The Lotus Exige S

Imagine if you were able to savour just the pure essence of driving pleasure without all the big engines and cosseting luxury, what would you end up with?

The knowledgeable will tell you that Lotus fits the bill perfectly. As a company, Lotus has been around for more than 60 years, first at the racetrack and latterly with its unique sports cars, but if you are really serious about pure, one-hundred-proof driving, then you will need to know more about the Lotus range of cars, especially the new Exige S which pretty much represents what Lotus is about.

Its ethos to make the most capable and practical lightweight sports car has its roots in its early days of motor racing. Lotus’ founder, the late Colin Chapman was famous for making his race cars with the barest minimum of weight and integrity to complete the race, so if it fell apart right after winning, it would have been the perfect race car.

Of course, it would not be appreciated if Lotus produces flimsy roadgoing sports cars. Its early cars did not quite have the reliability buyers wanted despite its avowed brilliance, but its breakthrough came in the form of the 1996 Lotus Elise, a unique aluminium bonded-tub space frame with glass fibre bodywork.

Lotus did not believe in huge horsepower figures as that usually meant a lot more complexity and weight due to a larger engine and its beefier components. Instead it sought to simplify and reduce overall weight so that a smaller engine and less esoteric components would be able to deliver the same level of performance as some of the high-performance exotics.

The overall weight of the Exige S is significantly reduced so that the smaller engine packs the same punch as some of the high-performance sports cars

The first Elise was fitted with a modest 118bhp engine derived from a small family sedan. But as it had only half the weight to propel around, it had twice the performance potential, managing 0-100km/h in under 6.0sec. That was a big deal back in 1996 as it was within a half second of far more expensive and exotic machinery. Before long, Lotus had created the first generation Exige as a follow-up to the Elise range and that car really ruffled the feathers of the established performance cars of that time.

With inexpensive petrol readily available at that time, it was counter-intuitive to offer a small car with a small displacement engine to compete with the exotics like Ferrari or Lamborghini that have a V8 or V12. However Lotus stuck to its guns and continued its challenge of the establishment—however futile it may have seemed in the beginning. Today, thanks to the rising oil prices and pressing environmental issues plaguing the world, Lotus may have a real chance of establishing its cars as the perfect foil to such concerns.

Currently Lotus offers the diminutive Elise as its entry level sports car and the larger V6 Evora to compete with the likes of Porsche’s evergreen 911. To create the third generation Exige S, Lotus marries the lighter chassis of the Elise with the higher power V6 engine of the Evora S. It weighs just 1,176kg but packs the punch of 345bhp from a supercharged 3.5L V6. Lotus could have saved more weight by using a turbocharged 2.0L engine but that would have had too much turbo lag to be truly enjoyable. Using the standard 280bhp V6 was an option, but it was decided that, considering the company the Exige S was to keep, it would have been too pedestrian. So supercharging the V6 would lift power to the levels of a V8 engine without the attendant weight gain.

What lies beneath the body of the Exige S is the mid-mounted supercharged V6 which, when coupled with the chassis, provides the perfect foundation for the exceptional sports car

In its latest guise, the Exige S storms to 100km/h in just 4.0sec and, if left to run unabated, reaches a maximum speed of 274km/h. It might still be out of contention with today’s fastest super cars but it is better than some more expensive entry level ones. However, to merely draw comparisons using the raw figures is to completely miss the point of the Lotus. It is really about the driving experience—and it delivers excitement from way below the legal speed limit, whereas the other super cars only begin to thrill beyond 120km/h, which is illegal in most countries. The Exige S and indeed all in the Lotus stable will deliver thrills while being driven safely below the speed limit, a clear boon in this day and age when our roads are overly policed and congested.

However, that is not to say the Exige S is out of its depth at high speeds as it is designed as a track day weapon and its ability to be used on normal roads is a welcome facet. One could say its first home is the track, as it is designed as such and comes shod with some serious Pirelli P Zero Corsa tyres. These tyres provide a good compromise between the requirements of ride and high performance. For day to day driving, the Corsa version is perfect as it possesses surprising comfort to go along with its ability to turn and grip like a racing tyre; for even more extreme performance, Lotus offers the optional Pirelli Cup tyres.

The Lotus Exige S sports high-performance Pirelli P Zero Corsa tyres as standard issue 

Lotus has done well to tap these tyres’ amazing ability to communicate exactly what is happening at the road-tyre interface conferring this car the best feeling steering bar none. Of course there is a downside: to achieve this level of communication, Lotus has refused to fit any sort of power steering. Thankfully the Exige S is no heavyweight so is not completely unmanageable. Only during parking is it a hefty affair but that is a small price to pay for the reward of a truly superb steering feel.

Perhaps the biggest drawback is the acrobatics still required to get into the Exige S. Some degree of contortion is required, but if you can master this there is a huge reward awaiting you, something very few cars can offer and certainly none at this price. The cabin is rather compact and sadly the slim bucket seats will not allow those with a wide frame to enjoy these pleasures but is a necessity to hold the driver in place as the Exige S is capable of immense levels of grip that will rival race cars.

Interior of the Lotus Exige S

It is truly an eye-opener even for jaded car enthusiasts to experience what the Exige S offers. Going down any road becomes an adventure bristling with discoveries. 
The precision wrought by the car’s controls like the steering, brakes, manual gear shifts and accelerator allows the driver to virtually mind meld with this machine, delivering responses that are as precise as humanly possible. Many of today’s cars disguise luxury and low effort driving as a real driving experience but it is patently clear after the first minute in the Exige S that this is absolutely not the case.
Even without fiddling with the electronic drive controls that help curtail understeer or oversteer, the Exige S presents a paragon of stability and accuracy. One only has to be able to get in and drive to savour the delights but that is already a strict physical deterrent, the other being the willingness to do so.

Unlike the obvious treats like a smooth, powerful engine or a comfortable seat or even a sporty exhaust note, driving pleasure is harder to quantify for many who feel that a car needs to be above all else a labour-saving device. However, if you find you are a suitable candidate for a second or third car, the Exige S may well deliver far more driving pleasure than you ever imagined possible.

 

LOTUS EXIGE S

Body Two-door sports coupe, aluminium space
frame construction with resin body parts
Engine 3.5L Petrol Injection Supercharged V6
MaxPower 345bhp at 7,000rpm
Max Torque 400Nm at 4,500rpm
Transmission Six-Speed Manual
Acceleration 0-100km/h in 4.0sec
Top
Speed 274km/h
FuelConsumption 10.1L/100km (combined mode)
Price (before COE) S$310,668
Agent Richburg Motors (S) Pte Ltd.
 One Tannery Building, 1 Tannery Road. Tel: 6283 7076