2013 LOTUS EXIGE REVIEW | Photography: Jan Glovac.
What’s Hot: Physics-defying grip, stupendous acceleration, surprising compliance.
What’s Not: Very noisy and stripped-out cabin, ergonomically compromised, zero practicality
X-Factor: A road-registerable race car – it’s a hoot
Vehicle Style: Two-door sports coupe
Price: $119,990 (plus on-roads) $146,160 (as tested)
Fuel Economy listed: 10.1 l/100km | tested: 16.3 l/100km
Lotus hasn’t done much in Australia recently... or anywhere for that matter. But now that production is back up and running, the British sports-car company has brought something here to celebrate.
And, as far as 'a race car for the road' goes, it's a simple formula.
Take a Lotus Exige and replace the supercharged four-cylinder engine with a Toyota V6. Still not enough power? Ok, add a supercharger. Oh yes, it doesn’t quite fit. So, let’s increase the wheelbase by 70mm. Ah, that’s better.
Redo the front end with more aggression, widen the track, fit more track-focussed steering rack, and, hey presto, the Lotus Exige S is born.
There’s a little bit more to it, though, which is why TMR spent some quality time investigating its limits. If it’s possible to reach them…
Quality: Inside, it’s a mixed bag. There’s soft plastic covering the wide sills, some nice suede surrounding the gear lever console and the seats are trimmed beautifully.
But the switches look and feel cheap (some look like they’re just tacked on), the radio looks like an aftermarket unit and the sills suffer badly from scuffing when people get in and out.
The dashboard has a nice dimped texture, but it feels cheap to the touch.
Comfort: Hmmm. There is a level of comfort. That is, the air-con works. Other than that, it’s pretty dire.
Getting in is even more difficult than the already-painful Lotus Elise owing to the added roof which chops off a third of your entry passage.
The easiest method (not that there really is an easy way) is bum-first over the huge sill then skate backwards, slide and drop into the rigid bucket.
If you’re tall, it’s quite an effort getting your leg under the (fixed) steering wheel and ducking your head at the same time to avoid knocking your noggin on the roof. Getting out is even more of a struggle.
The seats are basically a hard shell with a thin covering of foam and cloth. Our test car was optioned with leather and alcantara, but that’s it.
No backrest movement, no height adjustability. The seat slides fore and aft on exposed rails, but only the driver gets that “luxury”. The passenger makes do with a completely fixed unit. If you lose a pen, you have to unbolt the seat to get to it.
The test car was optioned with the Premium Pack Sport SuedeTex, which adds splashes of suede and leather.
But this is a race car at heart. And it shows.
Equipment: With such a basic interior, don’t expect too much in the way of standard equipment.
What you do get is a basic air-con setup and an Alpine stereo with a head-unit that looks like an afterthought. At least the sound is half-decent…when you’re not moving. At speed, the road noise drowns it out.
Storage: Again, not much to speak of here. There’s a small ledge on the passenger side to rest a small book or wallet (a sort of open glovebox), between the seats is a small recess for coins, and behind the seats is a narrow cavity to stash a thin squashable bag.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: For all its interior flaws, the moment you set off, all is forgiven.
Twisting the traditional key (no start-buttons here), the supercharged V6 kicks off with a flurry of revs just to let you know it means business.
Push the spun aluminium gearknob forward into first, a metallic click tells you it’s home. Let the clutch bite with terrific progression and you’re off. With a notchy shift, you’ll need a bit of force to push each change home though.
With its curiously-specific output of 257.5kW and a more rounded 400Nm, the Exige S is an absolute pocket-rocket. It’ll storm to 100km/h in under four seconds (3.96 to be precise). It's ridiculously quick.
Call on the terrific brakes and there’s a fair bit of effort required to get it to slow down, but you soon realise that the feel is behind those first few millimetres of movement.
You'll soon get the confidence to brake later and harder – it’s brilliant.
Then there’s the steering. Without power assistance and with a very small diameter, it’s laboriously heavy when parking and the steering wheel initially seems low and too close.
But the upside is there is zero interruption to feedback and, as your speed increases, it becomes more manageable.
If there was ever a perfect feeling steering setup, this is it. Every twitch of movement, every degree of camber change, every stone in the road – you feel all of it.
It is susceptible to tram-tracking, you feel the car jostling the wheel in your hands, but is easier to manage than the darty Elise.
And because of its tremendous grip, you can adjust the line mid-corner by either steering, brakes or throttle. It’s very difficult to upset the Exige S's balance, unless you’re trying to.
It’s at this point that you’ll be thankful for the DPM (Drive Performance Management) switch. Default is Tour, with Sport, and Race (a $5400 option, mind you).
Tour is perfect for the road with early ESC intervention and a slightly quieter exhaust note. Sport opens the exhaust flaps and backs of the traction, but curiously, Race mode brings a sharper ESC tune. Only initially, however.
Race mode actually 'learns' the track you’re driving on, noting grip levels to gradually back off the stability control until it reaches an optimum point (where you can extract the fastest lap time possible).
And then – if you’re the kind of person who would ride a unicycle along the Great Ocean Road – you can switch off all driver aids completely.
With front-rear weight distribution of 38/62, front-end wash is expected. But with practice you can trail-brake it into the corner which helps the front end to bite (as the weight settles forward) and then get on the loud pedal once into the corner.
As a driver’s machine, there’s not much that can compete.
With a 42.5-litre tank, however, the Exige S’ appetite for fossil fuel means you can be visiting a servo within the same day, depending on your driving style.
Refinement: The Lotus Exige S is raw, loud and completely overwhelming. Despite having soundproofing added, the cabin is alive with road and mechanical noise.
Also, when under load, the engine’s appetite for air means there’s a huge rushing and whistling sound over your left shoulder. And that gearshift can baulk, especially between second and third.
Yeah, don’t go looking for refinement here.
Suspension: Each corner of the car uses unequal length wishbones, Bilstein Sports dampers coupled with Eibach coaxial coil springs, plus the expected front and rear anti-roll bars.
You’d expect it to be kidney-splitting, back-cracking, teeth-shatteringly hard, but in fact it’s more compliant than a Mitsubishi Evo.
There’s an initial absorption that surprises – small cracks hardly bother the Exige S – but then firming.
Braking: The Exige S will astound with its speed retardation. It uses AP-Racing four-piston callipers with 350mm ventilated and cross-drilled discs up front while the rear employs 332mm ventilated and cross-drilled discs.
Our testing to elicit brake fade involved repeatedly stomping on the pedal from 110kmh. We failed. Though we did make ourselves sick in the process.
Its consistent capability and feedback make this one of the best cars for braking you’ll ever try.
ANCAP rating: Not tested
Safety features: Driver and passenger airbag, seatbelt pretensioners, ABS, brakeforce distribution, traction control, stability control – all the basics are there. Given its size and speed potential, prevention is better than the cure.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/100,000km
Service costs: Intervals are set at 10,000km for road use and 7,500km for track use. A standard service is $500.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
Nissan GT-R ($170,000) – Nissan’s racetrack warrior is undoubtedly exceptional value-for-money. While it’s more practical and quicker than the Exige in a straight line, under brakes and around corners the Lotus makes up a lot of ground.
The GT-R is also $50K more expensive (see GT-R reviews)
Porsche Cayman S ($139,900) – With a brilliant chassis, superb looks and great quality the Cayman S is a fabulous car. But it still can’t hold a candle to the Exige S’s storming dynamics.
And it’s $20K in the red. (see Porsche reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
How do you sum up a car like the Lotus Exige S? It’s uncompromising. It takes physical effort to wield. The gearshift is inconsistent and the cabin is bare.
Your ears will curse you for driving it. It’s too hard to get in and out of, and some people will physically not fit.
On any objective level, this car shouldn’t work. But it just does.
It will have your neck-hairs on edge every time you dive into a corner. The steering is perfection and that V6 just sounds so old-school and raw. It takes driving back to its visceral and most enjoyable roots.
For the price, there’s nothing that can touch it.
Ridiculously impractical, crazily quick and hilariously fun, the Exige S is how sports cars should be – it’s wonderful.