Lotus Exige Cup: Review

Ah the Porsche 991 GT3. The gift that keeps giving for the click hungry editor of a discussion-led motoring website! Have we tired yet of debating PDK versus manual? Seemingly not. And into this fray marches Lotus, just a couple of weeks after some bloke called Walter told us his favourite GT3 ever was the pared back first-gen 996.

Little of the old delicacy but much more potent
Little of the old delicacy but much more potent
The new GT3 is operating at a totally different level to that original car. It's got a revvy normally aspirated engine to differentiate it from the Turbo but, really, they're now just two slightly different answers to the same question. The eventual RS may reclaim the purist vote but by then we'll be knocking on the door of 458 Speciale money and the willingness to treat it as a hard-working track hound may be found lacking.

So let's look again at Rohrl's favourite GT3. 360hp. Minimal driver aids and the just enough creature comforts for daily road use. A direct bloodline to racing cars. A slim kerb weight. A price tag of £76K, not £176K. Where would you turn now if you wanted such a car?

For speed add, oh, power
Well, you could do worse than talk to Lotus. The standard Exige S would make for a more than capable road and track car. So if that car is the 996 GT3 for the modern age the 350hp Cup we have here is the RS equivalent. You can look at it in two ways - either as the very peak of the road legal Lotus range or the first rung on the ladder of a V6-based motorsport line-up that could take you into GT4 and beyond.

All are road legal but track ambitions clear
All are road legal but track ambitions clear
There are significant hurdles in going from Exige S to Cup, a circa £10K price leap the first. Because it's built by Lotus Racing track rules apply so it only comes with a limited one year/6,000-mile warranty too. But if you're serious about using your Exige on track it begins to make sense, the price including a baffled wet sump, A-frame rollover assembly with harness bar, FIA standard integral fire extinguisher system, isolator switches, towing eyes, FIA approved fixed back racing seats with harnesses to accompany the inertia reel belts for road use and two-way adjustable Nitron dampers. It also runs Lotus Racing spring rates and because it's based on the same chassis as the Cup R there's additional adjustment in the suspension hardpoints for a wider range of camber, caster, toe and ride height set up.

Next thing you know...
Further options include Cup R Ohlins TTX dampers, air-con, HANS ready driver's seat and six-point harness and a full roll cage bolted into the prepared mounting points on the tub. By that point you'll be ready to go racing, the Cup certified for entry into various Lotus Cup championships around the world.

V6 zings, supercharger sings, Exige flies
V6 zings, supercharger sings, Exige flies
Taking a step back, can the basic Cup really cut it as a car you'd drive on the road as well as the track?

Before taking to the Hethel test track we go for a quick round the block on the road, incorporating a delightful little wiggle of B-road before a slightly less delightful blast up the A11 towards Norwich. Two things strike you immediately; first that the short throw and positive gate are a big step up from Elise family shifters of old. And second that the non-assisted steering is ruddy heavy at parking speeds. Heavy enough to have you lifting out of your seat as you haul on the little wheel.

That ceases to be an issue once double digits appear on the speedo but it's a shock in this day and age and first indication the Exige isn't as dainty as those previously to wear the badge. Twists and turns on the B-roads are dismissed with a roll of the wrists but the concrete surface of the A11 shows how raw the Cup is on less accommodating roads. It's loud enough you won't be missing the stereo and proves a weight saving of around 75kg over the standard Exige doesn't come without sacrifice.

Clever DPM 'learning' traction control
Clever DPM 'learning' traction control
Every cloud
Back at Hethel and out onto the test track the conditions are miserable under an oppressively grey Norfolk sky. Large puddles lurk in bits where you'd really want to be braking and/or turning and it's a relief to hear from Lotus Racing's Louis Kerr that the car has been set up with the default 'easy track' damping and geometry. He advises that the Race setting on the Exige's trademark - and very clever - Dynamic Performance Management is reserved for dry conditions but experience shows its ability to 'learn' the grip levels means it may yet get an outing.

By heck it's fiercely quick too. Sub nine seconds 0-100mph is rapid in anyone's book and even in these conditions the standard fit Pirelli Corsas find decent traction. Exiges have always had plenty of top-end excitement but the increased displacement and cylinder count gives you the kind of low-end grunt four-cylinder versions could only dream of. It opens up the option to short-shift and maximise traction with little noticeable drop-off in pace, the gruff V6 opening up to a more feral top-end overlayed with just a little supercharger shriek. It's not quite as banzai as the previous supercharged Exiges like the Cup 260 but it feels much, much faster across the board.

Even in the wet grip and traction is immense
Even in the wet grip and traction is immense
That character trait extends to the handling too. The delicacy and balance of the four-cylinder cars has been replaced by a more blunt, muscular handling model that in this set-up defaults to a safety inspired nose-led cornering stance. Even with sideways star Gavan Kershaw on the steering circle the Exige pushes on rather than holding balanced slides but you could of course dial this out by playing with the geo.

I feel it in my fingers
It's confidence inspiring in these conditions though, the sudden loss of grip as you pass through mid-corner puddles felt as muscles and tendons in your forearms suddenly relaxing in the true definition of steering feel. As the loss of grip moves from front to rear you're already dialling in the correction as a pure instinctive reaction and with the DPM in Race mode you can then lean hard on the throttle safe in the knowledge it'll give you as much as the chassis will handle without dumbing down the need for driver input. Or you can lift to neutralise the understeer and suddenly a much more playful character emerges, even if the open diff ultimately spins the power away. Overall though it's a very neat balance, both satisfyingly involving and extremely rapid; accommodating of those with less experience while rewarding for those who know what they're doing.

Just what those of us disillusioned with the growing automation of supposed drivers' cars have been crying out for, right?

3,456cc V6, supercharged
Transmission: 6-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 350@7,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 295@4,500rpm
0-62mph: c. 3.8sec
Top speed: c. 171mph
Weight: 1,110kg (depending on final spec)
CO2: N/A
Price: £62,994 (basic price inc. VAT, fully road legal and with limited warranty)

Some slightly tentative onboard here.








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Comments (80) Join the discussion on the forum

  • ItsJustARide 27 Jan 2014

    I'd take that every time over the latest GT3.

  • BBS-LM 27 Jan 2014

    There is just something wrong with the new look of that LOTUS EXIGE, it just looks bulky and fat. I would have a GT3 over this, any day of the week.

  • Dafuq 27 Jan 2014

    Supplied with large box of 'brave' pills?, me likey.

  • kambites 27 Jan 2014

    You couldn't call it a pretty car could you?

    Still, the GT3 has gone in a direction that holds absolutely no interest for me so there is little competition for the Exige in the mainstream market. The closest competitor I can think of would be the Ginetta G60.

    I think it would have to be the basic roadster version for me, though.

  • RTH 27 Jan 2014

    Nice oven switch.

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