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RE: Lotus Exige Sport 350: Driven

RE: Lotus Exige Sport 350: Driven

Saturday 12th December 2015

Lotus Exige Sport 350: Driven [Updated]

The Sport 350 badge returns for the first time since the Esprit - is this another Lotus legend? [Vid added]



Admittedly the options available to Lotus boss Jean-Marc Gales are limited. But, as policies go, 'make them lighter, make them faster' is one we can rally behind, even if it's effectively little more than keeping the wolf from the door for just a little longer.

Add lightness and add yellow it would appear!
Add lightness and add yellow it would appear!
We'll save the bigger picture for another time. Let's concentrate on the Exige Sport 350. Which is, as the standfirst suggests, a lighter, faster Exige boasting some very, very impressive performance figures for a relatively modest bottom line. Headline numbers include 350hp, 295lb ft of torque, 0-62 in 3.9 seconds (a tenth quicker for the auto...) 170mph top speed (...8mph slower for the auto), an unladen weight of 1,125kg and a starting price of £55,900. This is a very Gales Lotus; impressive stats to tempt buyers with a weight and cost saving that stay true to both brand values and scrape a little more margin out of each car sold. This all in another successful evolution of Lotus's groundbreaking bonded aluminium platform as recently celebrated in our 20 years of Elise PH Heroes story. 

We've been burned previously attempting to compare Lotuses to a certain German sports car brand so it's refreshing to be liberated from that by the Exige's impressively unique proposition. It won't match any supercars in vmax bragging rights but, on paper and up to the kind of speeds most sports cars will be driven on road or track, this car will stay on terms with even big-hitters costing three or four times as much. At the other end it'll also more or less keep tabs with the focused track day toys while offering creature comforts to make it a viable everyday proposition. You know, little things like a roof. Windscreen. Doors even. 

Poised, exploitable and fairly sublime at the limit
Poised, exploitable and fairly sublime at the limit
Taking 51kg out of the Exige is an impressive display of adding lightness, even if it might surprise you to hear the V6 version was a 1,176kg car as it stood. Faster and more potent than those original four-cylinder cars perhaps. But, relatively, not that light. Gales has talked previously of his policy of stripping cars down to component parts, identifying where both weight and cost can be removed; here that approach really seems to have paid off.

It's been neatly done too. Exposing the gearshift linkage is a geeky touch but one that removes 1.5kg and puts a novelty twist on the pared back cabin ambience; developed for the Evora 400 in that car it's mounted to a subframe, but in the Exige it's bolted directly to the floorpan. Losing the sun visors trims 900g, the Esprit-referencing louvred rear decklid saves 3kg over the previous glass one, 3kg has been taken out of the HVAC piping, ditching the 'engine beautification panel' loses a kilo and so it goes on, the list extending to over 100 components either binned or trimmed. There's a new and stiffer engine/gearbox subframe as well, which is 3kg lighter. You can take another 10kg - unsprung - out of the car by opting for the lightweight forged wheels and composite brake discs too. 

OK, so the fact carpets, soundproofing, air-con and a radio are cost options in terms of money and extra kilos demonstrates the Exige remains a hardcore choice. But the simple presence of a roof and windscreen are positively opulent in comparison with some track-biased competition. Indeed, this side of a Radical RXC it's hard to think of a car in possession of these everyday basics that could rival an Exige for combining track-toy focus and all-weather road car appeal.  

Exposed linkage looks great and works well too
Exposed linkage looks great and works well too
Hardware changes over the Exige S it replaces are detail; the engine and outputs are the same as before, ditto the springs and dampers even if the reduction in weight effectively means they're stiffer, relatively speaking. The chassis engineers were keen to dial out the smidge of understeer that characterised the existing car's turn-in phase and to that end negative camber front and back has been increased and front toe tweaked. 

First opportunity to put the claims to the test takes us to a lightly greasy Hethel test track, the V6 Exige retaining that low-speed burliness that sets it apart from its four-cylinder predecessors and the Elise on which it is based. Where those cars fizz and prickle with energy the Exige is gruff and businesslike, the supercharged V6 giving its best to those on the outside in terms of noise. 

You're not exactly short-changed from the driving seat though. No four-cylinder Lotus ever combined this much muscle with such little weight and from pretty much any gear the Sport 350 takes off at a rate of knots no rival can hope to match. The supercharger gives the 3.5-litre Toyota V6 the immediate punch of a much bigger engine, this and the lack of mass leaving a revvy, naturally aspirated Cayman feel a little breathless. Nor is there the whoosh-bang lag of downsized rivals like the Alfa Romeo 4C

Optional wheels and brakes save another 10kg
Optional wheels and brakes save another 10kg
There isn't quite the hard-wired sense of connection between pedal and throttle you'd get from an atmospheric engine but the power delivery is linear, broad-chested and never less than thrilling. It's now matched with a gearchange that feels as positive and snappy as you'd hope in a more - whisper it - analogue car like this. This is probably the Sport 350's biggest immediate score over any previous Exige, the click-clack and visible movement of the linkage all adding to the sensory experience. Which, let's face it, is what you want out of a car like this. 

Out of duty we take the auto - it's predicted to take 40 per cent of sales, remember - for a quick blast up the road. It reveals itself improved and crisp in the manual mode but still slurring and very torque convertor auto in its self-shifting setting. In the markets that demand such a thing it sells cars to customers who wouldn't otherwise consider a Lotus and, for that alone, the auto merits its place in the range. But the manual has to be the one for the likes of us. 

The car we drive on circuit is the full purist option, complete with bare aluminium tub, no radio, the forged wheels and lightweight brakes. And it's mega. There remains just a sense of push as you wind the lock on, leaning against the unexpected weight of that tiny, unassisted wheel. But the rotation from the rear of the car is quick to neutralise it and you can lean hard on the power very, very early with little fear of it going any further. There's no limited-slip diff like the Evora 400, the engineers saying this would undo all the good work in reducing understeer and the brake nibbling electronic one is sufficient. The car rarely feels like it's suffering without, the inside rear only really spinning up if you're greedy with a wet kerb and the throttle over it. 

Yes, they've probably noticed you arriving...
Yes, they've probably noticed you arriving...
The previous 'nudge' dial for the clever 'learning' Race mode in the Dynamic Performance Management stability control is now a two stage button press from Race to Off. Race is plenty for most track use too, offering plenty of scope for adjusting the line on the throttle and brakes though it still requires an initial lift to start the rotation. When it happens it's wonderfully readable and easy to play with too, the correction coming as a completely instinctive flick of the wrists and an almost slow motion transition into a slide you can maintain or collect as required. 

It's so trustworthy even in these tricky intermediate conditions you're happy deploying full power, there being no apparent traps for the unwary, huge traction and lots and lots and of speed. This is a thrillingly rapid car but one that remains friendly, eager to please and totally predictable. In the big stop into the chicane on the back straight AP calipers have a dependably solid feel, the gearbox remaining positive and fun to work down through the gears as you haul it up from significant three-figure speeds. 

On the road it's similarly fun. Again, it feels firmer and more tied down than its four-cylinder equivalents, rolling the road flat rather than flowing with its contours. It's still a lesson in steering feel and appropriate damping though, the lack of weight meaning it just floats over the bumps while the nuances of grip through the front axle are felt as tiny flickers in the sinews of your forearms. Contours and white lines are felt through the wheel too but it's nothing like the unpleasant kickback you get in the Alfa 4C. 

Not revolutionary, but it is excellent
Not revolutionary, but it is excellent
It's so fast any dawdlers are quickly dispatched too, meaning you're never far away from having the road to yourself again and enjoying that very Lotus ability to dissect even the choppiest British tarmac. 

When it tries to go up against the big boys with a product like the Evora 400 Lotus will always be the plucky underdog, the inevitable and irresistible comparisons with certain German products shining a harsh light on the touchy-feely stuff Hethel can't hope to compete with. The Exige isn't Lotus trying to be Porsche though. It's Lotus being Lotus. And proving it's still very, very good at it.

A lap of Hethel in the Exige Sport 350


LOTUS EXIGE SPORT 350
Engine
: 3,456cc, V6, supercharged
Transmission: 6-speed manual, rear-wheel drive (6-speed auto optional)
Power (hp): 350@7,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 295@4,500rpm
0-62mph: 3.9sec (auto 3.8sec)
Top speed: 170mph (auto 162mph)
Weight: 1,125kg* (auto 1,130kg)*
MPG: 28.0 (auto 30.1mpg)
CO2: 235g/km (auto 219g/km)
Price: £55,900 (basic OTR for manual car)
*Unladen weight, full tank of fuel and all fluids, no driver



Author
Discussion

Maldini35

Original Poster:

1,491 posts

113 months

Friday 11th December 2015
quotequote all
This car is getting better with age.
Yes please, just not in yellow.

Oilchange

4,664 posts

185 months

Friday 11th December 2015
quotequote all
I so wish I could afford one. An Evora 400 too, IPS but without the yellow tartan. You can keep the yellow tartan...


Bill

36,579 posts

180 months

Friday 11th December 2015
quotequote all
Epic. That sounds perfect. And so cheap.

Still can't afford one, mind. frown

MDMA .

3,791 posts

26 months

Friday 11th December 2015
quotequote all
That interior !

moribund

2,959 posts

139 months

Friday 11th December 2015
quotequote all
Want want want want want want want want want want want want wan.....
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kainedog

190 posts

99 months

Friday 11th December 2015
quotequote all
Aaaah lotus esprit 350 smile I do alot of rich people's plumbing , recently went into a customers garage and he had a silver esprit 350, a testerossa, a Tvr sagaris and a caterham from memory , b*stard, one day frown must charge more for my services

RedTrident

8,290 posts

160 months

Friday 11th December 2015
quotequote all
Tis a lovely looking car and has already been said, it's looking much better with age.

PorscheGT4

13,220 posts

190 months

Friday 11th December 2015
quotequote all
bring out the charged cooled one already, all these 10bhp more stty models area bit meh !

And still less torque than my NA car !

SidewaysSi

3,855 posts

159 months

Friday 11th December 2015
quotequote all
PorscheGT4 said:
bring out the charged cooled one already, all these 10bhp more stty models area bit meh !

And still less torque than my NA car !
I love this guy. Never fails to make an appearance.

Impasse

15,099 posts

166 months

Friday 11th December 2015
quotequote all
SidewaysSi said:
I love this guy. Never fails to make an appearance.
Yep, notices the 10bhp increase but ignores the 51kgs weight reduction. How very Germanic.

Hamma

92 posts

27 months

Friday 11th December 2015
quotequote all
So close to perfection that it only feels even more of an omission to not have the 400hp engine and limited slip diff. I'm not looking to buy a car like that just now but will soon, and though this is as close to exactly what I want those two things would be a deal-breaker for me.

I drive in slippery conditions often enough and have built up an expectation of wanting an lsd over the years that I don't want another car without it (had a Porsche without one and regretted it). 350hp is already barely adequate in that price range and in such a car, but add the fact that it's not even the best version of that engine that they could slot in and it feels like too much of a disappointment.

I hope Lotus keeps honing their products, because they seem to be on to something now. But they also need to update the chassis setup to take much bigger tire sizes and have much wider tracks because they're being outgunned by the competition due to that. It's such a shame to be so great and then have them shoot themselves in the foot with smaller rubber contact patches and narrower tracks than everyone else and therefore seeming to be much inferior to what they really are.

kambites

53,124 posts

146 months

Friday 11th December 2015
quotequote all
Hamma said:
350hp is already barely adequate in that price range and in such a car
It's got over 300bhp/tonne. That's about the same as a 911 GT3, it's hardly going to be slow for a £50k car.

If you're worried about absolute power figures and being "outgunned" by the competition, I can't help but feel you're not really the target market. It may be pretty quick, but the Exige is not a car you buy for the numbers. Wider tyres would make the car worse at what it's intended to do.

If there's one thing they desperately need to do to the Exige, it's find a way to lower the sills without reducing chassis stiffness.

Edited by kambites on Friday 11th December 22:14

Apretext

10 posts

145 months

Friday 11th December 2015
quotequote all
Impasse said:
Yep, notices the 10bhp increase but ignores the 51kgs weight reduction. How very Germanic.
Nope, just hates Lotus. Except when he has one. Then it's the best thing ever. In fact, if you wan to know whatever the best thing ever is, it's whatever he owns. Until he sells it.

Anyway. I'll get saving the pennys, need another yellow Lotus in the garage....

ash73

14,182 posts

146 months

Friday 11th December 2015
quotequote all
Does nothing for me, love the cheaper Elise but I don't understand the appeal of a £60K plastic kit car, the 4 pot Exiges were better looking too. Probably fantastic to drive though.

Thorburn

2,134 posts

118 months

Friday 11th December 2015
quotequote all
Impasse said:
Yep, notices the 10bhp increase but ignores the 51kgs weight reduction. How very Germanic.
Not really - there is no 10bhp increase on this car.

Such lack of attention to detail would be given short shrift.

Apretext said:
Anyway. I'll get saving the pennys, need a yellow Lotus in the garage....
EFA smile

wevster

450 posts

82 months

Friday 11th December 2015
quotequote all
Better power to weight than a GT4 and cheaper, what's not to like...

Zyp

9,942 posts

114 months

Friday 11th December 2015
quotequote all
PorscheGT4 said:
bring out the charged cooled one already, all these 10bhp more stty models area bit meh !

And still less torque than my NA car !
Lol, you really are a card.

It'd out drag your pile of cheesy yellow st any day
;-)

Hamma

92 posts

27 months

Friday 11th December 2015
quotequote all
kambites said:
It's got over 300bhp/tonne. That's about the same as a 911 GT3, it's hardly going to be slow for a £50k car.

If you're worried about absolute power figures and being "outgunned" by the competition, I can't help but feel you're not really the target market. It may be pretty quick, but the Exige is not a car you buy for the numbers. Wider tyres would make the car worse at what it's intended to do.

If there's one thing they desperately need to do to the Exige, it's find a way to lower the sills without reducing chassis stiffness.

Edited by kambites on Friday 11th December 22:14
I wouldn't focus solely on hp/kg. The reason is that by stripping weight you're already (usually) compromising comfort. And because much heavier cars are also faster than or as fast as the Lotus is (assuming this one didn't magically make some completely unexpected step up).

You have to compare it to others, and fact is that they have a lot more power which compensates for their higher weight, they have wider tracks and bigger tires (maybe a stiffer frame and more sophisticated setups?) which make them more capable/as capable on track despite their weight, and in addition to that they have more comfort, space and usability.

In addition to that it just plain bothers me that:

a) They only squeeze out 350hp from a 3,5 litre supercharged 6-pot in an 'extreme sportscar'.
b) They have a 400hp version of that engine but you only get 350hp.

Zyp

9,942 posts

114 months

Friday 11th December 2015
quotequote all
^^^ yeah, but they're not a Lotus.

I'll take the stty old engined plastic pig any day thanks.

If you don't get it, you don't get it. Simple.

kambites

53,124 posts

146 months

Friday 11th December 2015
quotequote all
I understand your criticisms but it just sounds to me like you don't want what the Exige is designed to offer. For what it's worth nor do I, but I can't fully appreciate why someone would.

Edited by kambites on Friday 11th December 22:45