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The Top Gear car review:Lotus Exige S
For:Joyous handling, performance, character
Against:The traditionalists won't understand
3.5 V6 S 2dr
An even more hardcore version of the Exige, with all the sacrifice/brilliance you’d expect of one of the world’s best-handling cars.
Lotus’ most hardcore model gets a significant engine upgrade. Ollie Marriage gives his verdict
What we say:
We had our doubts about the new heavier V6 Exige. Happily, we were wrong
What is it?
It’s a sign of the strained times at Lotus when its famous adage ‘just add lightness’ becomes ‘just add 170kg and double the size of the engine’. But that’s what’s been done to turn the Exige into the Exige S – and, so well does this new approach work, we think they may just be onto something. Yes, some people will feel uneasy at how the raw road racer appears to have become a softer, sleeker and much more expensive GT car, but they can rest easy. The latest new Lotus, despite the strife it’s been developed under, is a cracker.
So, yes, it’s heavier, but it’s still lighter than any rival. It has the same power to weight ratio as a 911 Turbo. The supercharged 3.5-litre V6 is as charismatic as the old four-pot was anodyne. And it’s been developed by the masters of ride and handling, so you don’t have to dig deep before the appeal becomes clear.
The new engine, on show beneath that redesigned rear screen, is a blinder. Response is near- instantaneous and it devours gears while summoning a sort of earthy strength: acceleration is genuinely relentless, right up to 120mph when the aero effects kick in. It sounds suitably race car-like as well. Only a slightly slack gearchange disappoints.
It handles brilliantly. Simple as that. It delivers feel that’s usually reserved for racing drivers, grips hard, changes direction electrically and has steering that makes that of the new 911 feel a bit… dead. The stability control system, another way the hackles of traditionalists could be raised, is also top-drawer, taking smooth, progressive action only where necessary. Sure, the ride is firm, but a longer wheelbase and deftly tuned damping take the edge off it.
On the inside
The Exige roots show through most strongly inside. The cabin, while quieter than before, is still awkward to get into and cosy once in there. It’s been improved, though, with a set of superb bucket seats and a new Alpine stereo with surprising clarity. But still, everyday Porsche Cayman S rival it is not.
My, how the prices have gone up, you’ll think. Over £54,000? Yes indeed – but this Lotus is now special enough to justify it. Of course, it’s not for everyone, but by moving away from legalising a race car to making a road car perform brilliantly on the track, Lotus has created the best car it currently sells – and a very fine car, period. The fact it’s so extreme means it may not be the easiest car to live with (remember, it doesn’t even have power steering), but we’re sure there are enough enthusiasts out there who’ll get it.