Lotus Exige VS Mercedes-Benz C63
- Unassisted, unadulterated steering (at speed)
- Beautiful balance and stiff chassis
- Sheer impracticality
- Heavy steering (at low speeds)
- Getting in and out of it
- Amazing power
- Addictive sound
- Impressive to drive in most situations
- Price is high
- Still not 100 per cent on the Coupe’s looks
- No applicable ANCAP score
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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If you know the Mercedes-AMG C 63 S, you know it’s a hardcore V8 thumper with little in the way of bashfulness. It’s a brawler. A beast.
Now there’s an even more eye-catching AMG C 63 S Coupe, which we’re testing here. It’s the Aero Edition - a collector’s version of the current-generation C 63 S Coupe with a bit more visual bling that also helps it stick to the road better.
It is a local area special edition, with only 63 examples to be sold across Australia and New Zealand. And if the rumours are true, the next-generation will see the V8 engine in danger of being axed in favour of a hybrid, high-performance four-cylinder version. Say it ain’t so!
Well, if the CarsGuide crystal ball turns out to be right, maybe one of these C 63 S Aero Editions is worth getting in your garage quick-smart. Or is it? Let’s go through the criteria and see how it stacks up.
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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 Mercedes-AMG C 63 S Aero Edition is an absolute beast of a car, but it comes at a pretty hefty price. Yes you get a lot of performance, and the fact there are only 63 examples being made for Australia and New Zealand could be enough to get you to sign on the line. For me, though, if I was after a C 63, it’d have to be a wagon. It doesn’t need an Aero pack to look better.
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.
I’ve never been the biggest fan of the current C-Class Coupe’s styling. To me, it has always looked a little droopy, a little melted at the back.
I have to say, the Aero Edition has changed my opinion somewhat, as the new graphic elements help lift it up a bit, visually raising its rear up like a stretching cat, tail in the air. I’m still not 100 per cent on it, but to my eye it’s better.
The carbon-fibre trim elements that have been added to the exterior certainly add some menace to the look, too, and I simply can’t help but constantly notice out of the corner of my eye the AMG pressing in the staggered, dished rims. At a glimpse, from a distance, it looks like rim damage, but thankfully it’s not!
The staggered set-up does really add some width and mongrel to the look, as if it needed more, with its open maw lower bumper air dam, and the signature 'Panamericana' grille treatment which looks like an evil character out of a movie. If you know the one I’m talking about, let me know in the comments.
As much as the look matters when it’s parked in your driveway, it’s the cabin that arguably matters more, right? That’s where you spend your time, after all. Check out the interior images to see if you think it lives up to the exterior look.
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.
No two-door coupe is going to offer you the space and comfort of a sedan or wagon, that’s just a fact. But that only matters if you plan to actually use the rear seats. If you don’t, then the Coupe version of the C 63 S might be perfect for you.
Even so, I managed to (only just) squeeze myself between the seat and the door opening to slide into the rear row. This won’t be easily achieved by all attempters, especially on the driver’s side.
Let’s just say I probably looked like I was doing something very weird to the driver’s seat as I spider-manned my way in.
The rear space is tight for someone my height (182cm/6’0”) behind their own driving position, with knees hard-up against the seat in front and not much headroom (my noggin’ was brushing the ceiling) or toe space (size 12s don’t fit so well) to speak of.
It’s certainly a selfish car. Or maybe it’d be fine for smaller kids. There are two spaces in the back, both with ISOFIX child seat anchors and top-tether points.
But there is storage in the back - cupholders and storage caddies either side of the seats, though the storage situation improves in the front zone, with bottle holders in the doors, cupholders between the seats, loose item storage under the media screen and a covered centre armrest bin, too.
The front cabin is a special looking place, with carbon-fibre abounding across the dash and nice trim on the doors. The AMG steering wheel is a sight to behold - it’s a flat-bottomed unit with carbon-fibre and Dinamica (that’s Benz talk for microsuede) trim: perfect for sapping sweat as you manhandle the C63 through the bends.
The seats are AMG Performance sports units up front, and the trim used is reserved for this model specifically: Nappa leather with yellow stripes. There are yellow details elsewhere, including on the rear seats, centre console and dash, and it certainly adds some visual excitement.
Media is controlled by a 10.25-inch display and Mercedes-Benz’s touchpad control system, but there is no touchscreen - rendering the Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring technology somewhat tedious.
I’ve always had a gripe with screens that don’t allow touch but feature the tech that’s designed to transfer your phone’s screen to the media unit, and I can tell you the longer you spend twiddling the dial to get where you want to go, the more annoying it becomes.
The Burmester sound system has 13 speakers and is rather good, but I prefer the sound from the standard fit variable sports exhaust. So maybe that quibble with CarPlay isn’t that big a deal.
And if you just want to charge your phone, and there’s a second USB port up front, as well. Note: in non-Aero Edition C 63 models without the carbon-fibre interior pack, you also get Qi wireless phone charging, but it’s deleted from this variant and any model with the carbon pack.
The driver has a 12.3-inch digital info display to show where you are and what the car is up to, and there’s a head-up display as well. Yep, there’s standard sat nav with live traffic updates (and even live fuel price updates) - it’s just a shame the maps still look early 2000s-spec in 2D layout.
Cargo space is okay. The claimed cargo capacity or boot volume is 355 litres (VDA) with the rear seats in place. That’s small for a coupe of this size, and the shape of the boot (with a hump behind the rear seat) isn’t great as things do move around quite a bit.
But, thankfully, Mercedes has included its clever foldable storage box system under the boot floor - it goes where you might usually expect a spare wheel, but there isn’t one in this car. Instead you get Mercedes’ 'Tirefit' repair kit with an electric pump.
Price and features
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.
Look, I’m not likely to ever be in the position to say that a car that costs $188,600 plus on-road costs is “good value”, but to be honest, if you’re in that position, you’ll be getting plenty of car for your cash.
The Carbon Edition of the C 63 S Coupe adds $17,200 over the standard version of the high-performance two-door, but it adds a bunch of extras to help justify its price. A car like this is always going to be seen by some as a profligate purchase, right? You need to be able to justify spending an extra MG3’s worth of cash on this Edition.
The noticeable exterior bits include an AMG Performance rear spoiler, a model specific front lip, rear diffuser, and side facings for the rear apron air vents. Carbon-fibre is used in the front apron A-wing, the side sill inserts, rear diffuser insert, rear spoiler and the side mirror casings.
There’s more carbon-fibre inside the cabin, which we’ll cover off in the interior section. Other additions over the standard C 63 S Coupe include ceramic composite front brakes (402mm six-piston) and 360mm single-piston rear brakes, and there are “ultra-lightweight” AMG forged 'Matt Black' alloy wheels with 19-inch rims at the front and 20s at the rear.
And in nice news, the car you see here has no optional extras fitted at all. The colour is 'Iridium Silver', one of only two options for this limited run model (the other available hue is Polar White, and both come at no extra cost).
Standard inclusions comprise leather interior trim, heated and electric adjustable front seats, dual-zone climate control, a 10.25-inch media screen with sat nav and smartphone mirroring, DAB radio, 13-speaker Burmester sound system, 12.3-inch digital driver info display, head-up display (HUD), ambient lighting, and performance items like active dynamic engine mounts, an adaptive AMG performance exhaust, a rear differential lock, and adaptive sports suspension.
Plus there’s a full-spec safety offering which we’ll cover in the section below.
Thinking about what cars compete with this one? There’s the Audi RS 5 Coupe (from $150,900), the Lexus RC F (from $136,636), and the BMW M4 Competition (from $167,829). So the C 63 S - which is already expensive comparatively - looks positively pricey in Aero Edition spec.
Engine & trans
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.
Open the shapely bonnet of the C 63 S and you’ll find a hand-assembled horsepower-monster engine with a printed name plaque to prove it.
The 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 produces 375kW of power at 6250rpm, and 700Nm of torque from 2000-4500rpm. It runs a standard-fit nine-speed 'Speedshift MCT' (multi-clutch transmission) automatic, and it’s rear-wheel drive. And yes, that means it likes to boogie.
The claimed 0-100km/h time is just 3.9 seconds, and top speed is apparently pegged at 250km/h. Yeesh.
The name on the “Handcrafted by” plaque on this particular engine? Hat tip to you, Julian Rembold. This is quite a piece of work.
High numbers are what AMGs are about. Sadly that’s the case not only for performance outputs but also fuel consumption.
The official combined cycle fuel use claim for the C 63 S Coupe is 10.3 litres per 100 kilometres, and you need to fill it with 98RON premium unleaded fuel, too.
On test? Well, across a mix of different driving - urban, highway, back road and spirited stints - I saw an 'at the pump' return of 12.2L/100km, while the digital readout stated 12.0L/100km.
Given the performance on offer, and how much I took advantage of it during my week with the car, that’s not bad…
Fuel tank capacity is 66 litres. So go easy if you know there won’t be a fuel stop for a while.
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.
Just one word sprang to my mind when it comes to accurately describing the performance on offer from this car. The word is ‘brutal’.
Smash the accelerator and the power and torque on offer is enough to make your eyes feel like they’re not doing the right thing anymore. You get pushed back in your seat with a surge, and your ears are also rewarded with one of the best soundtracks in the automotive world.
The engine builds pace with enormous intent, and the sound that comes from under the bonnet and out the back through the exhausts is addictive.
Yes, there is an active exhaust button which you have to press to make sure that you hear all that noise if you’re running around in 'Comfort' mode, and during my time with the car it was active the whole time.
I had some questions from neighbours over the week that I had this car about whether it was actually nice to live with on a day-to-day basis. And the answer is yes, if you put it in comfort mode it’s surprisingly amenable.
The ride is really well sorted at pace despite having a bit of that trademark low-speed wobble that seems to afflict Mercedes products from A-Class through to the GLE SUV. But it wasn’t bad enough to really bother me, as most of my time was on highways and backroads.
The steering is direct and accurate. The only thing you need to be aware of is that you will lose traction at the rear axle when you put your foot down hard. And for the enthusiast that’s exactly what you want.
I know I want to feel the thing squirm under throttle. It’s a rear-drive V8 coupe, after all. You want to feel like you’re a vein in its bicep muscle; you know, the one you see in a weightlifter’s arms – the one that wiggles around a lot. You want to have that. Right?
On the performance front it is exceptional. Twist the little dial on the wheel to 'Sport' or 'Sport+' (I didn’t sample 'Race' mode as I wasn’t at a racetrack), and everything feels like it’s had a protein shake.
Even so, in that mode it steers brilliantly, there's a nice feel through the wheel, and the ride, while stiff, controls the body brilliantly when you change directions.
The transmission is very good, too. In Comfort mode it can take just a second or two at first to become accustomed to the idea that you want to drive aggressively.
But in Sport mode, or when you select the manual transmission mode using the trigger button on the steering wheel, you will certainly get the most out of the engine. That’s what I did when I was driving it in a ‘spirited’ manner.
If you are just after that high-end Coupe cruiser experience, it’s a relatively quiet car (provided the surface below isn’t the coarsest of coarse-chip bitumen), with enough luxuriousness to make it feel premium as well as sporty. That’s an important thing to consider, especially at this price point.
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.
There is no applicable ANCAP crash test rating for the Mercedes C-Class Coupe, nor is there one for the C 63 specification. But when it was tested back 2014, the sedan scored five stars - as you’d expect.
It is comprehensively equipped in terms of safety technology, including auto emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian and cyclist detection (from 7.0km/h to 70km/h) and it’s active for cars from 7.0km/h to 250km/h.
Plus there’s lane departure warning and active lane keeping assistance (from 60km/h to 200km/h), blind spot monitoring with 'Active Blind Spot Assist' that will stop you from veering into oncoming traffic, front and rear cross traffic alert, and adaptive cruise control (Distronic) with traffic jam assist.
The C 63 also features 'Route Based Speed Adaptation', which can adjust your speed based on where the car thinks you are on the map. Just note - if you’re driving through new tunnels that haven’t been flashed to your car’s nav (as happened to me in Sydney during my testing week) - then you could find the car dramatically braking for surface-level intersections. You can switch the system off, thankfully.
There are nine airbags fitted, and while you mightn’t use the rear seats much there are ISOFIX and top tether points for both positions (yes, only two).
Mercedes-Benz is among the minority of luxury brands now offering a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty plan - most still have three-year cover. So that’s a tick.
And the service intervals are pegged at 12 months/20,000km. Another tick.
Plus you can either pre-pay your service plan in three-year ($3800), four-year ($6000) or five-year ($6550) plans - roll it into the finance package, and it won’t hurt quite as much.
According to Mercedes, the three-year coverage option makes for a $900 discount over pay-as-you-go servicing.
Roadside assistance covers the five-year new car warranty period, too. So Mercedes seemingly takes good care of its customers. But if you have any concerns or questions over reliability, problems, issues or complaints about the C 63, check out our AMG C 63 problems page.