The all-new Lotus Exige S has the right stuff – smooth looks, low weight, adequate power and superb handling. It talks the talk and, as we found out during a day on both road and track, it walks the walk. It just might be the most rewarding and well-equipped sports car we’ve ever driven, and from us, that’s no claim to be taken lightly.
The Exige S reminds us of a Noble M600, minus the utter mayhem. If you’ve driven an M600, you’ll know it’s one of the finest supercars money can buy, delivering a very analogue experience that shies away from the electronic, insulated feel that’s so endemic in machines today.
While the Exige S is no direct competitor for such a car, at a quarter of the price, it delivers 90% of the fun. You do the math.
Other than top speed, the Lotus is also on the same page as a Porsche 911 GT3 RS and Ferrari 458. After all, any car that can blast to 60mph in 3.8sec, blow by the 100mph mark in 8.5sec and touch 170mph is no slouch, no matter what you use for a benchmark.
At just 2590 lb, the new Exige S is 530 lb heavier than before, and needs a longer wheelbase to accept the supercharged V6 from the Evora S. But with 350hp and 295 lb-ft on tap, there’s enough oomph to negate the bulk.
The longer wheelbase and wider track aren’t all bad, either. Sure, the go-kart character isn’t so evident, but the new Exige S is more controlled; a welcome change.
Revised suspension includes new front wishbones with Evora-inspired bushings, and more negative camber to preserve the razor-sharp turn-in. The rear-end features a new subframe, forged aluminum uprights and lower wishbones, 15% more anti-squat, plus a stiffer anti-roll bar. What does this all mean? It’s built for speed!
The new setup comes in two flavors: Street and Race, with different springs, dampers and tires. The standard Exige S, if you can call it that, is road-biased, paired with 205/45 ZR17 and 265/35 ZR18 Pirelli P Zero Corsa (LS) rubber, specifically developed by Lotus and Pirelli for the car. These are wrapped around 17x7.5" and 18x9.5" wheels – talk about staggered.
This set-up strikes a fine balance between comfort and outright grip that most enthusiasts could happily live with. But, if you’re a dedicated track junkie, check the box for the Race Pack, which gives you Pirelli P Zero Trofeo race rubber along with 15% stiffer suspension.
Our Race Pack test car had been fitted with Corsa tires because of inclement weather and were a great match for the car and its Harrop/Eaton supercharged V6. The engine note is sweeter than most, partially because it’s nestled behind your ears.
Boost is exactly what the doctor ordered. Low-end torque? No problem; mid-range grunt? You’ve got it; Peak power before bouncing off the limiter? The Exige S begs to be thrashed and, as its pilot, it’s your duty to do so.
Even in fourth gear at 1500rpm, lightweights like these usually have to be wrung out, but mash the pedal and you’re rewarded with an instant lurch forward. Downshifting to overtake is a thing of the past.
Back to that weather, and the clouds had been dumping water all morning, but racing in the rain is sometimes the most fun.
Following the driest line, the Exige S felt faster than most. And while you’d otherwise be inclined to disable all the electronic nannies, Lotus gives you reason not to. The Dynamic Performance Management system is your new co-drive, and arguably the most sophisticated of its kind.
There are four modes: Touring (boring), Sport (alright), Race (surprisingly smart) and Off (awesome). Race mode is intuitive and borders on genius. Taking sensor readings in milliseconds, the computer calculates and learns how much grip is available and meters the power exactly, balancing torque against the traction control to find the threshold of slip.
Power-on oversteer is effortless and should you find yourself in danger, the brakes are more than ready to save your reckless behind. Using 350mm front and 332mm rear discs clamped by four-pot calipers all round, the pedal is firm and fade is nonexistent.
A small company, Lotus has not only remained relevant but fresh and downright impressive. These cars are unlike anything else money can buy. In fact, it’s unlikely to have any direct competitor, and more unlikely you’ll have more fun for the money.