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Driven: Lotus lobs Exige S auto

Going auto: The Lotus Exige S automatic improves on the 0-100km/h time of the manual by 0.1 second to 3.9 seconds.

About 30 per cent of Lotus Exige S sales expected to go to new automatic version

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Lotus logo1 Jun 2015

LOTUS Cars Australia is hoping to increase the buyer base for its the Exige S roadster with the addition of an automatic transmission, that offers faster acceleration and better fuel economy than the continuing manual.

Starting from $137,990, plus on-road costs, for either the fixed-roof or canvas-topped convertible, the automatic is expected to account for about 30 per cent of total Exige S volume in Australia, despite adding $5000 to the price of the British-built mid-engined sportscar.

According to Lotus Australia and New Zealand brand manager Alastair Manihera, while the automatic will most likely bring incremental volume increases to the range, it will not overtake the manual version.

“Lotus has always played in the manual market, and we are finding that Australia is also a lot like the US market… and so we expect that about one-third will tend towards the automatic,” he said.

“It’s for early adopters who want the latest technology at the cutting edge – these are the people that this car will appeal to… but it is unrealistic to think that Lotus will be ‘going mainstream’ with the automatic.”

Lotus sold only 61 cars in Australia last year – down 10 units from 2013’s result – and is so far tracking along similar lines in the first four months of this year. The Exige currently accounts for about half of all volume.

Joining the $187,900 Evora S 2+2-seater flagship as the brand’s second automatic offering, the price of the Exige S has already been hiked up by $6000 as a result of unfavourable Australian currency exchange rates against the Pound Sterling.

Mr Manihera said that the inclusion of the previously optional Race Equipment Pack helps address the difference. Last year’s manual-only models kicked off from $126,990.

Like the manual, the Exige S automatic is powered by a 3.5-litre double overhead cam 24-valve supercharged V6 supplied by Toyota, mounted behind the passenger compartment but ahead of the rear axle, and driving the rear wheels.

Heavily modified by Lotus compared with the unit found in the Aurion, Kluger, and Tarago in Australia, it uses a Harrop HTV 1320 supercharger assembly and Eaton Twin Vortex Series blower to deliver 257kW of power at a lofty 7000rpm and 400Nm of torque at 4600rpm.

The all-important transmission in question is also Toyota-sourced –Aisin’s six-speed U660e torque converter unit with open differential, Sport or Race modes with altered shift actions, and manual control available via fixed steering-column mounted paddle shifts in lieu of a floor lever (there are buttons arranged in a ‘PRND’ sequence instead).

Also present is Launch mode, thrusting the 6kg-heavier auto (at 1182kg) into the sub four-second 0-100km/h sprint club with a 3.9s result (a 0.1s improvement over the manual). Top speed is 261km/h, or an electronically limited 233km/h for the 10kg-lighter convertible due to its clip-on fabric roof’s properties. The drag co-efficiency rating is 0.433Cd, or 0.41 for the convertible.

A Euro-V emissions-meeting engine, the Exige S automatic’s average combined fuel consumption figures tumble half a litre per 100km, to 9.6L/100km, for a carbon dioxide emissions result of 222 grams per kilometre.

Keeping all that performance in check are a quartet of AP Racing four-piston callipers and 350mm ventilated and cross-drilled front disc brakes (332mm in the rear). The rack and pinion steering remains unassisted, with 2.8 turns lock-to-lock, while the suspension is independent with unequal length wishbones and coil springs at both ends.

With the advent of the automatic, Lotus’ Australian importers Ateco Automotive is also keen to highlight the improved levels of aftersales care and customer service provided, with the Sydney outlet Simply Sports Cars ramping up its track days and other similar customer-focus events designed to foster a closer relationship with owners as well as buyers of the cars.

“The track days and other events are important to us because we’ve found that customers want to talk to an engineer at the dealership level,” Mr Manihera said.

There are currently five dealers in Australia, with Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth rounding out the distribution network.

Originally developed as the closed-roof version of the successful and lauded open-topped Elise, the Exige Series 1 was released just before the second-gen Elise debuted in late 2000 as a limited edition, but became a range stalwart from 2004 with the new-bodied Series 2.

Like its sibling, it employed a development of a Toyota-supplied naturally-aspirated 142kW/187Nm 1.8-litre twin-cam four-cylinder petrol engine (dubbed 2ZZ-GE), gaining a supercharger option for the Exige S model from 2006.

Launched at the 2011 Frankfurt motor show, the Series 3 arrived in 2012 with the Toyota supercharged 3.5-litre V6.

Lotus says that since then, the highly publicised ownership and management changes have seen a concerted effort in improving quality at both the supplier and manufacturing level, to the point where the Exige S Series 3 is a comprehensively better-made vehicle than earlier versions.

2015 Lotus S Exige pricing*
Coupe $132,990
Coupe (a)$137,990
Roadster $132,990
Roadster (a)$137,990
*Excludes on-road costs.

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