Car reviews - Lotus - Exige - S coupe
Fantasic handling, rapid acceleration, stunning looks and wonderful sound of supercharger in action
Room for improvement
Harsh ride on rough roads, impracticality and high revs at highway speeds
31 Aug 2006
DRIVING a Lotus Elise or Exige powered by the old Rover K-Series engine was a wonderful yet ultimately frustrating experience.
They had stunning handling, wonderfully direct steering and looked great, but you couldn't help thinking the cars needed more grunt.
Wringing their necks, you could get the Lotus go-karts to still move along at a respectable pace, but in the back of your mind, you always wondered how well it would go with some extra herbs and spices.
The sad demise of Rover in 2005 also meant supplies of the K-Series engine dried up as well and Lotus had to find a new one.
Toyota is not the first brand you would think of to supply the grunt for serious sportscar, but its peaky 2ZZ-GE engine as found in the Celica and Corolla Sportivo fitted the bill.
The naturally-aspirated engine lifted the driving experience of both the Elise and Exige, with more torque down low as well as a terrific top end surge.
Just when you thought that the Lotus folk were satisfied, a plan was hatched at its headquarters in Hethel to create a very special Exige. (For non-Lotus people, the Elise is the entry-level roadster, while the Exige is the edgier and often quicker hard-top version).
It was decided that a supercharged version would deliver the desired punch without adding much weight. The car weighs just 935kg.
They created one of the most enjoyable sportscars of all time.
There are few experiences that rival launching an Exige S with the engine, just inches behind your head, belting out a wonderful mixture of supercharger bark, induction rush and exhaust roar.
The acceleration is addictive.
It's also tyre-searing quick, with Lotus timing the Exige S at 4.3 seconds.
That makes it the fastest accelerating car Lotus has ever built.
The addition of the supercharger is the perfect adaptation of the Toyota engine, which was healthier up the top of the rev range that down the bottom.
Bolting on a supercharger adds the low down urge that turns it into a true weapon.
Press down the throttle, ease out the clutch, and then enjoy revving the engine all the way out to the 8000rpm redline.
Then it's time to grab the short-throw gearshift and slip it quickly into second.
If you are on the racetrack, you can go through this heavenly process until you run out of straight.
GoAuto tested the Exige S on the track and the road and can report the car is enjoyable on both.
Any Exige S customer who doesn't join a club and head to the track is really missing out. The track is this car's natural environment.
There you can dive incredibly late into the corners, keep the engine howling as you sling out of the bends.
On the track, you can even get it all wrong and spin in fourth gear at without hitting anything just like this writer did at Wakefield Raceway.
The Exige S is still enjoyable on public roads being driven safely and at legal speeds.
It makes so much noise that it sounds fast growling along at 60km/h.
Everything feels fast from the driver's seat, the bottom of which is not all that far from the tarmac.
Driving a Lotus is the closest thing to driving a go-kart in traffic that I have experienced.
The go-kart analogy goes further than your view from the car, extending to the handling.
It may be a crusty cliché, but the Exige S handles like a go-kart.
The same direct-feel steering, the way it sits flat it turns is all very familiar.
Gokarts are not known for the suppleness of their suspension, mainly because they don't have suspension, and bump absorption is not a strong point for Lotus cars either which are known for jolting the occupants.
That said, the Exige S, which its Bilstein dampers and Eibach springs is actually quite compliant over better maintained roads and racetracks.
If you travel over similar roads to me, you'll realise that such surfaces are not widespread and are especially rare in country regions you would want to take this Lotus for winding journeys.
The less than perfect roads do unsettle the car, not to mention the driver and passenger.
The crashing and bashing are part of the experience, but can become tiring.
Lotus has used low-ratios with the six-speed manual and that helps contribute towards the terrific acceleration. The only problem is that, even with six-cogs in the box, the engine still toils away at 3300 rpm when you are sitting on 100km/h. Given the volume of the engine, this can best be described as unpleasant on longer trips.
Even with such high revs at cruising speeds, the Exige S uses an average of 9.1 litres per 100km (ADR 81/01), which is rather miserly considering the performance it delivers.
Getting in and out of the Exige, like the Elise, is a test of your co-ordination.
The combination of a high floor sill and a low roof can pull muscles or slip discs if not approached carefully. Ladies should also think twice about wearing a dress.
The seats that you eventually fall into look like race seats. They are rather thin and give the impression that would be uncomfortable. Remarkably, the wrap around seats are both supportive and remain comfortable for several hours.
There are few comfort items in the cabin although the cars now have airconditioning and a CD player, items of luxurious previously missing from the sparse (and light) interiors of Lotus cars.
There is precious little room for storing any gear in the cabin, and the boot is also rather small and can carry no more than 50kg of gear.
All these concerns are blown away when the supercharger winds up and the Lotus slings towards redline.
It's impractical, harsh riding, expensive and draws police attention faster than a Grand Final streaker, but the Exige S is simply a great sportscar.
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