Forget it, no matter. We’re on our way to Hethel. Think instead of the racing legends that have made this journey. Like Emerson Fittipaldi, sideburns like a pair of giant South American caterpillars, on his way to a meeting with Chapman. Or a slight young man from Brazil: shy smile, burning dedication, freakish talent. One of his old cars sits in the foyer today – the word 'Senna' painted in gold on the side. Iconic. This is hallowed ground for the car enthusiast.
Today, a Burnt Orange Exige S Performance Pack sits quietly alone in the murk. Not a catchy title, but as ever, what a memorable impression it makes: small, with aggressive form and proportion, a day-glow realisation of anger on four wheels with typically clinical Lotus execution.
The Performance Pack is part of a host of revisions across the Elise/Exige range for the 2008 model year. All models receive driver and passenger airbags, a new instrument cluster (classy), engine start button (why?), a single multifunction key (at last!) and 'senosoft' soft touch dashboard. Yes, the latter feels like texturing spray-on paint and will hardly give Audi's head of interior quality sleepless nights, but the overall effect is to be encouraged. There's definitely a more expensive aura in here now.
The range of options has been simplified too, with the four old upgrade 'packs' roughly condensed into just one Touring and one Sport pack. The individual options have had a slight tweak too. Air conditioning now costs less at £1,000; an LSD is a fiver more at a grand.
The new type approved Performance Pack gives the Exige S the same bite as the limited edition Lotus Sport 240R and, you can't help thinking, has been done with more than one eye on distancing the Exige S from the forthcoming 220bhp Elise SC. To release the extra power, Lotus has developed a new roof panel
Is it worth it? Absolutely - let's be honest, the regular Exige S is hardly a toothless fairy, but once you've experienced the qualities of the Performance Pack you'll not be able to resist ticking that box on the order sheet. In many ways the pack reveals the full potential of the Toyota engine in the Exige, because it retains and builds on all of the good bits of the standard supercharged installation, but injects back into the mix that feeling of manic top end aggression inherent in the naturally aspirated version.
You now have two clear options for going quickly. If you just want to go very fast, you can mine the rich seam of power and torque between 4,000-6,000rpm. Sure, once you've registered 3,000rpm the Lotus jumps forward keenly, but it's in this band that the Exige now charges ahead with renewed enthusiasm. Even in fourth gear it'll accelerate with real conviction – easily quick enough to dismiss a short straight between corners with a jab of throttle, without the need to use the snappy gearlever.
But when you feel like stepping up to another altogether more barking level, all you have
Driving a B road using all of the available revs and power in this Exige is now a more intense experience than ever, especially today, with plenty of grimy standing water and the frequent hazard of mud smeared across the road from a departing tractor, thoughtfully hidden behind a blind bend. But it isn't frightening in this car because it's such a great communicator. It may be faster than ever, but thanks to the uprated brakes, the Exige now feels as if you've unfurled a huge sail above the tail when you jump on the middle pedal. Then there's the superb variable traction control system to help you out too, although, at a swift but steady seven-tenths pace the system only cut in twice on these roads because firstly, there's a surprising amount of grip generated even in these conditions by the Yokohamas, and secondly, after a few miles the link between brain and engine becomes so direct, thanks to the superb throttle calibration, you can summon exactly the right amount of power as and when you want it.
That connection between man and machine is the key to the Exige driving experience. Of course, it's now blisteringly fast, but it's the way it communicates with you that really gets under your skin. At one point, accelerating hard in fourth gear on a very wet long straight road, the steering wheel suddenly squirmed just a little: just the most delicate of wriggles between fingers and thumbs and a miniscule lightening of steering effort. Retracing the route later showed the road had been resurfaced at some point and the asphalt was of a slightly different quality with marginally – and I'm talking barely a gnat’s dribble here – more water retained on the surface. The Exige had told me so earlier; it was just up to me to listen.
All of this fun does cost, however. Take an Exige S at £34,550 (plus £950 on the road charges), add £3,000 for the performance pack, another £2,000 for the touring pack because you fancied a bit of carpet and £1,000 for air conditioning to cool you down after some quick laps. Add a further £1,500 for the Sport pack because you know you should, and another £1,000 for the new forged wheels because you know you can't resist them and they save nearly 14kg all-round, plus £2,000 for the admittedly attractive orange hue of this car, and you've spent £46,000. Gulp. And you still can't se
Oh well, excellence costs, and the moment you've stopped driving it, you really want to jump back in and drive it again. The Exige S remains a fantastic car to drive into, through, and out of corners. The Performance Pack now makes getting to them faster, and more exciting, than ever.