Lotus Exige 2008 Review
Ever wondered what it would be like to be fired from a slingshot?
Well, if you are considering taking the wheel of a Lotus Exige S, you had better get used to such an experience.
To test the slingshot theory we opted to launch the Exige S, above, at full noise from a standing start to 100km/h in 4.12 seconds.
The Exige S is not your average two-seater. It is noisy, harsh, very fast, and it does its best work on the track.
Suffice to say it should come with a “for weekend use only” sticker as standard.
Yet it is perfectly street legal.
It is one of the most, if not the most, exhilarating two-seater sportsters being produced that you can register for road use.
What makes the Exige S such a spellbinding experience starts with the basic Lotus principle of sticking the engine in the rear and keeping overall mass down to flyweight division.
Then what Lotus has done to enhance the whole experience is whack a supercharger on the free-spinning Toyota engine, hook it up with a race-spec exhaust that crackles and pops and give it some fancy electronic startline assistance.
This Exige S as tested on the road and the track was kitted out with every package and option available.
On top of the basic Exige S you gain the $8000 Touring Pack (leather or microfibre suede interior, full carpets, sound insulation kit, aluminium retractable cup holder, driving lights, iPod connection), $6000 Sport Pack (switchable traction control, sport seats, adjustable front anti-roll bar, T45 steel rollover hoop) and $11,000 Performance Pack (308mm front cross-drilled and ventilated discs with AP callipers, uprated brake pads, full length upsized roof scoop, variable slip adjustable traction control with launch control, uprated clutch plate, uprated power and torque).
That's $25,000 worth of goodies on top of the $114,000 recommended retail price.
What completes the picture is that the only other option boxes have been ticked — torque-sensing limited slip differential, black split-type 7-spoke 6J lightweight alloy wheels and one-way adjustable Bilstein dampers. The supercharged 1.8-litre Toyota four-cylinder engine has a trick ECU which stops the motor from dropping off the cams between gear shifts.
What the Exige does is take the Elise S and raise the whole deal by plenty.
There is 179kW of power and 230Nm of torque available (up from 174 and 215 from the standard Exige S and a whopping rise over the Elise's 100kW and 172Nm).
Shod with competition-spec 17-inch Yokohamas, the Exige S is a cannonball off the line.
The LSD compromises balance around a tight track but otherwise there is little standing in the way of a seriously quick lap time.
Launch control has been inherited from racing programs where the amount of slip (traction) can be adjusted anywhere between zero and 9 per cent, depending on conditions.
Then you can dial up the amount of revs (2000rpm-8000rpm) you want to launch the Lotus via a knob on the left side of the steering column.
It gives you a guaranteed explosive start.
But there's one word of caution:
The variable launch control feature is designed for competition use and as such its employment will invalidate vehicle warranty on any components subject to the extreme loads associated with racing starts.
That was the message written in bold type on three A4 pages of instructions on how to program variable traction and launch control.
There remains no doubt that the Exige S is a competition car without the rollcage or multi-point safety harnesses and fire extinguishers.
A Magnuson/Eaton M62 supercharger, high torque clutch, sure-fire 6-speed manual gearbox, rock hard brake pedal, competition rubber et al makes it arguably too well credentialed for the road.
AP Racing callipers clamping 308mm cross-drilled discs with uprated brake pads and braided hoses suggest this is a serious track attack missile.
And just for those racing starts on the track the clutch is cushioned by dampers to minimise stress on the drivetrain.
The Exige has adopted some extreme gear to handle the extreme performance.
For everyday use you would need a decent set of earplugs and perhaps a physio on-demand.
In traffic it is an exercise in dividing your vision regularly between the side mirrors and straight ahead.
There's no need to look in the rear-vision mirror unless you have a fetish for dirty, great, big intercoolers which hogs the space directly outside the rear glass. VERDICT: 7.5/10
Lotus Exige S
Engine: 1796cc DOHC VVTL-i 16-valve supercharged four cylinder with air-to-air intercooler, Lotus T4e engine-management system.
Power: 179kW 8000rpm (as tested).
Torque: 230Nm @ 5500rpm.
Kerb weight: 935kg (with no options).
Fuel consumption: 9.1litres/100km.
Fuel capacity: 43.5litres.
0-100km/h: 4.12secs (claimed).
Tyres: front 195/50 R16, rear 225/45 R17.
CO2 emissions: 216g/km.
Options: touring pack ($8000), sport pack ($6000), performance pack ($11,000).