9

10

Model

S Roadster

Price

$126,990

The Numbers

3456cc, s’charged V6, RWD, 257kW, 400Nm, 10.1L/100km, 0–100km/h in 4.0secs, 233km/h max, 1166kg

The Topgear Verdict

Easier to live with than the hardtop Exige S (which is basically a race car), but still performance-focussed enough to make daily driving (and getting in and out...) a demanding exercise.

2014 Lotus Exige S Roadster

What is it?

A slightly toned-down, and hence more live-with-able, version of the Exige S, that also allows you to remove part of the roof.

What’s different about it?

The Roadster keeps most – say, 90 per cent – of the things that make the hardtop great, but soften the edges just enough, so that you don’t have to install a Nurofen dispenser on the dashboard.

Plus, okay, yes, the roof comes off so people can see how awesome you are, when you drive around on a sunny day. So it’s a little bit of a show-off car. It’s still hard as nails, and more car than most people will ever need.

What’s it like to drive fast?

The tintop Exige S is an outrageously good car – a serious driver’s car, with buckets of feedback and a body and suspension both stiffer than a headmaster’s upper lip. It’s brilliant to throw around on a track but, notwithstanding Lotus Australia reckons that more than half of their owners use their cars as a daily driver, it can be a bit of a punish in the real world. The things that make it completely brilliant also make it unrelenting, not to mention difficult to get in and out of.

We punted the thing through a series of medium- and high-speed S-bends on a test track, and while there’s a hint of movement when you chuck the weight from one side to the other – compared to the Exige S coupe, which is race car solid all the way through – our nerve gave out long before the car did. This isn’t an open-top boat for cruising the beachfront boulevard. It’s sharp, and fast, and loud, and exciting.

The Roadster’s supercharged 3.5L V6 mill develops a handy 257kW, and 400Nm of torque – in a car that weighs about the same weight as a Hyundai i20. It’s that outrageous torque you feel the most, pulling like a steam train from even very low revs: with the supercharger there’s no lag or delay, just instant thrust from anywhere on the tacho.

It means you can rip from a standing start to 100km/h in four seconds flat, or nought to 160km/h in 8.5 seconds. And it’s not just the acceleration that will rob you of breath – the Roadster is fitted with AP Racing calipers on big 350mm discs and, combined with that lean body, you could probably stop quickly enough to see the back of your own head.

Unlike most convertibles, which have complicated mechanisms to inhale their roof and then require extra stiffening besides, the Exige S Roadster weighs 10 kilos less than the hardtop. Why? For one thing, the roof isn’t automatic: you have to get out of the car and manually remove it. If you really know what you’re doing, you can do it in a minute, but it’s not the kind of thing you’d want to try while you’re waiting for the lights to change. For another thing, the front splitter and rear wing have been deleted compared with the hardtop because, sans roof, the aero of those two combined creates lift when the air is flowing over and open cabin, rather than a flat tin top.

Speaking of air flow: the Roadster is fairly noisy car, particularly when you give it the berries. That engine is right behind your head, for one thing, and with the roof off, there’s also a fair amount of turbulence inside the cabin. You’d probably have to shout to be heard, but that’s okay, because it’s so small inside that you probably won’t want a passenger with you anyway.

What’s it like to live with?

If you’re single, or dating someone thin, then you’d get away with one of these. But put two full-size adults in the car, and it gets very intimate very quickly.

The Roadster is easier to get in and out than the hardtop, mostly because you can put your hands on the top of the windscreen and lever yourself up. I say “you”, because I’m assuming you’re tall and have a man-sized capacity for pies, like myself; if you’re 5’4” and elfin, you could probably bound and in out of this thing while holding a cup of low-fat kale juice in each hand. But for actual human-sized humans, the Roadster is a challenge – but still easier than the hardtop, which is frankly a menace. The hardtop seems to have been designed by a pilates instructor simply to drum up more business.

Would you take one of these or a Boxster S?

The Exige S would eat the Boxster S’s lunch in a balls-to-the-wall race, but the Porsche is easier to live with – by quite a margin – than the Lotus. The Lotus looks more menacing, and is rarer on the road; the Porsche is excellent in the way that Porsches are. Both are terrific cars. So it comes down to, how often do you drive very fast, as opposed to cruise around; and do you want HSV drivers to challenge you at the lights?

Driven: April 15, 2014