Lotus Exige S Review

It’s been a lifelong dream of mine to drive a Lotus and I recently achieved this dream after being handed the keys to a Series 2 Lotus Exige S for a day.  I’ve always admired Lotus founder Colin Chapman’s passion for building lightweight cars, believing that weight is the enemy of performance.  It’s amazing to think that with his own designs he was able to take on the best Formula One teams and win, with Lotus achieving six Formula One Drivers’ titles and seven Formula One Constructors’ titles.  Great drivers like Moss, Clark, Andretti, Fittipaldi, Mansell and Senna all drove Lotus Formula 1 cars.

Seeing the Exige S up close for the first time was an experience in itself.  The car is perfectly proportioned with its wide aggressive stance and low height.  Everything is functional on this car from the roof mounted scoop that feeds the intercooler for the Roots-type supercharger to the front and rear wings that create 42kg of downforce at 160km/h.  I also like the Team Dynamics Motorsport wheels that no doubt reduce unsprung weight.  The car looks great from any angle and is basically a race car for the road.

After admiring how beautiful the car was with its black composite bodywork, it was time to go for a drive.  It’s certainly not a practical car and getting into it requires gymnastic like flexibility due to the wide doorsill.  Once in the cabin though, it’s a great place to be.  The racing seats really support you and the placement of the steering wheel, pedals and gear level is spot on.  In front of you sit two large white dials with black lettering; a 10,000rpm tachometer on the left and a 260km/h speedometer on the right.  You sit incredibly low to the ground and it makes for a great driving position.  Although the interior is sparse, the Lotus features a radio, air-conditioning and both front and passenger electric windows.  Knowing the sort of car I’m in though, lack of creature comforts doesn’t concern me the slightest.

Inserting the key into the ignition and pressing the engine start button fires up the 1.8L 24V DOHC supercharged Toyota engine.  The engine has modest power and torque deliveries of 163kW and 215Nm however due to the car weighing only 935 kilograms it has an exceptional power to weight ratio of 174kW per tonne.  It’s a loud car with the engine sitting just behind your head and this Exige also has a performance exhaust fitted.

I started my drive from the city and had about 200km’s planned for the day, with my drive route including visits to Christmas Hills, Yarra Glen, Healesville, Toolangi, Kinglake and St Andrews.  There are some great driving roads in these areas where light, nimble cars really thrive.  The Exige draws a lot of attention with everything from thumbs up from people on the street to people staring at it when you fill up.  Chances are they were probably staring at me as I awkwardly made my way out of the car.

The Lotus is an incredibly quick car reaching 100km/h in roughly 4 seconds.  The first time I accelerated hard in the car was amazing, with a never ending surge of power right up to the cars redline of 8500rpm.  It really pushes you back into the seat with the whine of the supercharger becoming more evident as you climb the rev range.  In the low rev range the engine drones a bit but as soon as you hit 5000rpm it sounds great.  Shifting gears is a joy with the six speed close ratio gearbox being so mechanical and precise.  For such a high performance car, the clutch is also light and easy to use although it’s a difficult car to heel and toe in.

The ride is hard but it’s to be expected for a car of this nature.  You really feel every bump and pothole in the road.  The manual steering has excellent feedback however the steering wheel could be a bit larger in diameter for greater control.  Driving the road that links Chum Creek to Toolangi was a real highlight due to the car’s change of direction, grip, light weight and power.  Traction control was engaged for the drive but didn’t have any affect on power down out of tighter corners.  Brakes were more than adequate for road use and it would be interesting to see how they hold up on a track day.

Overly conservative speed limits combined with incompetent drivers unfortunately mean that you can’t exploit the Exige’s full potential on the road.  Driving the Exige reminded me a lot of driving a Formula Ford.  They share a few similarities being light weight, mid engined and having high revving four cylinder engines.  Both also have excellent feedback through the steering and great power down out of corners.

I’ve seen a couple of Series 2 Lotus Exige S’s for sale at around the $60,000 mark.  In my opinion, it’s pretty good value for money as a track day or weekend car but I certainly wouldn’t recommend it as a daily driver.  So I finally got to drive a Lotus and what a car it was.  The memories of the day will stay with me for the rest of my life and one day I hope to add an Exige S to the garage!


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