The lightweight Exige frame and supercharged 345bhp V6 Evora engine is a tantalising combination, so an eighth-place finish is quite a disappointment.
To look at, nothing in our test screamed performance more than the Exige S. To turn it into a racing car, all you’d need is some numbers on the doors.
Inside, it’s as spartan as they come. There’s a neat iPhone dock and decent stereo, but it fights a losing battle with the wonderful noise from the supercharged V6.
This snarling exhaust note can be further enhanced by pushing a button on the steering column, which opens a tailpipe valve for increased aural thrills.
On the road, the Exige S is a phenomenal performer. The engine has a huge wave of mid-range torque. Better still, the steering is dripping with feedback, there’s bags of grip and the perfectly judged suspension strikes a great balance between tight body control and a supple ride.
However, many Exige S buyers are likely to want to use their cars on track days, which is where the Lotus fell down on our test. Yes, it has lots of power, but without a limited-slip diff it couldn’t put this down cleanly on the exit of corners. The 62.9-second lap time was disappointing, especially when you consider that this was matched by the far heavier Mercedes SL63 AMG.
Some suspect build quality and a thirsty engine – with a miniscule fuel tank that forces you to stop to fill up every 100 miles or so – only added to the feeling that the Exige S was the underachiever in this year’s test.
Driving the Exige S from Lotus HQ in Norfolk to Wales was an experience. Even getting in was the work of a contortionist, due to the low-slung body, narrow door openings and wide sills. Once you’re aboard, though, the huge performance and razor-sharp handling make the Exige great fun. But the tiny fuel tank means you’ll soon be contorting yourself again to get out and fill up...