An unending procession of Lotus model derivatives has become a source of amusement around here, but the Sport 410 is the 'ultimate' series-three Exige - and this time Lotus promises it means that literally.
As far as the line-up goes, this car displaces the Sport 380 and as such sits between the 'base' Sport 350 and the heroically uncompromised Cup 430 track tool. That car was quite a leap for the Exige in terms of aerodynamics and power, and the point of the Sport 430 is to take all that and inject better road manners into the package. It's why the Sport 410 makes 150kg of downforce at top speed, will more or less level-peg a McLaren F1 in its first few gears, and has a single-mass flywheel and Alcantara-clad bucket seats, yet you still get a Bluetooth connection.
CEO Jean-Marc Gales variously describes the new car as 'more fun than a Cup 430', 'a very docile beast' and capable of 'blowing away' the upcoming Porsche Cayman GT4, flat-six from the GT3 and all. As usual from monsieur, it's fighting talk.
This is an expensive beast, mind. At £85,600 it may be roughly the cost of a the new Fiesta ST less expensive than a Cup 430, but then there are options, many of which seem irresistible. Whether you go for Coupe or Roadster, a carbon lid costs £3,000. You can also get a carbon hood for the instrument binnacle (£1,000), sill covers (£1,200), rear diffuser (£1,200) and superbly theatrical barge boards (£2,800 - go on...). There's also a titanium exhaust that saves ten kilos (£5,500) and plenty of colour options, the most expensive of which - for example, the Olive Green of the Roadster seen here - costs a hefty five grand.
Given this car is meant to work almost as well on the road as it does on track, you can also specify air conditioning (£1,250), a sound system (£400), sound insulation (£500), cruise control (£110) and full carpets and mats (£450) to further isolate you from the underbody clatter of road debris.
A six-figure Exige that isn't even the range-topper is dangerously achievable, then, but then again, never has an Exige packed such broad appeal as this one does. The chassis is pure Cup 430 - including the lightweight double-wishbone suspension and those deliciously intricate Nitron dampers. In the Sport 380 they're manually adjustable for both high-speed compression (16 clicks) and rebound (24 clicks), but there's also a third setting for low-speed compression (24 clicks) and it's this that gives the Sport 410 unfamiliar dynamic breadth.
In terms of powertrain this car is essentially a detuned Cup 430. The Toyota-sourced supercharged 3.5-litre V6 makes 416hp (or 410bhp)and isn't quite as peaky as it is in the more expensive model, but the torque curve has been flattened a touch. There's now 310lb ft on offer all the way from 3,000rpm to 7,000rpm. In a car that weighs a little as 1,054kg dry, it's enough for a 0-60mph of 3.3 seconds (something that's partly down to the fact you can now hit 60mph in second, rather than having to snag third, as you do in the Sport 380). Top speed is 180mph for the Coupe and 145mph for the Roadster.
Lotus laid on two cars for us to try - an Olive Green Roadster setup for road and a track-ready Gulf Blue Coupe with an identical suspension setup to what you'd find in the Cup 430. On the deceptively quick circuit at Hethel, the latter felt as you might expect for car using Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres and boasting a power-to-weight ratio that's more GT2 RS than Turbo S. Owing to such a low-slung driving position, it feels absurdly, breath-takingly quick, with nigh unbreakable rear traction (those tyres are now 20mm wider than what you'll find on a Sport 380) and a front axle that brings new meaning the phrase 'nailed on'. There is adjustability, but it's not of the gung-ho AMG variety. There's no limited-slip differential, for a start.
To better tolerate the beating many of these cars will get on trackdays, the Sport 410 gets a larger clutch than the 380 and several new coolers, not least for the gearbox, which takes the form of Lotus's 'Precision Shift' six-speed manual - the one with the open-gate shift. The J-hook brakes are carried over from the Cup 430, and they're fantastically light in terms of servo assistance and a reassuring presence as you dive deeper into corners than you'd previously thought sensible, or possible.
Out on the road the unassisted steering remains busy - it'll respond to the most effortlessly delicate of inputs one moment but requires a decidedly firm hand the next as the front axle latches onto a ripple in the road surface. You take the wheat with the chaff in any Lotus other than the Evora. Meanwhile the damping characteristics are such that issues of ride fade into the background. That is some trick to pull off in such a pared-back car, and while body control is surgically crisp, there's a surprisingly soft veneer beneath it whether you're pootling through a village at 30mph or pinning the throttle as the speed limit lifts. It's all relative, mind, so don't expect this car to ride like a Cayman S.
While we're on the subject of pinning the throttle, regulations have forced Lotus to ditch its switchable sports exhaust. There's now a valve that opens at 4,500rpm, beneath which this engine's ferocity remains tolerably latent for day-today-driving. Above it, all hell breaks loose. It's still one of the most arrestingly serrated exhaust notes money can buy, and quite outrageously loud.
Should this car turn out to be the final S3 Exige (frankly, don't hold your breath, despite what Lotus claims), it's some high to go out on. In the world of road cars - beyond, perhaps, the desperately impractical likes of the BAC Mono and Ariel Atom - you'll struggle to find a device that will get your heart pumping quite so quickly without ever cloying up your insides with fear. Given the Sport 410's broadened window of usability, and less fanatical demand for its owner to make compromises, for some that'll be well worth the asking price.
|Lotus Exige Sport 410 - Specifications|
|Engine||V6, 3456cc, supercharged petrol|
|Power (hp)||416hp @ 7000rpm|
|Torque (lb ft)||310lb ft @ 3000-7000rpm|
|Top speed||180mph (coupe)|