A jewel in the Lotus
LOTUS “chaps” are a fairly aloof lot, with a preference for like-minded company and a taste for tweed coats with elbow patches.
No, only joking, they are actually disturbingly committed to their cars and love the raw feel of driving with unassisted steering and manual gearbox that a Lotus provides.
That’s why it was a tad perplexing when Lotus announced an automatic version of the performance king, the Exige S.
A collective “Egad” must have rumbled through many a Lotus club meeting. The maker from Hethel, England, obviously felt a need to roll with the times and provide an auto transmission for city-bound punters.
And make no assumptions — the six-speeder is a cracking good thing that’s quicker and arguably more engaging than the manual.
If you’re at a track day and someone turns up with an auto Exige S, they’ll probably hose you because it changes gears quicker, is 0.1 second snappier from 0-100kmh and allows you to keep both hands on the wheel thanks to paddle-shifters. Even the standard Drive selection gives a throttle blip on the down change.
This year’s versions include Lotus’s Race Equipment Pack as standard on the Exige S, whether manual or automatic. The pack includes four-mode dynamic performance management, multi-mode exhaust and launch control.
Apart from the gearbox, everything in the auto is pretty much the same as the manual Exige S: the mid-mounted supercharged 3.5-litre Toyotabuilt V6 (259kw/400Nm), rearwheel drive and steering that’s like a truck at parking speeds but razor sharp on the move.
There are premium proprietary parts from the likes of Bilstein (dampers), Eibach (springs), AP (brakes) and Harrop (supercharger).
For any car company buying in an engine, a Toyota job would be top of the list because of the inherent good design, resilience, cost and quality.
The 3.5 in Exige S carries all the usual Toyota technology, including VVT-i and direct ignition — direct injection doesn’t make it on this one because it’s simply not needed. Lotus recalibrates the engine as well as the transmission and inserts its own engine management computer chip.
The outputs and sprint times put the Exige S unequivocally in supercar territory.
Dynamically the Exige S gives experienced drivers a genuine race-car feel with precision, control and heaps of feedback. The engine is, shall we say, adequate for a 1200kg sports coupe and at no time feels lacking.
Very few cars would come near the Exige S in a straight line let alone through corners.
It’s a pig to get into because of the extruded epoxy bonded alloy chassis with large side box sections but once in the seat, all is good even the ride which, in the softer drive modes is quite comfortable on rough roads.
It sounds amazing with the exhaust “open” and has throttle response to pin back your ears. Similarly when cornering your head is almost pinned to the side window.
This is not for everyone but it’s a superb enthusiast’s car that sells for $137,900 with the auto. You can have a coupe or roadster (drop-top) for the same money.
The Exige S auto packs sensational performance and handling into a sparsely equipped package. But it still goes like a Lotus, so who cares?