The Exige in question - a Cup 430 - was almost perfect for the weekend, small and just about supple enough to enjoy on roads while fast and exciting enough to thrill on one of the UK's best circuits. It was a joy, actually, bar one small thing: there wasn't a radio. And when Anglesey is on the other side of the next country, that's a bit of a pain.
Now I know it's a 'Cup' version and Lotus more than anybody else cares about saving every last kilo (right down to a new seatbelt anchorage frame), but it is still a road car. It's designed to be the ultimate Exige for the public highway and the track, and the spec should reflect that - some kind of radio and air-con (a £1,250 option) should be standard, in my opinion. (In case you're wondering I used some headphones for the journey, but that's far from ideal and not always appreciated in the eyes of the law.)
I'm not just being a wuss, honest - in something like a 3-Eleven or a Caterham, doing away with every last frippery makes sense, because they are about the very essence of driving and the least distractions possible. If it's something you'd seriously consider towing, then it's fine to dispense with any creature comfort. Anything above that, though, really should allow the driver to listen to their own music in sweat-free comfort. Doing without is at the very least inconvenient for the customer, and in some cases feels downright cynical.
Because what does air-con and a radio weigh really? 15 kilos, maybe 20? Not only will the gain from eliminating those be minimal on a car weighing comfortably more than a tonne, it's really not going to be worth it. Even if you could sense a fraction more agility at the circuit (which you probably couldn't), the price you're having to pay is being bored and overheated the rest of the time. Doesn't sound fair.
Lotus of course isn't the only brand to charge more for adding near necessities back in, and its cause is more laudable than most. I'm also just as scornful of those making a virtue of binning those near necessities; see Porsche 911 Carrera T, where its 20kg weight saving for a "puristic driving experience" mandates getting rid of the PCM infotainment. Of course any customer paying £85k for a 911 will add it back in (it's a no-cost option, granted), but that means returning virtually all the weight 'lost' by what is supposedly a pared back special. Let's not ignore the M4 GTS either, with its fancy door cards that eliminate the quite useful storage space normal cards have, and which replaced regular handles with straps you had to pull the door shut with. Making you look like a berk. For a car 27kg lighter than an M4.
Then, of course, we're onto the extras you might need to make the most of your track day, road-racer special. Ignoring the argument about why the cars aren't produced in their most focused specification to start with, how much of what you're encouraged to add on will pay dividends? Will a GT3 be markedly worse without £3,000-worth of Clubsport package and seats and harness? Probably not. Are you really going to be going hard enough for long enough to make the most of ceramic brakes? Those thousands could replace a lot of discs and pads. How much carbon must you add, and money must you spend, to save any meaningful weight?
Whether you think this posturing or not, there's a more tangible contributing factor to specifying a track car the 'right' way - they become more desirable secondhand. I'm as guilty of that as anyone (but will of course change, immediately, from this point forward...) in using Clubsport as a keyword and looking for desirable options. Though, of course, part of that could actually be about the potential posturing with friends - nobody wants to look soft now, do they? But take a look at this M3 CSL, even a couple of years ago with a higher asking price than many other because of being the lightest, without radio, A/C or nav. And what a terrible pain that must have been. Or, if you're being cynical, what an interesting investment..
The muddle gets deeper, you see. To make the car more desirable secondhand, you'll want the more expensive track focused options. Conveniently, those options should (by varying degrees) make for the best version to drive of this particular model. Only you can't drive it, because those looking at the cars as investment or collection pieces want low mileage and unmolested cars. How often do you see GT3s and whatnot advertised with "never used on track"? A few, I'd wager, so you have the most hardcore version of a track car you're scared about driving - what on earth is the point? The Golf GTI Clubsport S came as standard with air-con and with an infotainment - good, because it's a great road car as well - although some cars in the UK were specced AC-less. And I'll bet those cars are the ones that are more prized in future, but does that really validate those years of hot and bothered driving? Or indeed leaving it alone and not driving at all? I don't think so.
Personally, it would be nice to see manufacturers being a bit less greedy with options prices, but that isn't going to happen. Neither is the value attributed to certain options, however misplaced it may be. Tragic cliché though it surely sounds, I think there's as much worth in paying to improve yourself as there is in your car. On the BMW M5 launch at Anglesey - where all the cars were fitted with £7k ceramic brakes, of course - instructors were on hand; even with what I thought was a reasonable knowledge of the track, 20 minutes with one of those guys had be more confident, faster and happier. A lot of those lessons can of course be transferred to other cars, just as they were a fortnight later with the Exige in fact, and even the best track options in the world can't do that. So buy the track day car you want in the spec you want, because it should still be pretty desirable even without that aero pack, seat upgrade or forged wheel, and get some tuition to really, properly make the most of it. The air-con you've kept in will keep you both cool, as well...
Final Exige table pics: Will Aron