Now you can get the supercharged, track-focused Lotus Exige S as a ragtop. Has it lost its razor edge?
WHAT IS IT?
A Lotus Exige S, minus the roof and boy-racer rear wing. Lotus has also softened the suspension slightly, in an attempt to pitch the Roadster as more of a cruiser than its balls-out hardtop brother.
WHY WE’RE TESTING IT
To see if ripping off the roof and softening the ride has robbed the sharp-shooting Exige S of its track-honed character.
THE WHEELS VERDICT
Roofless versions of sports cars are, as a rule, worse. Generally they’re heavier, sloppier and less fun at the limit. This Lotus Exige S Roadster is an exception. It’s just as raw, just as engaging, and feels just as at home on the race track.
PLUS: Steering has race car levels of feel; engaging, adjustable chassis; supercharged grunt; better on track than the road
MINUS: Heavy steering and no rear camera or sensors make parking a pain; awkward to get in and out; stiff ride; road and tyre noise; better on track than the road
THE WHEELS REVIEW
BUYING a Lotus says certain things about a person.
The first, and most obvious, is that you value driving enjoyment above all else. This is proven by your willingness to sacrifice a cushy ride and other creature comforts – such as a glovebox and power steering – for brilliant go-fast engineering.
The second is you have a keen interest in track days, given a circuit is the only place to safely extract the maximum from your track-honed toy.
Which is why I’m at Winton Raceway to test the new Exige S Roadster, the Exige S hardtop’s softer, more comfortable sibling. I’m here to see if the Roadster retains the intrinsic, track-based Lotus DNA, and the initial signs are good.
Power comes from the same mid-mounted 258kW/400Nm supercharged 3.5-litre V6 as the hardtop. And fitting a cloth roof has cut weight by 10kg in precisely the spot where you want to lower the centre of gravity. All up, the Roadster hits the scales at 1166kg.
What makes it more comfortable is its slightly cushier suspension, altered camber settings and a larger rear anti-roll bar that combine to soften its character.
Removing the rear wing and front splitter has also added a dash of sophistication, compared to the “look at me I’m a real racing car!” hardtop.
And you can forget fears that these changes have diluted the car’s ability: it still handles brilliantly.
The unassisted steering is pure, oozing with feel, and the wheel dances in your hands. The chassis is beautifully balanced and grips hard, and the linear, Toyota-sourced V6 is a cracker.
Lotus says 0-100km/h takes 3.96sec, but it’s the way the Roadster pulls relentlessly through third and fourth gears to the 7200rpm redline that’s more impressive.
The brakes, helped by a well-weighted pedal and the Roadster’s light weight, are brilliant.
Where the Roadster is noticeably different is how it rides. It’s still firm and busy over broken roads, but deftly tuned damping means it’s not as unbearable as you might expect.
So, far from detracting from the Exige’s ability, ripping off its fixed roof has enhanced it. The Roadster is more usable, just as exhilarating to drive and, with the easy to operate cloth roof stowed away, adds another dimension to the driving experience.
It’s a stretch, though, to call it comfortable. More comfortable than the hardtop, sure, but the usual Lotus bugbears remain. Getting in and out is a chore, the heavy steering is a pain while parking, and there’s an annoying amount of road and tyre noise. And the spare and simplistic cabin is an exercise in function rather than luxury.
But these are foibles Lotus owners are willing to grin and bear. And if a love of driving is your number one priority, it’s easy to see why.
Lotus people are good people
The track day at Winton was a Lotus-only affair organised by Simply Sports Cars and attended by hordes of Lotus owners from throughout the country. After a day of hard driving and storytelling, I decide Lotus people are good people. They also tend to be disarmingly honest about their cars. Several owners, for example, also own Porsches, and admit while their German car might be more comfortable, the Lotus smashes it for on track thrills and for steering feel. Others freely admit the sound system in their Lotus is sub-par and that not having a glovebox gets annoying.
None mention any significant mechanical issues, but one owner does let slip that because modern Lotus models don’t have bumpers, dinging the front often requires the entire clamshell bonnet to be replaced, which can get costly. The common thread, though, is a passion for driving. Case in point is the owner who drove his rare 340R to Winton from Queensland to take part in the track day. “That’s just what Lotus people do,” says another owner. “We all love to drive.”
Model: Lotus Exige S Roadster
Engine: 3456cc V6 (60°), dohc, 24v, supercharger
Max power: 258kW @ 7000rpm
Max torque: 400Nm @ 4600rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
0-100km/h: 4.0sec (claimed)
Fuel economy: 10.1L/100km
On sale: now