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The Top Gear car review:Lotus Exige
What is it like on the road?
It’s a cracker. You can literally feel the time and effort the engineers have put into scratching their heads and twizzling their beards to make sure that every touch point and control weight is just right. Okay, there’s no power steering. But even if you’ve got pipe cleaner arms you’ll be able to manage. Get the thing rolling and you won’t notice beyond parking speeds as the steering is perfectly weighted and sublime to use.
While the Exige still uses a motorsport-like single-mass flywheel, pulling away in first gear is an utterly smooth affair because there’s so little weight to actually get moving. And the manual gearbox itself is marvellous, operating though a stick that ranks easily as one of the most artistic components on sale today, but is just as good to use as it is to look at.
On the road, the Exige operates in a sweet spot of performance and usability. The way it flows down the road, soaking up and communicating the bumpy brail of British B-roads through the seat and steering wheel - while never being deflected so you’re toe-punted into the local scenery - blows its competitors into the weeds.
It’s all down to the clever (and expensive) three-way Nitron dampers. They aren’t active – you’ve got to roll up your sleeves and click them an infinite amount of ways to get the perfect setup. But Lotus’s setup for the road is bang on the money, and wills you on to drive it harder and harder. Mainly because every component works in perfect harmony with the sonorous V6.
The supercharged 3.5 summons a sort of earthy torque. It runs out of puff in the 350, but the torque curve in the 410 and 430 is flat as a pancake to the redline, powering through each gear and devouring the next one without pausing for breath. Breaking through 4,500rpm opens up the exhaust valves, which amplifies the aural anger to race car levels and wills you on further as you’re surrounded by probably the best V6 soundtrack on sale.
Despite being supercharged, its reactions feel like something naturally aspirated, with zero lag and a properly urgent throttle. The relentless acceleration (3.3second 0-60mph time) carries on all the way up to 180mph top speed, where the aero - especially the carbon front splitter and rear wing - start to do their things. Something, arguably, you need a track for to make the most of.
‘Puckering’ is the only way I can describe trying to go flat-out through Lotus’s famous ‘Windsock’ corner at its Hethel test track. The Exige has such wonderful balance and mad traction (even without a diff, as that adds five crucial kilos) thanks to super sticky Michelin Cup 2 tyres, and even after a few laps you can send it through the open right-hander with triple figures on the speedo and confidence to start disabling the three-stage ESP system (‘Sport’, ‘Race’ and ‘Off’) .
But under braking is where you’ll start shaving tenths off your lap time, if not seconds. You can really attack the AP brakes and get into the meat of the pedal with confidence, and with such an inherent lack of mass, and remarkable thermal efficiency, you’ll be braking later and later throughout the day. Seriously, a car with such rabid performance has never been so confidence instilling.