Lamborghini Huracan VS Lotus Exige
- Soaring V10
- Seven-speed gearbox
- Even more fun than all-wheel-drive Huracan
- Lack of second screen makes dash a bit crowded
- Not much storage
- Can't see the engine
- Unassisted, unadulterated steering (at speed)
- Beautiful balance and stiff chassis
- Sheer impracticality
- Heavy steering (at low speeds)
- Getting in and out of it
Lamborghini's Huracan is the howling and fiery follow-up to Sant' Agata's best-selling model ever, the vicious, V10-powered Gallardo.
The first clean-sheet design since Audi's takeover of Lambo in the late 1990s, the new car has picked up where the Gallardo left off, selling like crazy. Since its launch a couple of years back, the new variants have come thick and fast, with the rear-wheel-drive 580-2 joining the LP610-4 as well as Spyder variants of both. Last month Lambo dropped the madcap and much waffled over Performante (or "totally bonkers" version).
Lamborghini's local arm made a canny decision to ensure we could kill two birds with one stone, letting us loose in a Huracan Spyder 580-2. Less power, less roof, fewer driven wheels, more weight. Does it mean less fun, though?
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Driving naked is ill-advised, and possibly illegal, but taking a spin in the Lotus Exige 350 Sport is as close as you'd ever want to get. It's not so much that you feel you've left your clothes at home, but that the car has shed its accoutrements, and indeed its very flesh, leaving you with a kind of skeletal vehicle; just bare bones and muscle.
What this punishingly hard and fiercely focused machine does to your bones and flesh is best described as extreme chiropractry - in particular the stress of ingress and egress - but fortunately it makes up for the moans, bangs and bruises by fizzing your adrenal glands in a big way.
The question is whether the fun is worth the suffering, and the $138,782.85 price tag.
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The rear-wheel-drive Spyder couldn't be more fun if it put on a silly wig or sprouted a jet engine and wings.
Yes, it's heavier and slower than the Coupe but the Huracan loses almost none of its feel with the roof whipped off, plus you get all the fun and fresh air of a Spyder. The extra weight doesn't mean much on the road and the added bonus of the rear-wheel drive's more responsive steering and even sharper turn-in evens things out.
The V10 is the last of its type, with Ferrari and McLaren both employing forced induction V8s for their smaller sports cars - in McLaren's case, all of them. The Huracan Spyder is everything that's good about Lamborghini - nutty looks, crackpot engine, head-turning theatrics - with all of the bad stuff booted out by parent company Audi. The 580-2 loses none of the fun of the circus and with the roof off it's even louder music to your ears.
Are you roofless in intent or do your sports cars need a lid?
To say the Lotus Exige 350 Sport exists at the very pointy end of motoring is a sharp understatement. It is, in essence, a track car that you’re somehow allowed to drive on the road, which means it's hugely compromised in various ways as a vehicle for day-to-day use, yet it's not really fair to criticise it for those failings, because commuting was never its intended purpose.
While it would obviously shine in its natural environment of a race circuit, the fact is you could also enjoy it enormously between track days if you pointed it at a suitably smooth and winding bit of country blacktop.
The performance, handling, steering and stopping are all fantastic, in the right conditions, and you can see how someone might justify it to themselves as a far cheaper version of a ($327,100) Porsche 911 GT3. The difference being that a Porsche doesn't make you fold yourself up like a pocket knife every time you get in.
The Lotus, then, is a car for the extreme enthusiast, only. And possibly for nudists, too.
Would you put up with the Lotus's hard edges for the thrill rides? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
The roof is a fabric job and folds away in a tidy 15 seconds, more than quick enough to save you from a drenching in all but the most sudden of rain showers. It looks pretty good when up, doing a decent impression of the coupe's roofline, but roof down with the cool speedster-style humps, the Huracan looks epic.
It's not a shy and retiring car (no Lambo is), not by a long shot and if you enjoy the attention of the local constabulary, the bright yellow (Giallo Tenerife) is the colour for you. One particularly nice touch is the Huracan Spyder script engraved on the windscreen header rail.
Frustratingly, there's only a small cover to gain access to the oil filler - unlike the coupe you can't see the engine through the cover. The rear section of the Spyder is quite different, with a huge composite clamshell that lifts out of the way to allow the roof to stow itself. It's a necessary compromise but a shame as well.
The cabin is standard Huracan, with switchgear handed down from Audi and that brilliant red starter button cover that looks like it should have 'Bombs Away' written on it. There are a lot of fighter-jet influences, and it's a more convincing space than the more expensive Aventador.
The Lotus philosophy is summed by this slightly absurd mission statement: "Simplify, then add lightness". In the words of the great Barnaby Joyce "you don’t have to be Sigmund Freud" to work out that lightness is not something you can 'add', but you get the idea.
Everything about a Lotus is focused on the power-to-weight ratio, and this 350 Sport version takes the Exige to the ultimate degree, weighing in a full 51kg lighter than the S version, at just 1125kg, and with its hefty 3.5-litre supercharged V6 it is capable of lapping the company’s Hethel, UK test circuit a full 2.5 seconds faster.
Lap times, rather than road manners, are what this car is all about, and as such there are no creature comforts of any kind.
The Exige is an eye-catching beast, though, looking a bit like Darth Vader's helmet strapped to a skateboard. Everything about it is a statement of intent, and while the interior is as bare as Barnaby's brain, the gear lever, with its exposed workings and shiny silver knob, is a thing of strange beauty.
Yes, well, the usual mumbling explanation about how you have to take into account what this car is for and that there isn't the room for everyday luxuries will have to suffice. You do get a cupholder that pops out of the passenger-side dash garnish and the front boot will hold 70 litres. There's not a lot else you can squeeze in, although you can probably slip slim items behind the front seat backs. You'll be golfing on your own.
It's a more comfortable interior than the Aventador, with more head and shoulder room and a better overall position for driver and passenger.
Both the words 'practical' and 'space' have no place in a road test of this Lotus, so shall we just move on?
Oh, all right. There is no shoulder room to speak of and to change gears you have to fondle your passenger's leg. You're also in danger of breathing into each other’s mouths accidentally, you’re sitting that close.
Speaking of impractical, the door apertures are so small, and the whole car so low, that getting in or out is about as much fun as attempting to hide in a child's suitcase.
Cupholders? Forget it, nor is there anywhere to put your phone. There are two tiny oddment storage holes just near each well-hidden door handle, and a kind of slidey, slick shelf where a glove box might be, on which it’s not safe to leave anything.
Put things on the floor and they will slide under the super low seats and never be seen again.
The Lotus people pointed out a parcel shelf behind the seats, but I think they imagined it, and there is a tiny boot at the rear, behind the engine, which is smaller than some actual boots.
Price and features
As always, value for money isn't one of your top priorities if you're looking for a high-end sports car dripping with standard features. The stereo has just four speakers but really, who's going to be listening to Kyle when you ears can reap the Huracan?
You also score dual-zone climate control, remote central locking (the flush fitted handles pop out endearingly as you draw closer), LED headlights, running lights and taillights, (very cool) digital dashboard, electric seats, sat nav, leather trim and a hydraulic lifter to help keep the front splitter pristine over kerbs.
Naturally the option list is long. Our car was specced by a restrained hand, with 20-inch black Giamo alloys ($9110), front and rear parking sensors with reversing camera ($5700 - ahem), black painted brake calipers ($1800) and $2400 worth of Lamborghini logos and stitching. Very nice stitching, obviously.
You can go completely mad if you want to, spending up to $20,000 on matte paint colours, $10,000 on bucket seats, carbon fibre bits can mount up and then of course you can commission stuff to suit your personal taste for even more cash. If you're prepared to drop well north of $400,000 on a car, what's a few more thousand, I guess.
As far as value goes, the Spyder is about right for its segment, coming in around the same price as an admittedly less focused Ferrari California and a bit more than the less-powerful R8 Spyder range.
The question of 'value' is a tricky one when you’re looking at a $138,782.85 car that’s about as useful in day-to-day life as a matchbox-sized handbag. But you have to consider what people buy a Lotus for, and the answer has absolutely nothing to do with practicality.
A car like this Exige 350 Sport is purely purchased as a toy, a track-day special that you can, in theory, drive to the circuit via public roads. Franky, if I was rich enough to have one I’d still transport it there on the back of a truck.
Relatively speaking, you could have a far more practical and infinitely more comfortable Porsche Cayman for $30K less, but the Lotus is $30K cheaper than the similarly track-focused and brutal ($169,990) KTM X-Bow.
In terms of features, you get four wheels, an engine, a steering wheel, some seats, and that’s about it. You can buy a circa 1993 removable-face two-speaker stereo, which you can't really hear over the engine and road noise, for $1199. Oh, and they do throw in air conditioning, which is also noisy.
Our slick-looking metallic black paint was also $1999, the 'full carpets' another $1099 (expensive floor mats, basically), the Alcantara trim pack $4499, cruise control (really?) $299 and the hilarious optional 'Sound Insulation' $1499 (I think they actually forgot to fit it). All up, our press car’s price climbed to $157,846, which, I have to say, is no one’s idea of good value.
On the plus side, the local Lotus people - Simply Sports Cars - do offer features a buyer would love, like regular Lotus Only Track Days, a chance to take part in the Phillip Island 6 Hour and the Targa High Country event, and various other racy experiences.
Engine & trans
As the name suggests, the 580-2 is 30 metric horsepower down on the 610-4. In our language, that means Automobili Lamborghini's 5.2-litre naturally-aspirated V10 (yes, like many parts, shared with the Audi R8) developing 426kW/540Nm. Those figures are down 23kW and 20Nm on the AWD car.
The official 0-100km/h figure is 3.6 seconds, although it's unlikely it's that slow(!), Lambo's figures are regularly bettered by other publications with little effort.
In the past, Lotus engineers were satisfied with the power they got from tiny four-cylinder Toyota engines, but this Exige 350 Sport is a Very Serious Car and thus has a relatively whopping 3.5-litre, supercharged V6 shoehorned into its backside, which makes 258kW and 400Nm, and that's enough to fire this tiny machine from 0-100km/h in just 3.9 seconds, although it feels, and sounds, a lot faster.
The six-speed gearbox feels like it's been stolen from an old racing car and is an absolute joy to snick shift at speed.
The amazing thing about this car is that despite being handed a regular thrashing, its fuel consumption is little worse than a large Toyota SUV's. When cruising along it will sip fuel, with cylinder deactivation helping further ease its thirst. The claimed combined cycle figure is a reasonable (and almost achievable) 11.9L/100km. I got a calculated 15.2L/100km and did not spare the rod, Nosirreebob. And nothing like the terrifying, guzzling consumption of the Aventador's V12.
The Huracan's V10 is a glorious thing. It revs to the redline like a demon and does it all day every day. It feels utterly unburstable and delivers its power with such joy and abandon it gets under your skin.
With the roof off and Sport mode engaged on the Anime switch, the mix of induction and exhaust noise is utterly addictive. It's a theatrical machine, popping and banging and the metallic scream under power all combine to blow away the cobwebs in double quick time. Its sound is symphonic and pulling the gearshift instantly changes the note. It's breathtaking.
A big part of this particular car's charm is the switch to rear-wheel drive. The engineers didn't just forget to bolt in the propshafts and front-wheel-drive gear, but the steering had a going-over to compensate for the changes and to improve feel and responsiveness. It worked.
Where the all-wheel drive is prone to mild understeer, the front end of the dash-two is a little more planted. The Spyder might be heavier than the Coupe, but the rear-wheel-drive car feels that tiny bit more agile, with a lightning change of direction and a livelier rear-end. It's more delicate than -4 and doesn't feel appreciably slower.
One side note about the -4's understeer: it simply isn't a big deal. The internet will tell you it "understeers like a pig". The internet is completely wrong, but you already knew that; the internet loves cat videos. Nobody accuses the Ferrari California of the same vice, and yet it, too, understeers mildly in standard spec (as opposed to HS) - it's deliberate, safer and user-friendly. It is not, however, a pig.
Anyway. On with the show.
In an effort to lower the cost of the 580-2, it also comes with steel brakes - the expensive carbon ceramics are an option. On the road, you're not really going to notice too much difference apart from slightly different pedal feel. It probably renders the Huracan a less effective track car, but the reality is, not that many owners are going to care, particularly Spyder buyers.
I spent most of my time in Sport mode - it's where the most fun is to be found, with the electronics taking a more relaxed approach to the car's attitude. The drive-by-wire throttle is lovely and sharp, the steering a bit weightier and the seven-speed twin-clutch (or, as I prefer to say at every opportunity, doppio frizione). Corsa is certainly fast but it's far more interested in getting the car straight and slinging it out of the exit of a corner. Don't bother with Strada mode - it's far too soft, and deeply unappealing.
It's rare to find a car that is such an improbable mix of furious fun and infuriating annoyance. The Lotus is rattly, noisy, hugely firm to the point of punishing, with seats that offer encouragement but not support.
It is the opposite of comfortable and so hard to see out of that driving it around town, in any sort of traffic, feels borderline dangerous. There’s also the distinct sensation that you’re so low and so little that all those people in their SUVs won't see you.
Throw in the fact that it's so painfully, stupidly difficult to get in and out of and it's definitely not the sort of car you take if you're heading to the shops. I got so sick of its hard-edged annoyances at one stage that I became too grumpy to even take people for joy rides in it. I just couldn’t be bothered with the hassle, but then an inner-city suburb with high kerbs and even higher speed humps is not the Exige's natural environment.
Making it even more of a challenge around town, at low speeds or in parking situations is the steering, which isn't so much heavy as wilfully obtuse. Doing a three-point turn is the equivalent of 20 minutes of bench pressing your own body weight. At least.
Out on a winding bit of country road, however, the steering becomes one of the best things about the car, because its pure, unassisted weighting feels so alive in your hands. There’s a sense of actually wrestling, or finessing it around corners that makes you feel a bit Ayrton Senna.
Indeed, the whole car comes alive, and starts to make some kind of sense, once you're on a smooth, perfect piece of tarmac. It is fast, noisy, thrilling, utterly and overtly involving, stiff of chassis and firm of ride, with brakes capable of pulling you up with indecent haste. It’s also, thanks to its low centre of gravity and mid-engined layout, beautifully balanced.
The gearbox is a thrill a minute, as is the engine, particularly once you explore the upper rev ranges, at which point the scenery really does become a scary blur out the ridiculously small windscreen.
Sure, you can't see anything behind you other than the engine, but what a lovely sight that is, and nothing is going to catch you anyway.
It does feel edgy, of course, and sharp, and it’s not as easy or refined to drive as some cheaper sports cars; an MX-5 makes for a far more pleasant companion. But this is an extreme Exige, a machine built by and for genuine enthusiasts.
And, above all, for the sort of people who will take it to a race track, which is where it both looks and feels completely at home.
Unfortunately, on public roads, it would be annoying more often than it would be thrilling, but the truly hardcore Lotus aficionados would never admit such a thing.
The Huracan has four airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls and brake force distribution. A super strong carbon fibre and aluminium spaceframe does the heavy lifting in a crash.
Unsurprisingly, considering it will sell fewer than 100 cars in Australia, Lotus has not had the Exige ADR crash tested, so there's no star rating. You do get two airbags, passenger and driver, as well as ABS, 'Hydraulic Brake Assist', 'Lotus Dynamic Performance Management', driver-selectable ESP with three modes, cornering brake control and EBD.
The Huracan is supplied with a three-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty. Given the usual mileage of a car like this, that's ample. There's three-year roadside assist into the bargain and the option to extend the warranty - $6900 for one year and $13,400 for two, which seems okay given what can go wrong in such a sophisticated car.
Servicing intervals are an absurdly reasonable 15,000km although you're expected to visit the dealer once a year (mainly so you can order your next Lambo).