Head2Head: Lotus Exige S vs Alfa Romeo 4C

Lotus and Alfa Romeo have histories littered with lightweight sports cars, but it’s Lotus that sets the modern-day template. Can the 4C keep up?

Lotus Exige S vs Alfa Romeo 4C


These mid-engined, rear-drive lightweights are similar in philosophy but separated by a big price gap; the $138K Lotus is $49K more than the Alfa. Despite this, it’s the Lotus that lacks kit. It gets air-con, radio/CD audio and dual airbags as standard, but cruise control, rear parking sensors, leather trim and heated seats cost extra. 14/20

The continuous curve of backrest into seat base promotes a slumped driving position and thin padding means comfort is lacking for longer trips, but the seats offer fabulous lateral support. Cabin is spartan without optional leather seats and interior trim. Boot is minuscule at 98 litres – a small hatch has about three times that. 13/20

Blown 3.5-litre V6 Exige S is heavier, thirstier and a bit quicker than the old four-cylinder lump, with 258kW and 400Nm driving via a six-speed torque-converter auto. The new auto is a tenth quicker to 100km/h than the manual, at 3.9sec, and more economical, at 9.6L/100km. At that rate you’d go about 400km on a full 42.5-litre tank. 16/20

Primary ride quality is good in this pair, though a light car with stiff suspension and low-profile tyres has comfort trade-offs. Lotus wears 205/45R17 fronts and 265/45R18 rears that allow small road imperfections to filter in. Exhaust drone can be draining and combines with tyre roar to drown out wind noise. 13/20

Despite the light-weighting, unassisted rack-and-pinion steering makes both cars heavy to steer at low speed. Pay-off comes at max attack, where the Lotus system lets the driver feel everything. You can arrow the snout into corners with precision, but must brace for bumps, which prompt some pretty serious kickback. 18/20

ALFA ROMEO 4C - Score: 75/100

It was okay for cars like this to be stripped out, until the Alfa arrived. The $89K 4C is well equipped for such a driver-focused machine, with cruise, rear parking sensors, leather-trimmed seats, an audio system with Bluetooth connectivity, LED head- and tail-lights (as well as air-con and dual airbags in common with the Exige). 16/20

Alfa wins the style stand-off inside, thanks to artful design and standard leather. Like the Lotus, there’s some parts-bin switchgear, which is more forgivable here given the price. Lovely exposed carbonfibre of chassis tub is beautifully finished. Seats are more comfortable, if still quite firm. Alfa’s boot slightly bigger at 110 litres. 14/20

The 4C musters 177kW/350Nm from a turbo 1.8-litre four, but at 1025kg, it’s 125kg lighter. Pace is down at 4.5sec for 0-100km/h. Six-speed dual-clutch ’box offers snappy paddle shifts, though it can’t match the Exige’s low-speed gloss. Similar-sized (40L) fuel tank but superior 6.8L/100km economy could take you 550km between fills. 14/20

Alfa gets the nod for ride comfort. Wears identically sized 17-inch alloys up front, but 18s down the back are skinnier (235mm) and lower profile (40 aspect) than the Exige’s. The 4C seems a bit better sound-insulated, while de-selecting Dynamic mode does more to improve cruising refinement, though it tramlines worse than the Brit. 14/20

‘Like a go-kart’ is overused, but few cars go closer to a kart’s balance and adjustability than this pair, which share double A-arm front suspensions and tub chassis, but differ with ‘evolved’ strut (Alfa) and double A-arms at the rear. Lighter 4C feels a bit more agile, and the steering less kickback-prone, but not as consistently weighted. 17/20


Both brands have histories littered with lightweight sports cars, but it’s Lotus that sets the modern-day template. Comparing key dimensions, the Alfa is slightly shorter and a bit wider and taller than the Lotus, with a 10mm-longer wheelbase; to get to the differences you have to dig deeper.

In terms of philosophies, Lotus argues that its cars scream ‘enthusiast’ rather than ‘wanker’, while the Alfa looks like a baby supercar. Mechanically, the conventional automatic transmission in the Lotus can’t match the shift speed or involvement of the Alfa’s dual-clutch, though at least you can opt for a manual.

The key criteria of steering, handling and performance are all marginal wins for the Exige, but money talks – our narrow victor costs less than two-thirds the price of its rival.

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James Whitbourn

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