Driven: Lotus Exige S
Why you need to be excited about the 350hp V6 Exige S - having driven it Chris Harris already is
In Meccano-speak, this car is an Exige running an Evora S supercharged V6 powertrain with a bespoke rear chassis assembly, a new steering rack, new front suspension geometry and Bosch’s latest chassis electronics. For a sniff under £53,000, it offers 0-100mph in 8.5 seconds and has hit 170mph at Nardo. Around the new Hethel circuit the car is claimed to be five seconds faster than the last hair-brained four-cylinder Exige, the Cup 260.
Like me, you’ll scoff at the claim – until you’ve driven the thing.
But first the alterations. A completely new rear chassis assembly is bolted to the original Elise/Exige aluminium tub. All the components are new, and the suspension arms are of higher quality than those used on the Evora S. All the rear suspension bushes are taken from that car – they’re bigger and more capable than before. The front axle remains the same (sadly no Evora bushes for the front, they wouldn’t fit) but with new geometry and a different rack. There’s increased lock and reduced camber to keep the weight sensible – is this now the heaviest car without power assisted steering?
Apart from some small calibration changes, the powertrain is pure Evora S: 350hp at 7,000rpm and 295lb ft at a usefully low 4,500rpm.
I only have time to drive the car on the new Hethel track. It’s wet, not something I would normally want in an Exige, but this isn’t anything like the old car. Its basic physics – 70mm longer wheelbase, more steering lock and more grip – immediately give the driver much more confidence than any predecessor carrying the same name, but it’s the way it works with the Bosch wizardry that takes the Exige into new territory for Lotus and, indeed, the trackday marketplace.
Sport mode removes the understeer control, increases the slip allowed on the rear axle, sharpens the throttle response and opens a bypass valve in the exhaust. It feels more urgent, but the extra noise is for spectators – the cabin is already full of angry V6 intake and supercharger whine. The car now offers less protection for the foolish and more movement for the adventurous but, as with Touring mode, the interventions are so subtle and helpful, you never find yourself cursing them.
The real gem is Race mode. What you’d expect is a further reduction is assistance and almost-spin levels of rear liveliness. You’d be wrong. What you actually get is a state-of-the-art traction control map that can learn not only the grip level of the circuit underneath you, but which of the two OE Pirelli tyres the machine is rolling on. After experiencing its freakish brilliance, I asked project chief Matt Becker to explain how the hell a black box can learn grip levels almost instantly. “I asked Bosch the same question and they sent me a massive manual,” he says. “I still don’t fully understand it.”
You can quickly reach the point where you hold the throttle pedal wide-open and just feel the ‘brain’ juggling the input.
Fun for all
The truth is the added rear support has allowed Matt and his team to make this car much easier to drive fast. That’s what I hadn’t expected. If you are someone of modest driving talent, there is much more to enjoy here than in a GT3 because the combination of mid-engined layout and quite brilliant chassis systems make it so much easier for the driver. More experienced hands will just revel in the traction control – it’s like a racer’s.
For the money, I can’t see anything to touch this as road/track device other than a used 997 GT3. It’s fast, capable and very desirable.
At last, from within the madness, Lotus has produced a world-class sports car.
Want to see more? Chris's video on the Exige S will follow later on today...
LOTUS EXIGE S
Engine: 3,456cc V6, supercharged
Transmission: 6-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 350@7,000rpm
Torque (lb ft):295@4,500rpm
0-62mph: 4.0 sec
Top speed: 170mph
MPG: 28mpg (NEDC combined)
Price: c. £53,000