Lotus is continually rolling out improvements to its sports cars, making them lighter and faster in the process.
It’s a fine strategy that has made its models better than ever. The Lotus that was brilliant to drive, but required you to excuse just about everything else, is no more.
Last year’s Exige Sport 350 is one of the poster childs for this new Lotus era. But in line with the new strategy, Lotus has used it as a base on which to improve, made it faster and lighter and created the Exige Sport 380.
You might think there is simply an extra 22kW for the supercharged 3.5-litre V6 engine, a bodykit and a bit of weight taken out. But, no, for the Exige Sport 380, a thorough overhaul of the car has taken place. Spoiler alert – it’s bloody brilliant.
It looks great, for starters. The basic body and chassis remain the same, but the body has been dressed with lashings of carbon fibre. Lip spoiler, front splitter, front access panel, removable hardtop, diffuser and its airblades are all made of the stuff, and there’s a fixed rear wing, too.
All of those parts help to reduce weight, the car weighing in at 25kg less than the Exige Sport 350, at just 1100kg. That’s also including the titanium exhaust – and you’re going to want that for the noise it makes alone. Few cars have as characterful a tone as this, certainly not anything from a certain German maker of small mid-engined sports cars.
That new aero package also helps to create lots of downforce – perfect for taking corners on track at speeds that feel barely plausible. Those who do head to the track with their car are able to spec the optional Track Pack and its adjustable Nitron two-way dampers and Eibach anti-roll bars.
Even without them, you have a car that is as fast, fun and involving. No one would have stepped out of an Exige Sport 350 and been crying out for more performance, but the Exige Sport 380 has an extra 22kW and 10Nm of torque. The revised delivery of the torque allows the Exige to punch harder and for longer up the rev range, yet still in a linear manner.
The Exige’s compact dimensions help. This remains such an intimate car to drive, with a directness of steering that no rival can match. The same goes for the suppleness of its ride. It may be a hardcore sports car, but you won’t be swerving to avoid potholes, and it’s perfectly usable around town, with well-judged control weights.
Even the lightweight carbon-fibre backed sports seats are comfortable enough for longer journeys and you’ll find it easier to get in and out of the car thanks to the lower sills. It’s easier getting in than out, but both are better than before.
From inside the solid-feeling cabin you can admire the beautiful, exposed gear linkage for the six-speed manual gearbox. It’s a shame you don’t need to use its sweet shift much. The engine is so flexible that you can comfortably lap a circuit using only third and fourth gears, use the same around town, and then happily sit in sixth to cruise. The Exige’s main weakness reveals itself on highways, though, as earplugs are advised to quell the road roar. But this goes with the territory, of course.
Lotus has switched to Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 rubber for this car, the front tyres being 10mm wider for even more grip and keener turn-in. They combine with the downforce to provide some major grip on circuits, yet still with adjustability in the handling and the ability to select Normal, Sport and Race modes on the electronic control systems for lurid slide potential and extra play (or security, if you prefer) in the chassis.
This car is simply Lotus doing what it does best, and then removing the kind of barrier that might have prevented you from choosing it by significantly raising the quality and removing all the unwelcome squeaks and rattles. Lotus Cars Australia is currently evaluating offering the Exige Sport 380 locally, but such is the personality and performance it offers that virtually nothing at this price point can match it.
4.5 OUT OF 5 STARS
LIKE: Brilliant dynamics; great performance
DISLIKE: Road noise; still very focused
Engine: 3456cc V6, DOHC, 24v, supercharger
Power: 280kW @ 6700rpm
Torque: 410Nm @ 5000rpm
Price: $150,000 (est)