New Lotus Exige Sport 350 review
New flagship version of Exige sports car maintains brilliant driving experience
Lotus calls the Exige Sport 350 the ‘ultimate incarnation’ of the mid-engined sports car, and we see no reason to argue with that. It still has its flaws, namely getting in and out and a lack of luggage space, but it excels on every other level. Few other manufacturers make cars that handle or deliver such an uncorrupted driving experience as well as Lotus. It might be getting on a bit, but the Exige is still one of the best sports cars in the business.
Every manufacturer has a particular skill set. It just so happens Lotus’s centres around making very light and very fast sports cars. The new Exige Sport 350 is a perfect example of how the Norfolk based brand operates – adding performance not through boosting power, but by stripping out any unnecessary weight.
By shipping the existing Exige S off to the gym, the Sport 350 is welcomed back leaner, meaner and even quicker. Hardly a heavyweight to begin with, Lotus has managed to remove 51kg from the 1,176kg Exige S. It’s been done, Lotus says, by adding a lighter battery, a new louvered tailgate, new engine mounts, a revised centre console and even lighter body panels.
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To shave every unnecessary kilo, engineers completely stripped the Exige to the sum of its parts, laid every body panel and screw in its ‘Lightweight Laboratory’ and scrutinised each component. If it wasn’t needed it was discarded, and if too heavy, it was redesigned from new materials. The handbrake, for example, looks identical but is 26 grams lighter than before.
What hasn’t been tinkered with is the 345bhp 3.5-litre V6. Here it’s paired with a tweaked six-speed manual gearbox, while a six-speed auto is a £2,000 option.
Lotus has listened to criticisms of the manual gearbox in the outgoing Exige S and made the necessary alterations. Shifts are now shorter, snappier and more precise than before, but not only can you feel the changes, you can see them too – thanks to the fantastic exposed gear linkage. But Lotus being Lotus, this system also serves a purpose, as the redesigned centre console used to accommodate it is now 1.5kg lighter.
The changes add up to a car that’s not only quicker in a straight line – 0-62mph takes 3.9 seconds (one tenth faster than before) – but faster everywhere else. The Exige Sport 350 is the quickest production car to ever lap Lotus’s Hethel test track.
New dampers and camber adjustments make the Exige more alert and even more direct than before, with steering so detailed in its feedback and a front-end faithful to even the most minute inputs.
The engine remains razor-sharp in its responses too, with the faintest flex of your right foot punching you back in your seat as the Exige lurches forward. Lotus’s DPM system is now standard, with Sport and Race modes adjusting the traction control, opening the exhaust and sharpening the throttle response. But for such a focused car, the ride is remarkably compliant – even over the battered British B-roads we subjected the car to. Sure, it’s firm, but take an Alfa 4C down the same stretch of road and you’ll be visiting the chiropractitioner for weeks.