Lotus Exige S roadster 2014 review
February 10, 2014
- Great sound
- Stiff competition
- Basic interior
- Impractical for daily use
$74,030 - $85,140
A row of lolly-coloured cars is moving down an assembly line as though the colour sequence had been chosen for maximum effect. You wouldn't know it from the production line, but the factory is in the middle of a field in a flat and overwhelmingly agricultural region of east England.
I'm in Hethel, Norfolk, home to Lotus and the factory, part of a surprisingly large complex, lives down an otherwise unremarkable country lane. As well as this building and offices, there's a paint shop, engine testing rigs, emission and anechoic chambers, and extensive engineering facilities. The 1000 employees on site are divided between car production and Lotus Engineering, a consultancy specialising in electronics, efficient performance, driving dynamics and lightweight structures.
Explore the 2014 Lotus Exige Range
- Lotus Exige S 2014 review
- Lotus Exige S roadster 2014 review
Design / Technology
As the automotive world takes another big step towards aluminium with Ford's decision to make its F Series pick-ups in the metal, Lotus's long-time experience shaping and bonding the material is invaluable. All its cars -- the Elise, Exige and Evora -- are made from aluminium using the same basic structure. The aluminium chassis are transported to Hethel from Lotus Lightweight Structures in the Midlands, a wholly owned subsidiary which also produces parts for Jaguar and Aston Martin, among others.
At Hethel, the chassis are mated to bodies constructed from various composites -- the stuff that used to be lumped together under the name glass fibre -- painted, and assembled into finished cars. Lotus has been through a troubled spell but the mood at Hethel is optimistic. The assembly lines are running again (lack of visible movement notwithstanding) at a rate of 44 cars a week. And the Lotus line-up is expanding.
The newest addition is the Exige S Roadster, due in Australian showrooms this month, larger than the Elise and more than 200kg heavier. It's still a featherweight by today's standards at just 1166kg, and unusually that's 10kg lighter than the coupe.
Behind the cabin is a 257kW supercharged 3.5-litre V6 rather than a supercharged four-cylinder. With a four-second time to 100km/h, it's the fastest convertible Lotus has built. With this car, Lotus has two convertibles to maximise the potential of its engineering. The Exige is the grown-up brother to the Lotus Elise S already on sale, but more "rounded and refined".
After a quick blast through the Norfolk countryside with the roof down, however, its similarities with the coupe -- and even the Elise -- which stand out. I drove the Exige coupe last year and it plays to the brand's strengths: a fast, capable sportscar that disdains many of the modern conveniences but offers a pure driving experience unlike anything else on the market.
Lotus is just the best known among scores of low-volume makers who feed enthusiasts worldwide. Mainstream brands don't do raw and loud like this any more. However, the Exige S Roadster is an attempt by Lotus to broaden its audience.
It's easier to get in and out, and has more amenities. Where an Elise retains hard plastics, bare aluminium and cloth seats, the Exige has quilted leather. It's more generously padded than any previous Lotus I've seen, in fact. Just in case, some of the firmness has been dialled out of the suspension.
It's a Lotus cocktail, an Exige with a twizzle-stick, olive and umbrella. Unavoidably, though, it's restricted by its starting point. The architecture of the cabin is recognisably the same in both Exige Roadster and Elise, as the leather follows the contours of what would normally be plastic. There are similarly wide sills and tiny cargo space.
Back home in Sydney and a chance to sample the Elise S Roadster highlights the differences. The roof remains a boy scout project, the wing mirrors manually adjust and the speedo is too small to be a licence-saver. There's hardly anywhere to put anything, and nowhere to conceal valuables.
You are never left in any doubt about the road surface and it's so firm the car can get thrown about on uneven roads, with the wheel twitching in response. It rocks back on its heels under acceleration but otherwise the body doesn't move around much. Through corners, the chassis communicates nuances to the driver like few other cars.
Despite a 95kW power deficit in the Elise, with less weight to move the four-cylinder feels responsive and flexible. It's not as fast as the Exige convertible, but the differences are small.
In many ways the Elise feels like the more honest car, making no attempt to conceal its rough edges. It's light and uncompromising, just like you expect. From the outside it's also the prettier of the two, drawing smiles wherever it goes. That decides it for me.
$74,030 - $85,140