So, what is it?
According to local Lotus boss Glen Sealey, “The Exige S is a lifestyle choice, and not for everyone.” However, in the same breath he concedes the whole idea of an automatic version of this featherweight missile is to broaden its appeal, mainly to women.
Why should I care?
The Exige S is light, raw and uncompromising; the pay-off being blinding speed and intimate dynamic responses. The auto may tip the scales six kegs heavier than the manual, but its greater driveline efficiency means it’s a tenth quicker from 0-100km/h, and able to record the same lap time around the factory test track back at Hethel HQ.
What’s new about it?
On the outside the auto Exige is identical to its three pedal sibling, but of course the primary addition is the Aisin-supplied (U660e) six-speed torque converter auto transmission, shared with the Toyota Camry, and some Lexus models, although Lotus has fine-tuned its control systems for this more focused application.
Also new is the fact the ‘Race Pack’ option now isn’t, in that the four-mode ‘Dynamic Performance Management’ (DPM) system, including launch control, exhaust bypass valve override, and suspension calibrated to suit the car’s Pirelli P Zero Corsa rubber, is now standard.
That’s all fine, what’s it like to drive fast?
You know that bit about the Exige S not being for everyone? That is so-o-o right. Lotus claims the majority of its Exige owners tip their machine in to some form of motorsport, adding the car can be driven to the track, pound around in anger without much need for attention to brakes or rubber, then trundle home again at the end of the day. Old school.
By definition, that means you’re driving a racing car on the road, and it feels like it. Hit the gas, and from around 2000rpm the Toyota-sourced (2GR FE) V6, with twin-screw Harrop supercharger attached, lights up. Peak torque arrives at 4000rpm, and max power coincides with the 7000rpm rev ceiling.
Riding this rocket is a full-on sensory experience, with the engine and exhaust building to a brilliantly harmonious scream. The gearbox isn’t exactly lightning fast, but the car sure as hell is.
The non-assisted steering turns the bitumen into braille, allowing the driver to read every nuance of the road surface through his or her fingertips. Grip, thanks in part to an electronic diff lock, is brilliant and body control is firmly buttoned down.
The downside is shock and vibration, with bump induced rack rattle loosening your grip on the steering wheel at regular intervals in an enthusiastic session.
The AP-Racing brakes (there’s that word racing again) are brilliant, with big vented and cross-drilled rotors clamped by four-piston calipers front and rear.
And driving home from the city?
Far from a relaxed commuter, the Exige won’t cut you any slack just because you’ve rolled off the throttle for the trip home. It’s tricky to get in and out of, firm to the point of discomfort, and rear three quarter vision is compromised. What’s more, you’ll hear every rock and twig rebounding up into the chassis. As Lotus says, “This is a car for people who enjoy rawness, and really want to drive their car at all times.”
How much would I have to pay? And is it worth it?
At $137,990, the Exige S auto (in Coupe or Roadster form) is exactly $5k dearer than the manual equivalent. And less is more engineering extends to the standard features list, with a relatively bare bones spec including only a few hints of primo comfort, like central locking, air-con, and four-speaker audio.
Would you take the Lotus Exige S auto or Alfa Romeo 4C?
Both are raw and massively engaging. If your scales tip in favour of the track, it’s the Lotus. But if you’re more of a road warrior, go the Alfa.
Click here to find out more about the Lotus Exige S.