Needs re­ally must

Ex­ige is the ul­ti­mate Elise – and noth­ing goes faster for less

Octane - - IGNITION // NEW CAR NEWS - Words John Simis­ter

Cu­ri­ous word, ex­ige. It’s a verb, with shades of mean­ing based around no­tions of need­ing, re­quir­ing, de­mand­ing or even beg­ging. Should my psy­che ex­ige an Ex­ige? Af­ter driv­ing two ver­sions of this, the lat­est Lotus to be re-cast for its role in Hethel’s lat­est chap­ter, un­der the en­thu­si­as­tic but re­al­is­tic guid­ance of Jean-Marc Gales (who has fi­nally man­aged to get Lotus not to spend more than it re­ceives), I do feel an ex­i­gence com­ing on.

The Ex­ige breed be­gan as a kind of harder-edged, fixed-roof, more po­tent Elise. Its re­cent in­car­na­tions have housed the Toy­ota-based, su­per­charged, 3.5-litre V6 also used, with dif­fer­ent tun­ing, in the larger Evora. It seems a lot of en­gine for a lit­tle car, al­though to­day’s Ex­iges have out­grown their Elise roots. So, inevitably, they have put on weight.

But wait. What was the Ex­ige S is now rein­vented as the Ex­ige Sport 350, repris­ing a nam­ing idea first used on the Esprit Sport 300. And it has been on a diet, in which ev­ery com­po­nent of the Ex­ige S was an­a­lysed in the Lotus Light­weight Lab­o­ra­tory for pos­si­ble weight-sav­ing or even dele­tion. Colin Chapman would have loved this. ‘With more power, you’re faster on the straight,’ he once said, ‘but with less weight you’re faster ev­ery­where.’

All told, the Sport 350 has 51kg less to lug around than the Ex­ige S, al­though at 1125kg it’s still heav­ier than you ex­pect an alu­minium-struc­tured, com­pos­ite-bod­ied car to be. That en­gine is mainly why, but with 350bhp on tap its heft is jus­ti­fi­able. Weight loss comes from a new one-piece, slat­ted en­gine cover in place of the fast­back rear win­dow and the dele­tion of the en­gine cover below; new light­weight wheels (now wider at the back) and two-piece brakes; a re­designed rear sub­frame, a lighter bat­tery and myr­iad other de­tails. The sun­vi­sors and pas­sen­ger footrest have gone, too. You can have them back at ex­tra cost.

Af­ter driv­ing into low Nor­folk sun, I rec­om­mend sun­vi­sor re­in­state­ment. But there is much new to en­joy: a re­designed gear­lever and art­fully ex­posed link­age in cast alu­minium for one, and tiny tweaks to the sus­pen­sion ge­om­e­try for an­other. There’s frac­tion­ally more neg­a­tive cam­ber all-round and a touch more toe-out at the front, to ban­ish the pre­vi­ous model’s slight push-on un­der­steer in a tight bend and make the whole car even poin­tier.

The en­gine was al­ready mighty, with po­tent pull and a crisp six-pot howl right across the rev range (170mph and 0-60mph in 3.7 sec­onds are the head­line stats), and it still is. No pro­duc­tion Lotus has lapped the fac­tory track faster than this one, but I found its track de­meanour un­fail­ingly friendly and beau­ti­fully bal­anced. On the road it over­takes in an in­stant, howl­ing its en­thu­si­asm es­pe­cially in stric­tures-lib­er­ated, hair-trig­ger Sport or Race modes, but the gar­ru­lous steer­ing’s ea­ger­ness to dart away from the straight-ahead is un­set­tling un­til you learn to trust it, af­ter which the com­mu­ni­ca­tion on­slaught be­comes ut­terly ab­sorb­ing.

The sus­pen­sion is firm but chop­pi­ness-free, the gearchange’s new pos­i­tiv­ity feels de­li­cious pro­vided you don’t rush it un­nec­es­sar­ily, and to those Chi­nese buy­ers who ap­par­ently haven’t bought a sin­gle man­ual Ex­ige I can only say that you have no idea what you’re miss­ing. The auto op­tion does a half-de­cent self-shift­ing job but it an­ni­hi­lates the in­ti­mate in­ter­ac­tiv­ity that is the whole point of an Ex­ige.

Ful­fill­ing your Ex­ige ex­i­gence costs £55,900. You cer­tainly won’t go faster for less.

Top and left There’s been some weight-sav­ing so the Ex­ige makes even more of its 350bhp su­per­charged Toy­ota V6; own­ers of early Es­prits will know what in­spired that in­te­rior trim.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.