Lotus have confused the buying public with the Exige S2. The original Exige developed very much out of a desire to race the Elise. More power, a roof, stiffer suspension and effective aerodynmics produced legendary grip and cornering abilities. It was an extreme version of the Elise in every respect. The stark cabin would resonate to the sound of the engine and assault your eardrums constantly. As such, the Exige S1 appealed to the hard edged, track day drivers seeking extreme motoring - a fine example of a road legal race car.
The new Exige ticks many of the same boxes but comes with the options of some creature comforts too. It's no longer an extreme race car for the road, but is fast sports coupe. Electric windows, soft trim, carpets and air conditioning blunt the edges that were previously associated with the Exige name. With the same Toyota Motor as the Elise 111R, it's resulted in a car positioned somewhat differently within the Lotus range - confusing punters like me.
The fact that the Exige is no longer an Elise stripped to its pants and vest ready for a marathon, had me in the wrong frame of mind when I climbed in. I was cynical, trying to fight my preconception that Lotus had got this car so wrong.
Perhaps it was the colour - the bright orange can't help but fire up something within the brain. Perhaps it was the nice new car smell inside and the presence of carpets and a nicely trimmed roof. Perhaps it was the hearty breakfast I'd enjoyed that morning. I liked the car when I got inside. Preconceptions were being eroded.
The Art of Noise
The Exige didn't irritate me in quite the same way for some reason. For all intents and purposes it should have done as it's essentially a very similar car. Perhaps it was the carpets dulling the vibrations. Perhaps the exhaust mounts were resonating at a different frequency or perhaps it was that bacon sandwich still leaving me in a chirpy state of mind.
On the road the Exige does require a good spanking to wake up. Once again the real kick comes from the engine at over 6,000rpm with anything under that merely providing adequete performance for pootling about. The handling and ride are exemplary as you'd expect from Lotus, despite the slight stiffening that the Exige benefits from over the Elise.
The extra wing and front spoiler should certainly provide benefit on track at indecent speeds, but I wasn't pushing it hard enough on the road to be conscious of the work being done there. That said, the car does inspire monumental confidence when it comes to grip. Those Yokohama tyres become at one with the road surface and hustling the Exige along a twisty road is an absolute joy. Try not to change up to early and despite the scream from thousands of Japanese engineers behind you, the power band is wide enough - when warmed up - to maintain the necessary torque to enjoy rapid acceleration out of a corner. The brakes are very capable but do require a heavy shove to bring them into life.
In normal driving conditions and without the benefit of a back to back test I was hard pressed to remember any marked performance or handling differences between the Exige S2 and the Elise 111R. Despite that I left the Exige feeling a lot more at one with it than I had with the Elise.
Lotus have confused the role of the Exige S2 by producing an Exige that is too similar to the Elise. Before I drove the car, I viewed it with a healthy degree of scepticism. I was wrong though - marketing aside - the Exige is a fine car in its own right. More power would make it a sensational car and I certainly hope that Lotus are working on such upgrades.
Prices are creeping up with the Exige too. The basic car is pitched at £29,995 which is £2,000 more than the 111R. If you choose to add the touring pack or performance pack then you're looking at another £1795 and £1765 respectively. Forged wheels are another £1175 and air con is £1295. If you don't want red, white or yellow paintwork then add on another £595. I liked the creature comforts provided in the option packs and I suspect the air-con is essential in summer so it could be very easy to spec the price up to nearly £35K.
I really enjoyed my time in the Exige but why I prefered it to the 111R I couldn't tell for sure. It could just be the colour appealed or maybe I should have a bacon buttie before every road test...
|Torque||181 Nm||133.5 lb.ft|
|Power||192 PS||189 bhp|
|Weight (no options)||875 kg||
|0-100 km/h||5.2 s|
|0-100 mph||13.2 s|
Thanks to Castle Lotus of Stansted for the loan of the car