shop around and some dealers offer discounts to our members too it’s worth remembering. Also check with your dealer about the warranty as it’s unlikely the powertrain would be covered from problems caused on track as per most manufacturers but any other manufacturing defects will still be fine.
Dealer demonstrators are due to be arriving in July. If you’re interested in a serious track day car that you can use around Europe and for small tours which isn’t impossible even to use on a daily basis then you will not find anything that competes at this price, we’re confident of that.
Base Price: £52,900 + OTR costs
Price as tested: £59,745
0-60 4.0 seconds | 0-100 8.5 seconds | Top Speed 170mph
Photos: Gary Thwaites