Time for two very different takes on the hot-hatch formula to face off
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The Top Gear car review:Lotus Exige S Roadster
For:Exceptional steering, handling and dynamic behaviour, performance
Against:Too barebones for Boxster buyers
It’s the yet-harder version of the hardcore Exige. Who needs a double espresso when you have this?
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the convertible Exige has gone soft. It hasn’t
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the convertible Exige has gone soft. It hasn’t.
May not be a great leap forward, but it broadens the Exige’s repertoire…
What we say:
Lotus has removed the roof of the Exige S, creating its fastest open-top car ever
What is it?
A Lotus Exige S, the firm’s most hardcore driving machine, with some missing fibreglass. Specifically, the roof panel. And that really is about the sum total of all that’s changed in the conversion.
Or rather, it would have been if the Exige were produced by a company with less of an eye for detail than Lotus. For instance, the absent roof changed the turbulence over the top of the car, interfering with the work the rear spoiler was doing on the coupe. So it was removed from the Roadster, saving 10kg. And then there’s the suspension, which has been minutely softened off. But don’t forget this isn’t a cruiser. It’s a racer.
There are two suspension choices: Sports and Race, and while the coupe suits the firmer set-up, the Roadster feels naturally suited to the softer dampers. It may be a track warrior, but it’s also a road-going convertible and you want to be able to loaf in it as well. It manages this for the most part. The ride is hard but exquisitely well controlled, the steering delicate and nuanced, while on track it doesn’t feel compromised. It’s sharp and agile and adjustable and very, very quick. 8.5 seconds to 100mph fast, Porsche 911 GT3 quick. Well, at least until you get to 145mph, where the limiter calls a halt to give the canvas lid a chance of staying on.
It’s another great driving Lotus, the sort we take for granted, one that zaps about the place in a totally delicious way, yet feels a bit raw to be a car we’d consider as a daily driver. Roof on or off, it’s fairly rowdy and turbulent for occupants and the six-speed manual gearshift isn’t as precise as it should be.
On the inside
Make what you will of the way it looks outside, but to our eyes the removal of the spoiler and splitter has reduced the aggression too much. The interior, however, is about as aggressive as you’d want. It’s bare and open and minimalist, with thinly padded seats and limited storage space. It’s not an easy car to get in and out of (particularly with the roof on) and the hood operation itself requires a bit of time and effort. A traditional Lotus, then, but it will be a complete shock to Porsche Boxster buyers giving it an interested once-over. Maybe this is Lotus’ way of filtering out the people for whom this race-inspired car is quite clearly not for.
Interior challenges apart, owning an Exige S Roadster should be satisfying: there are signs Lotus is, at last, on the up and its quality is now leagues ahead of what it once was. Even reliability has found its feet. It was cheap to convert the coupe into a Roadster, so Lotus hasn’t bumped the price up at all for this new model. Good on them. Now let’s hope it sells.