Lighter, meaner, rawer. This really is a pocket-rocket 'ready to race' straight from the Lotus production line.
Lotus has brought into Australia just three 2009 Exige Cup 260 event-ready cars for a lucky trio of track day enthusiasts ready to go to the next level of competition.
Today, Targa Tasmania, one of Australia's most famous tarmac events, will be bringing the island of Tasmania alive, and the Lotus Exige Cup 260 will be doing its darndest to storm its way to the head of the field.
Motoring scribe and regular Lotus test pilot Dean Evans will be flying the Lotus flag, piloting one of these latest motorsport-focused Exige Cup cars through the week long event.
But before Dean could get his oh-so-talented mitts on it, I was lucky enough to wangle the keys to his car before it was covered with sponsor logos and shipped off to Tasmania. Think of this test as our very own TMR-approved pre-race running in program.
Looking at the car's exterior, the carbon-fibre bits are not as overdone as they appeared in the first press shots. In fact, they really complement the Aspen White body.
The interior has a straight race-car feel. Yes, it has air-con and electric windows, but that's as luxurious as the Cup 260 gets.
There are two buttons where the radio should be, replaced by an battery isolation switch and a firebomb extinguisher release switch - both FIA and CAMS compliant.
There are two blue foam ejection nozzles by the passenger's knees and two nozzles in the engine bay (although we couldn't find the 2nd one).
Continuing the FIA-compliant theme there are also the same release switches found on the outside, but these are normally covered up by metal blanking plates when the car isn't engaged in competition.
The protective plates stop people playing with them when you're at the traffic lights.
Underneath the passenger's knees is a whopping 2.25kg fire 'tank' (that's the best word for it). It has a plastic cover held down by Velcro to stop the passenger's legs knocking it, but there is no relief for the passenger. It is so intrusive most will find it impossible to comfortably accommodate it beneath their legs.
The dash and side sills are mostly in unfinished carbon fibre, lending the Cup 260 a real race car ambience. It's austere, it's spartan, it's whatever you want to call it. There really isn't a lot to see in the cockpit.
Moving rearwards, the boot (or what was the boot) holds the Accusump oil reservoir, which prevents the supercharged 1.8 litre Toyota four-pot from being starved of oil during high lateral-G manoeuvres.
Also in the boot are the exposed terminals of the lightweight race battery that can be knocked and damaged easily by whatever else you foolishly decide to cram into it. In short, the boot is completely unusable.
On the Road
Smoothly dropping off the kerb from the city-based Lotus showroom and heading up Sydney's crowded William St, it is instantly obvious this is a taut track car and not really road material. It is loud, and people stare.
The exhaust is a Lotus Sport system, very loud and very raspy. But there is no booming in the cabin as with many third-party Exige exhausts; it happily pops and crackles when you lift the throttle and it sounds great.
Firstly, I'm not going to fib: I did give the car a good trouncing once the engine and tyres had some temperature in them. This car has been designed to be driven hard, not driven like nana.
So, find a clear stretch, drop the clutch and first gear is just suicidal from around 2500 rpm to the red line. Second and third gears also gather things up ferociously from 2500rpm, surging relentlessly to the red-line, torque from the Eaton M62 supercharger punching hard on the up-shifts and the engine screaming to its 192kW (257hp) peak power rating.
On a banzai run up East Sydney's heartbreak hill, it did not want to break traction at all; slamming through second and third gears simply couldn't unsettle the rear. Amazingly, the traction control light flashed not once thanks to the clean way it puts its power to the road though the Lotus-specific Advan A048 semi-slick tyres.
On the same stretch of road just two hours prior I was in an '09 model M3 (three people up). Even at 5-10km/h slower it was squirming about, M computer-logic tightening things up as we pushed hard up the hill.
The Cup 260 has just simple traction control, relying on its mechanical grip to nail it to the road - there's no stability management like the boffin M3 . The Lotus felt as chuckable as an EVO or Subaru STI and much faster than the M3 was on the same patch of tarmac.
The specs say 0-100km/h circa 4.1 seconds and it feels it. Unlike the naturally-aspirated Exige, there was no tailing off the acceleration once getting into three figure speeds. The magic here is the power-to-weight ratio. Even the Exige S would not be able to touch this thing on sheer pace, with its 174kW (233hp) per tonne paling in comparison to the 215kW (288hp) per tonne of the Cup 260.
Lotus AU has brought in just three Cup 260 cars in Red, Silver and White (which now should be known as Evans White). With supercar-rivalling performance like this at just $139,990, I can't see how these will be the only ones we'll see.
With the '09 Targa Tasmania rally ready to go, I have to warn Dean that the car is a demon on the asphalt. We wish you all the luck in the world putting this thing up against the bigger boy's toys. A David-and Goliath story in the making? We'll see.
Its straight-line speed and sheer traction is amazing; go get 'em!