Exposure to a Performance Car review of the Lamborghini Countach 5000QV at an impressionable age set Dan Trent on course for a life-long obsession with cars. As editor of PistonHeads.com he’s got direct access to a classifieds repository of over 100,000 such vehicles to browse day in, day out. Temptation is never far away. He’s still some way off that Countach though.
I’ve just driven the new Lotus Exige Sport 350, and it’s really rather good. Fair play to Lotus too. In looking at its options for making the already ludicrously fast V6-powered Exige S even more potent it didn’t increase the power. It removed weight – a whole 51kg – and sharpened the suspension geometry a touch. Colin Chapman would approve and all that.
I like to think he’d also approve of my reasons for preferring the previous four-cylinder Exige. I’ve driven various versions of both this and the current V6. And while the latter is at least 100hp more powerful and still true to the lightweight ideals of the brand I can’t help holding a candle for the Series 2.
The 1,125kg unladen weight of the Sport 350 is a massive 220kg less than the equivalently priced Porsche Cayman GTS. But it’s also not far off the same margin more than the 2010 model year Exige S I memorably drove out to the Nurburgring back in 2009. The Sport 350’s numbers are all more impressive than that car’s, from the bottom-line output to the power-to-weight and performance figures. But, as far as I’m concerned, that goes to show how little numbers matter compared with sensation and feel.
As well as being astonishingly rapid the V6 Exige feels tied down, muscular and burly. The four-cylinder car just feels so much more alive though, far more pointy, so much more explosive in its power delivery, even more agile and totally dominated by its lack of weight. The feral shriek of that high revving, supercharged Toyota four-cylinder engine is just berserk too. I got a video of one of my better laps (above), the quality of which isn’t all that but at least gives a sense of the intensity of the experience. The memory of that day still seems as fresh as ever.
So, what’s about? Well, Exiges aren’t cheap. If not disappearing over the horizon like 911 GT3s a MY2010 car like the one I drove to the ‘ring is a near-£35,000 car still. Sounds shallow but I prefer the more balanced look of the bigger rear wing and more aggressive front valance over that of the pre-update cars. I’d want the Performance Pack too, this increasing power to 240hp at a screaming 8,000rpm and adding track-ready four-pot AP Racing brake calipers at the front. It also gets the full-length roof intake.
This one is at an official Lotus dealer and has all the bits, plus some extra stripes and an aggressive diffuser at the back. £33,490 seems on the money too. For a little bit more I think I’d prefer this orange one though, for little more than I like the colour.
More from less is a philosophy the new Exige Sport 350 upholds admirably against prevailing trends in the new car market. But I can’t help think this older one does so in even more extreme style. Better than that they hold their value and the market doesn’t seem put off by the fact most owners track them and track them hard. One of the most exciting sports cars of recent times, a safe place to put your money AND something you can drive as hard as you like without worrying about impacting on its future value. I think I may have just talked myself into something…
Photography courtesy of Lotus and pistonheads