Car reviews - Lotus - Exige - S
Performance, handling, brakes, sound, focus, design, lightness philosophy, relative useability
Room for improvement
Not so easy to get into elegantly, high price for auto, dated interior presentation, seats pinch in corners, rattly side windows when lowered
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1 Jun 2015
FAR from destroying one of our favourite sportscars in the world, the fitment of an optional automatic transmission has enhanced the Lotus Exige S experience to a new and utterly unique level.
Priced from $137,990, plus on-road costs (an inexplicable $5K premium over the continuing – and excellent – six-speed manual version), all the Toyota-supplied six-speed auto takes away is the need to move a gear lever and depress a clutch.
Everything else is as per the brilliant manual Exige S – from the 257.5kW/400Nm 3.5-litre supercharged V6’s stonking acceleration (down 0.1s to a supercar-scaring 3.9s 0-100km/h), to a dynamic capability that seems to defy physics.
But, as with all current Lotus cars, this is not for the faint hearted or buyers who only want a show pony the Exige S is as raw and visceral as they come nowadays, prioritising unsullied and unsanitised driver interaction over comfort and refinement.
That should be immediately obvious from the moment you contort yourself through a stubbornly narrow portal that the Brits call an aperture, manoeuvring yourself gracelessly into a skimpily padded and heavily bolstered driver’s seat.
Note that, in the roadster (as driven), entry and egress is much easier if the canvas roof is unclipped and rolled off, allowing for beach-buggy style hopping in and out of the car. Which is really kinda cool.
Anyway, looking very much like a New Millennium dashboard presentation, if the first thought that runs through your mind is: ‘Gee, is this ALL I get for my $140K?’ then it’s probably best to unpeel yourself right out of the car pronto.
It’s not for you.
That would be a shame, because once you turn the key (that also looks like a ‘90s museum piece, complete with its annoying immobiliser-immobilising button), the sensory amplification and pleasure experience starts with a roaring, rousing engine tune, idling mellifluously over your shoulder and in impatient anticipation.
No conventional gear lever exists, so pushing the ‘D’ for drive button is all that’s needed to bolt off the line. And bolt the Exige S does, blasting away towards triple digit speeds in practically no time at all. This is an explosively fast car if you’re not being feather-footed with the throttle, thrusting forward with almost demented fervour.
Two immediate observations come to the fore: 1. The ratio swapping is as smooth and seamless as anything we’ve come to expect from the latest German dual-clutch transmissions, but minus the hesitation and lag and 2. The exhaust bellow from behind (enhanced by a push of a go-louder button on the left of the steering column) is an aural assault of the utterly awesome kind.
At low speeds, the unassisted steering initially feels tiresomely heavy, but that attitude changes forever the moment you take your first corner with haste – the response, feel, and feedback from the helm is the most authentic we have experienced in a modern vehicle, with everything going on down below relayed completely to the driver, instantly making the car an extension of your palms.
It’s always been the Lotus way, with the auto being more so by dent of the fact that there’s no need for left hand to leave the wheel to change gears. It’s a perfect 100 per cent connection. Amen.
And then there is the supernaturally talented handling and roadholding. Glued to the road, the Exige S is simply already exactly where your mind wants it to be the nano-second the decision is made, seemingly cutting out the time-wasting middleman that normally also includes the driver turning the wheel. It’s all so very reflex. Did Duran Duran have something to do with the steering?Just as impressive, too, is the ride quality, which is firm but incredibly controlled and absorbent. That’s probably due to the super-strong bonded extruded aluminium chassis that really does feel as if it’s milled from a single massive piece of ingot.
On the flipside, there is little to no sound deadening compared to, say, a Jaguar F-Type or Porsche Boxster/Cayman. This feels loud, brash and raw. And on another stratospheric level as far as dynamic pleasure is concerned.
Bad points? Here are the worst two. Around tighter fast turns, the seat bolstering feels like a raw metal bar poking you in the buttock and with the windows down (the best way to drink in that mechanical symphony), the glass shakes within its frames. Note also: there’s a sticker on the passenger-side header rail warning of water intrusion during very heavy rain.
Up to 200km of motorway driving revealed the sheer racket of road, tyre, and wind noise accompanying every long-distance journey as well, but then nobody would buy an Exige S to commute such distances every single day.
Comparatively speaking, then, the Lotus is probably best experienced as an alternative to your regular sedan, wagon or SUV. And in many ways, it is the antithesis of humdrum homogenised everyday motoring. If that’s what you’re after, then there is no better or more authentic sportscar than the Exige S.
Yet, if you’re brave enough, there is just enough practicality and hard-wearing durability for the Lotus to serve as an everyday car, since there is sufficient cabin space for two people, the boot is big enough for grocery shopping, and the aforementioned suspension’s ability to, um, suspend, is surprisingly good.
Note, also, that to get close to that 3.9s 0-100km/h time, an F-Type buyer must spend almost twice as much, while a Porsche driver must be behind the wheel of a 911 Carrera S PDK from nearly $252K. There’s a value argument that can be justified here, folks. Just in case you’re already hooked line and sinker.
So, in the end, the Exige S auto gives nothing away in terms of dynamic realness and rawness. Yes, most Lotus owners would probably naturally gravitate towards the excellent manual version, but there is a real case to be made if auto’s more your thing. There is nothing like it on the roads right now.
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