A jewel in the Lo­tus

The Advertiser - Motoring - - COVER STORY - PETER BARN­WELL

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?

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