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Wednesday 25th April 2012

Driven: Lotus Exige S

Why you need to be excited about the 350hp V6 Exige S - having driven it Chris Harris already is



Bigger, heavier, faster, more expensive: not a collection of adjectives that fills a chap with joy as he’s about to try and understand the new Lotus Exige S. I mean who ever countenanced the idea of a 1,176kg Exige?

No celebs, no nonsense - just a cracking car
No celebs, no nonsense - just a cracking car
Don’t get hung-up on the weight though. From the seats forwards, this car may be very similar to the old Exige, but the improvements wrought in every single area of performance are so great that this car really deserves a new name.

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.

Exige is all new from the bulkhead back
Exige is all new from the bulkhead back
In with the new
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.

Styling puts more ground between it and Elise
Styling puts more ground between it and Elise
The cabin is tight and familiar. Despite some snazzy seat trims and revised clock faces, it struggles to support the £50K price tag. You start the car using a key, which is a welcome change these days – it fires with a vigorous ‘parp’ and then rests. It never sounds expensive or sophisticated, because it isn’t, but it flings the Exige S up the road with some force. The cable gearshift is the best I’ve used in a Lotus – miles better than those early Evoras.

Conditions: wet
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.

A zingy 350hp from the Toyota sourced V6
A zingy 350hp from the Toyota sourced V6
There are three settings, Touring, Sport and Race. In Touring the Exige is as close to unstickable as any track machine I’ve driven. Full traction control works alongside ESP and understeer control. In the lashing rain, you can use full throttle from before the apex and a few degrees of steering correction will suffice. Plough-in too early and the nose is trimmed by barely perceptible inside front brake applications. It will make less experienced drivers feel like instant heroes.

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.

Even in these conditions the Exige works
Even in these conditions the Exige works
Electronically enhanced
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.

Race mode 'reads' grip levels
Race mode 'reads' grip levels
It’s not an inspirational powertrain like a GT3’s, but it’s vivacious, interesting and very effective. The brakes are superb in the wet (I didn’t try them in the dry) and the car now has much less roll than old Exige. All of the chassis changes and improvements centre around the new, much more robust rear axle assembly, and the rear anti-roll bar. Best whisper that last bit to keep the purists happy. The steering is especially gorgeous: faster than before, but wriggling with life and information.

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.

Familiar - and cosy - in here
Familiar - and cosy - in here
What’s wrong with it? I think the rear bumper’s a bit heavy-handed, the cabin as mentioned feels cramped and old, and you still can’t sit low enough relative to the wheel. It could also do with some lightly-locking rear differential for more pleasurable hooning. We were using the optional £2,000 track pack suspension, which still felt supple, and the standard Pirelli Corsa tyre which was blinding in the wet. There’s a stickier Trofeo version for an extra £800.

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
Weight: 1,176kg
MPG: 28mpg (NEDC combined)
CO2: 236g/km
Price: c. £53,000







Chris Harris
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Author Discussion

redgriff500

Original Poster:

9,629 posts

151 months

[news] 
Wednesday 25th April 2012 quote quote all
At last one with decent amount of power but £53K for a faster Elise - how many will they sell ?

Unfortunately not many I'd guess.

ticedtwice

3 posts

32 months

[news] 
Wednesday 25th April 2012 quote quote all
Looks like a Noble does it not?!

housen

658 posts

80 months

[news] 
Wednesday 25th April 2012 quote quote all
53k wow

same old really

but this one looks a bit chavvy

but i think its to do with the colour they chose

wiliferus

2,500 posts

86 months

[news] 
Wednesday 25th April 2012 quote quote all
Want, very very much!

smartypants

22,246 posts

57 months

[news] 
Wednesday 25th April 2012 quote quote all
I think I need to drive one. Every other Elise/Exige I've driven feels NOTHING like a £53k car. I'd be very interested in taking that around a track.

In a different colour though, that is vile smile
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DJRC

22,370 posts

124 months

[news] 
Wednesday 25th April 2012 quote quote all
redgriff500 said:
At last one with decent amount of power but £53K for a faster Elise - how many will they sell ?

Unfortunately not many I'd guess.
Everyone they can make. They have an order bank of 500 for Coupe and roadster. The question is over the company proceeding ahead, not the car itself.

Frimley111R

5,899 posts

122 months

[news] 
Wednesday 25th April 2012 quote quote all
redgriff500 said:
At last one with decent amount of power but £53K for a faster Elise - how many will they sell ?

Unfortunately not many I'd guess.
Its all relative. Lotus don't need to sell tens of thousands of cars like others. They've got a good number of pre orders and the cars are selling well in Asia.

chris watton

16,233 posts

148 months

[news] 
Wednesday 25th April 2012 quote quote all
Seems like a genuine alternative to a TVR Sagaris! I'd love one!

LuS1fer

31,796 posts

133 months

[news] 
Wednesday 25th April 2012 quote quote all
The rear bumper is indeed heavy, the colour is not flattering, I think they should have taken the opportunity of changing the rear light assemblies for something more integrated but other than that, it seems a far better proposition. I know £53k is a lot of wonga but it's a lot cheaper than a GT3.

Not sure what a rear anti-roll car is though.... wink

stew-S160

6,546 posts

126 months

[news] 
Wednesday 25th April 2012 quote quote all
I'm pretty sure I saw the prototypes at Millbrook last year.

Anyway, WANT! Really really want!

Agree about the rear bumper being a bit 'heavy' looking. As for the rest of the car, it's all I could ever want in a car.

Krikkit

5,222 posts

69 months

[news] 
Wednesday 25th April 2012 quote quote all
Love the looks, even the rear looks kind of purposeful, it certainly doesn't spoil it.

But... An Exige full of electronics? That sounds a little like heresy to me. Maybe it should have a new name instead.

Either way though, if it really is that good, £53k sounds quite reasonable.

b14

451 posts

76 months

[news] 
Wednesday 25th April 2012 quote quote all
Well done Lotus, another gem. Plenty of pre-orders mean this one is likely to be a success. Can't wait for my drive.

Lyons

109 posts

172 months

[news] 
Wednesday 25th April 2012 quote quote all
Not as pretty than the previouse Exige by a long way. But the Noble M12 was ugly as F, and that sold well.

It still doesn't seem like a lot of performance for the money though. If they would crank it up to 400hp, then I'd be interested.

s m

10,736 posts

91 months

[news] 
Wednesday 25th April 2012 quote quote all
LuS1fer said:
Not sure what a rear anti-roll car is though.... wink
Looks like a typo to me - should say bar - Lotus don't usually use rear ones

rhinochopig

17,150 posts

86 months

[news] 
Wednesday 25th April 2012 quote quote all
"From the seats forwards, this car may be very similar to the old Exige"

<sigh> So yet again Lotus alienate potential buyers who happen to be tall. And Lotus want to sell cars in the US. Come on Lotus, sort your ergonomics out.

Dan Trent

1,048 posts

56 months

PH Editor Bloke

[news] 
Wednesday 25th April 2012 quote quote all
LuS1fer said:
The rear bumper is indeed heavy, the colour is not flattering, I think they should have taken the opportunity of changing the rear light assemblies for something more integrated but other than that, it seems a far better proposition. I know £53k is a lot of wonga but it's a lot cheaper than a GT3.

Not sure what a rear anti-roll car is though.... wink
Typo indeed. Shame Riggers isn't here to blame for letting it through but I guess I'll have to take the hit on that one! wink

Updated...


MagicalTrevor

5,465 posts

117 months

[news] 
Wednesday 25th April 2012 quote quote all
wiliferus said:
Want, very very much!
Very, very want!

Krikkit

5,222 posts

69 months

[news] 
Wednesday 25th April 2012 quote quote all
Lyons said:
It still doesn't seem like a lot of performance for the money though. If they would crank it up to 400hp, then I'd be interested.
I think it's a pretty conservative tune state to make sure the engine is totally reliable. I bet it wouldn't be too hard to get a different pulley and a remap onto it for a big more. smile

ravon

380 posts

170 months

[news] 
Wednesday 25th April 2012 quote quote all
Looks like just the car Lotus excel at building, would love one, but old age and a wrecked back make ingress and egress an unbearable chore . I'm told this was a Mike Kimberley car that Bahar canned on taking over the top job, is this correct ?

Moley RUFC

2,576 posts

77 months

[news] 
Wednesday 25th April 2012 quote quote all
"On the back of a deal with Mansory for future styling Lotus have also done a deal with budget wheel maker Wolfrace, the deal means any Lotus owner can update their Elise or Exige for just £299 a set from a local Halfords"
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