Needs really must
Exige is the ultimate Elise – and nothing goes faster for less
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.