Lotus Exige S review
The Lotus Exige S adds V6 power to the lightweight sports car to create one of the best handling cars on the market
The Lotus Exige S is a rival for similarly priced high performance coupes like the Porsche Cayman R and BMW M3. But it's much more of a thriller than either of those two, and is even more compromised. Unlike its lightweight predecessor, it's powered by a supercharged 3.5-litre V6, so performance has taken a big leap forward.
With a more aggressive look and upgraded suspension, it looks and feels like a compact version of a proper supercar – and it's astonishing to drive, with brilliant handling and straight line performance. It still feels like a low-volume hand-built machine, though, which is the major downside, but it's certainly fun.
Its focused and engaging nature makes the standard six-speed manual gearbox the one to stick with, but recently Lotus has made the lightweight sportscar available with a new automatic gearbox for a £2,000 premium.
Our choice: Lotus Exige S coupe
Take an Elise, add a longer wheelbase, wider track, new rear subframe, pumped-up bodykit with vast aerodynamic additions and larger wheels and you've got the Lotus Exige S. It looks very aggressive and stands out far more than a Porsche Cayman on the road.
In fact, it looks so dramatic, we wouldn't be surprised if it turned as many heads as an Italian supercar costing three times the price. Inside, the cabin is stripped out and almost identical to that of the Elise, with a lot of switchgear borrowed from mainstream manufacturers, thin racing seats and exposed aluminium.
The cabin does away with modern-day luxuries such as electric seats, adjustable steering column and touchscreen infotainment system but Lotus do offer a Convenience pack which adds a cup-holder added sound deadening. Air conditioing is also availble as an optional extra.
This is where the Exige S really excels. The supercharged 345bhp 3.5-litre V6 offers searing acceleration, thrusting the 1,176kg Exige S from 0-60mph in just 3.8 seconds and on to a 170mph top speed. It doesn't sound as tuneful as a Cayman's flat-six, but it certainly delivers with lots of low-rev punch and high-rev urge.
The handling is even better. This is a car that tells you exactly what's going on at the front wheels, and together with the widened track and longer wheelbase, it's more grippy yet more stable than the Elise on which it's based. Incredibly, Lotus' engineers have also managed to make it ride comfortably too. One neat feature is the traction control system available on Race Pack versions which is so clever that even a professional driver is quicker around a racing circuit with it switched on than when off.
On the downside, the gearchange has a loose feel to it and the steering is heavy at parking speeds, while the engine is ever-present, especially at a high speed cruise when all the wind and road noise combine to make the stereo pointless... Ear plugs are a must for long journeys.The optional automatic gearbox is best avoided, with slow and clunky changes. It saps away the momentum you can easily gather in the car.
Yes, the Exige S has a driver and passenger airbag and ABS with stability control, but that's about it for safety aids. It's based on the Elise, and despite the higher price tag, you don't get more safety kit for your money. Lotus has never had the best reputation for reliability either, with numerous gremlins creeping in after a few months of ownership. Still, most people don't buy a Lotus to drive on a daily basis.
With just two seats, and a tiny 98-litre boot in the rear, the Exige S is about as impractical as cars get. The problems start when you try to get in: the wide sill and low roof make trying to slide elegantly into the driving seat very difficult indeed. Once inside, you'll find there's not much adjustment for the driver's seat – it doesn't slide back and forth very far – and the steering wheel is also fixed. Similarly priced rivals like the Porsche Cayman R are much better in every respect.
The Lotus Exige S doesn't weigh very much, so when you're cruising you'll probably manage more than 30mpg from the big V6. Use that performance, though, and you'll be filling up the relatively tiny 43-litre tank on a regular basis. The engine is very dirty too, with CO2 emissions of 236g/km, so your annual road tax bill will be high.
Lotus expects most Exige S owners to take their cars onto a racing circuit too, an environment in which it's quite easy to go through tyres and brakes – and they aren't cheap to replace. Add in service intervals of just 9,000 miles, and it becomes clear that running an Exige S is an expensive venture.