Thursday 26th April 2012

Chris Harris video: Lotus Exige S

You've read the story (hopefully) - now watch Chris Harris and the Lotus Exige S on video!

The car oversteered in a manner I hadn't ever experienced before. If I had managed to throw every last degree of opposite lock at the slide at the right moment, it might just have been catchable, but I didn't get anywhere close. I was in a Lotus Elise, my two-month-old Lotus Elise - and it was about to undergo some choice bodywork modifications courtesy of my fledgling's lack of skill, a large grass bank and a maroon Volvo 440.

I use this tale, and the arrival of this superb Exige S to illustrate why this new car is so impressive. It isn't just an even progression from the 1996 Elise to the present day. To drive, it's a completely different machine. Tyre technology, chassis electronics and human knowledge have all had a drastic effect on what was, dare I say it, a pretty wild handling car from day one.

What the Elise had, from the start, was suppleness and clear, unhindered responses. Up to about 8/10ths, it was a masterclass in why all other sports cars weighed too much and carried way too much spring rate. Beyond that point, the original Elise was lethal. As mentioned above, I experienced this first hand. Big roll angles meant big lift-off oversteer, and the old P-Zero was shambolic in the wet. Don't buy into all this stuff about the early Elise being a honey - beyond 8/10ths it could be more spiteful than a 1977 911 Turbo.

Why so? Partly because the pure Lotus chassis thinking made it that way, but also because the team of test drivers, the Kershaws, Beckers, McQueens, were so handy that they could sort a wayward Elise at 100mph in the wet - the trouble being few other people could.

I ran a series one Exige in 2001 for eight months and 12,000 miles. It was a hoot, but its trick Yokohamas could also be a flipping nightmare in the wet. It was a car you didn't deliberately provoke because you weren't quite sure of the consequences.

The big change came with the series two Elise and its totally revised chassis and Bridgestone tyres. It was a much, much easier car to drive at the limit, and it set the tone for all subsequent improvements. Thereon in, the car became faster, meaner and aided by more complicated electronic systems, but it was still a saddled with too little power to be able to drive you out of a slidey-problem, and it lacked rear chassis stiffness, causing it to sap confidence when you turned into higher-speed turns. You turned the wheel and there was always this initial, disconcerting movement from the back of the car.

With the Exige S, that movement is gone. The car gives you way more confidence than the Sport 260, its systems are bewildering in their capabilities and the car now has proper propulsion. Switch the systems off, which you can do, and it'll hold slides. Silly, but fun.

This car doesn't drive like a continuation exercise. For me, it nails any Evora or outgoing Elise because it feels quite different to any other Elise-based product I've driven.

Enjoy the vid.



Author: Chris Harris

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