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Lotus have for decades infatuated race crowds, become the envy of enthusiasts and even won a Bond girl. Nothing has changed. Back from the lip of the black hole of extinction, Lotus now says it will return to its five-car plan and marks time by delivering a road-going racer that represents the core values of the company founded by Colin Chapman's innovative mind.
The Exige S is a hybrid in the sense that it morphs the chassis of the four-cylinder Elise with the drivetrain of the V6-engined Evora. Effectively, it creates a very light, very powerful small car that is fast, fascinating and perhaps a little bit fragile.
It costs $119,900 plus on-road charges and that puts it in the searchlights of cars as similarly purpose-built as the Caterham and Morgan, as balanced as the Porsche Cayman S and as more street-savvy as the BMW M3 and 335i.
The Exige S is closer to the Caterham in its rawness but adds more power, a hint more civility and a roof. Standard equipment is minimalistic - as you'd expect - and really only admits it's now 2013 with the airconditioner, iPod/USB friendly audio, electric windows and the three-mode engine management mode.
Lotus currently doesn't have a lot of money. That's why there's some hint of the Evora from the front. Basically it's a hardtop - though it's unboltable - Exige and only the test car's beautiful $3250 premium pearl white paint makes it stand out more than its sisters.
The seats are now made for humans rather than the tipped-up fibreglass bathtubs of the Elise. The fact it sits on an Elise chassis - true, with 70mm added to the wheelbase - means no change to the intimacy of the cabin. Nor to the body-folding techniques owners and their loved ones will practice to become part of the cabin.
There is a pair of simple gauges, a scattering of warning lights and LED fuel gauge - all impossible to read in sunlight - and a couple of switches. Bare aluminium floors, wrap-round alcantara seats, and a tint Momo steering wheel complete the look.
The engine comes from Toyota and continues the relationship with the company sealed when Lotus moved to replace the Elise's Rover 1.8 with a 1.6 from Japan. Now it's an Aurion/Lexus 350 V6 that has been tweaked and modified by Lotus to pump through an Australian Harrop supercharger for 257kW/400Nm and a 7000-plus redline. There's a six-speed manual - an optional auto is coming - and Lotus-bred suspension, big disc brakes and 18-inch rear wheels. The engine has three selectable modes - Touring, Sport and Race - to alter engine characteristics and launch control is a standard fitment.
Just the basics here with electronic chassis and brake aids and no crash rating. There's no spare wheel - just an aerosol can - and even rear park sensors are a $950 option.
It's not as mind-numbingly noisy and bone-trembling shuddering as the Elise, so that was a pleasant surprise. Find a smooth road and a compliant gear and it will cruise quietly and comfortably at 100km/h with only about 2400rpm on the tacho dial.
The seats help ride comfort a bit, now padded and unlike the glass tubs of the Elise. Other than a sense of dread at passing SUVs and the feat they will never see me and my 1.1m-high white plastic shell, it coped well with traffic.
But not as well as the open road. Long country roads with frequent repair patches of bitumen will bounce the car around and with it, the occupants. Not pleasant. But the long sweeps of Wanneroo Raceway treat it as royalty.
The Exige S will flow perfectly through the corners, the direct and unassisted steering picking up every stone and peeled tyre rubber fragment and relaying it accurately to the driver's fingers. Learn how it moves through the arcs and you can apply some more power.
And this is where the car erupts. It's more about the push of the torque that urges from just above idle through to a big hit at 3500rpm then on a plateau through to 7000rpm. It's such a strong, effortless flow and the noise from the exhaust - oddly, the supercharger whine is modest - so addictive that you can quickly drain the small 43-litre fuel tank.
Sport mode is good for the track but “race” is the best, sharpening the engine further, turning off the ESC and making it feel like a deranged go-kart. You arrive back at the pits tired and smiling and wanting more, the essential emotions of a true sports car.
Sadly, this is at least the second car in the driveway. For any Sunday or any track day or any excuse to leave the house and clear the mind.
Lotus Exige S
Price: from $119,900
Warranty: 3 years/100,000km
Capped servicing: No
Service interval: 12mths/15,000km
Safety: 2 airbags, ABS, ESC, EBD, TC
Crash rating: none
Engine: 3.5-litre V6 supercharged-petrol, 257kW/400Nm
Transmission: 6-spd manual; rear drive
Thirst: 10.1L/100km; 95RON; 236g/km CO2
Dimensions: 4.1m (L), 1.8m (W), 1.1m (H)
|S||3.5L, PULP, 6 SP MAN||$61,490 – 70,730||2013 Lotus Exige 2013 S Pricing and Specs|