MAY 12th 2013

Lotus Exige S: Muscle weighs more than fat

Exige S adds more of almost everything

Purists be damned. The Exige S might not follow the Lotus mantra of less weight equals more speed, but the S’s gain is tempered by a significant boost in performance. That comes courtesy of a pair of extra cylinders – the Exige S now sports a V6 rather than a four-pot, to which a supercharger is bolted to liberate a few more horses. The result is 345bhp at 7000rpm, backed up by 294lb ft of torque. It’s enough to get this fastest-ever Exige, even with its 70mm longer wheelbasae, wider tracks and 200kg extra weight, from 0-62mph in just 4.0sec dead.

With power up 46 percent and torque increased by a faintly ridiculous sounding 74 percent, the Exige S is no longer merely a more brawny, coupe Elise, even if its chassis is the same extruded aluminium tub. It’s now more of a rival for the more focused models in the Porsche 911 range. That’s what Lotus hopes anyway, and with the car’s circa £50k price – more Cayman R than GT3 money – it may have a point.

For all its new muscularity outside it’s much the same inside. That means a clamber to get in over the wide sills. Once you’ve contorted yourself in,  the cabin is tight, its starkness underlining its pared-back singularity of purpose yet betraying an austerity and cheapness that’s a bit galling in a car costing so much.

You’ll forgive the Exige S its lacklustre cabin as soon as you push your foot to the floor. The too-small speedometer readout is barely able to keep up with the numbers as the supercharged V6 goes about piling on speed. Hugely flexible, the engine will pull convincingly from any revs, but it’s also keen to rev-out to its 7000rpm peak power.

Exige S On Lotus Test Track Sienna Brown 26_04_12_213p

Pleasingly the 6-speed transmission is a manual, though its action is neither particularly accurate or short in throw. It’s the weakest link in the driving experience, and one you have to learn to drive around. The rest of the Exige S delivers the sort of hard-wired exhilaration that’s a rare commodity among the increasingly sanitised performance of its rivals.

Not that it’s a tricky, overly demanding car to drive. It’s more about the feel it delivers. The steering is key here, the unassisted system a touch on the heavy side if you’re parking, but it lightens up at speed and offers a purity of response and feel that allows you to place the Exige S with unerring confidence.

Lotus’ Dynamic Performance Management allows you to fiddle with the driver control settings; opt for Race – via the optional Track Pack – and it learns the grip levels, turning even the ham-fisted into a hero driver.

The Exige S is another in a long line of Lotus cars that demonstrates just how effective the company’s pact with the suspension gods is. The Exige S rides with real composure. On track it’s fantastic, while the on-road ride is amazingly good for a car with such focused handling, the expected jolts and knocks over broken surfaces simply not materialising. The Exige S rides with greater comfort than many premium saloons.

It was always like that at Lotus though, and while the Exige S is quite incredible in many ways it’s also disappointing in others – specifically the cockpit and that reluctant gearshift. Ignore the cabin, work around the shift and it’s a hugely appealing car, which you’ll absolutely revel in driving. It’s just a shame it’d be so awkward to live with.

Exige S

Top speed: 170mph
0-62mph: 4.0sec
Engine: 3.5-litre V6
Power/weight: 293bhp/tonne
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Wheels: 17in front, 18in rear
Tyres: 205/45 R17, 265/35 R18
Power: 345bhp at 7000rpm
Torque: 294lb ft at 4500rpm
Economy: 28mpg
CO2: 236g/km
Price: £53,850
On sale date: Now

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