Lotus Exige S 240 H
The ascetic choice
*A lot of hype surrounds this car from engineering and so-called 'purist' circles-that is, people who appreciate the bare basics in an automobile and nothing else. Lotus has traditionally eschewed creature comforts like air conditioning, power assist and cushioned seats in the pursuit of a completely raw and undiluted driving experience. The Exige S 240 is the latest embodiment of that philosophy.
The cockpit is cramped and noisy, and it's difficult to steer at low speeds due to the absence of power steering. But turn into your first corner at speed, crest your first apex and it quickly becomes clear there's nothing else like it on the road today.
The S iteration supercharges the Toyota-built 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine and adds close to 30 hp to the previous Exige's 190-hp peak. The S 240 features a more efficient intercooler fed by a larger integrated roof scoop and pushes power by another 20 hp (hence the 240 designation). Off the line, the S 240 still doesn't feel particularly fast, but it isn't really about straight-line speed. It's more about building revs to keep the supercharger on the boil, screaming into bends and maintaining silly velocities through the exit thanks to unbelievably flat cornering. And the faster it goes the more stable it becomes, the aerodynamics sucking it ever closer to the pavement and generating a reported 100 pounds of downforce at 100 mph.
On a tight, twisting road, there's no doubt the Lotus carves the hardest of the three and maintains cornering speeds with the greatest confidence. In this respect, it's a perfect weekender or track-day toy, albeit a pricey one ($60,000 and change to start). This particular Lotus isn't as spartan as some, equipped as it is with the Touring Pack, which adds leather seat and door trim, an Alpine stereo with iPod connector, additional sound insulation and full carpeting (basically a set of floor mats).
Even so, living with it on a daily basis would take a special sort of individual. Two grown men can fit inside, but they may occasionally find themselves dueling elbows. Or the driver may inadvertently grab the passenger's knee while reaching for the shifter. Rearward visibility is severely compromised by the intercooler, which is vertically mounted directly behind the cabin. The car comes with an interior rear-view mirror, but about the only thing it's good for is pointing it out the passenger window to help monitor the blind spot.
Ingress and egress aren't easily accomplished. Getting in requires negotiating high and wide door sills and the non-adjustable steering wheel. Getting out can only be described as clambering. The car has more storage than might be expected. The entire rear end behind the central engine bay is hollow, although everything must fit through an opening about the same diameter as a human torso.
To deride the car for its inherent asceticism, though, is to miss the point. Any complaints are quickly forgotten once the curves are reached.