It's fast, light and rather loud. It's also the definition of a 'driver's car'
Buying a Lotus Exige, or any Lotus for that matter, takes a certain level of commitment – and not just the financial kind. The Exige is earth-shatteringly quick for its price, but also undeniably impractical as a daily drive. Then again, who buys a Lotus for practicality?
For about $155,000, this top-spec 2018 Lotus Exige Sport 380 can be yours (well, add another $15K for options), and for that money we struggle to think of another sports car that can do 0–100km/h in 3.7 seconds (as a manual!) and achieve the lap times the Exige can with ease.
Stare at it for just a moment, and it's obvious the Lotus Exige has always been a standout car. It turns heads everywhere it goes, and in that regard it's borderline supercar territory for its attention-seeking abilities. For the even more hardcore Exige S 380 – particularly in this ‘Exige orange’ tested here – it’s impossible to go anywhere without being noticed. And that’s with the exhaust switched off. Turn that on and its note and associated crackles will make any sane man giggle with an evil grin – while passers-by and pedestrians cower with fear of an incoming ballistic missile. It’s astonishingly loud, in a good way.
The problem with the Lotus Exige’s attention-seeking ability is that at some point you will need to get out of it with all eyes on you, and that’s never a pretty sight. There’s a famous picture of former senator Clive Palmer trying to climb out of his Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG, a car that is insanely easy to get in and out of (due to the gullwing doors), but he makes it look like an Olympic sport. The Exige has that effect on anyone.
To avoid being a Clive Palmer (as a general rule, pay your taxes), we advise parking this somewhere that no-one can see you exit. Now to be fair, this reviewer is more than happy to admit that he shares a minor resemblance to Sir Palmer after a few too many visits to KFC, but even the fitter folk at CarAdvice struggled to get out of this with dignity and grace. You basically have to fold yourself in and out of the Exige, something that is not natural. It’s akin to an elephant trying to perform a cartwheel.
The good news is that once you get in, you don’t want to ever get out – and not just to avoid the embarrassment. The Exige 380 S is the epitome of what it means to be a ‘driver’s car’.
This is the sort of car that you can take for a drive on a winding road and remain in a state of elation. This car makes you feel alive. And not in that cliché kind of way, but in the sense that if you’re not paying full attention when on it, you won’t be alive for too long. So the level of focus and ‘in the moment’ presence required brings out a higher level of consciousness.
Every minor movement of the steering wheel is matched with an exhilarating and exact response from the front wheels. It can change directions quicker than would seem possible. There is no power steering to ruin the fun. So much effort goes into driving this thing fast, but instead of feeling exhausted at the end of a mountain run or track day, one feels entirely euphoric.
At the very limit, it will begin to understeer, but that limit is well and truly beyond the reach of most common folk. Then again, common folk don’t often buy Lotus Exiges. Even so, it’s better for it to understeer, because for a car so compact to oversteer would be less than ideal. It doesn’t have the adjustable traction control of the Lotus Cup cars, but even so, it will allow a reasonable amount of play in Sport mode before it decides to save your life.
It’s addictive, but it’s also not easy to drive fast. This isn’t a Porsche Cayman that your grandmother can drive. It’s a firm ride, it’s noisy inside the cabin, and our car didn’t even have a stereo (which can be optioned). Then there are the pedal positions, which are just that little bit off, and if you’re too tall it won’t be comfortable. The steering wheel doesn’t go in and out, so that further limits the possible seating positions. But if you can deal with the firm ride and find your perfect driving position, like we did, it’s a case of having a sense or feeling of connection with a sports car that in this day and age is virtually non-existent elsewhere.
Besides, what other car has an exposed gearbox? It only further accentuates this Lotus’s machismo. This separates the men from the boys. Those that seek an actual true driving experience, and those that just want a badge and a café racer. Nonetheless, we would stress that you don’t lose a coin inside that gear mechanism, but that shouldn't be a problem as there is almost nowhere to store anything to start with.
In fact, in 2018, with all the crazy regulations and requirements that exist in the automotive sector, it’s amazing that you can actually still buy this Lotus. It’s so raw, it’s so anti-establishment, it’s so overwhelmingly awesome.
It’s a big middle finger to those that seek to take all the fun and enjoyment out of driving in the name of safety. Speaking of which, we would advise you seek to avoid having a coming together with a tree or a pole when in a Lotus, as it probably won’t end well. For you.
Power comes from the tried and tested 3.5-litre Japanese-built V6 engine commonly found in everything from a Toyota Tarago to a Lexus IS350, but because some 200 ‘killerwasps’ aren’t enough, Lotus attaches a Harrop HTV 1320 supercharger (with Eaton TVS tech) to bring power up to 280kW (380PS, hence the name) with 410Nm of torque.
That might not sound like an awful lot, but considering the Exige S 380 has had further weight reductions over the 350 and tips the scale at just 1110kg, it’s a hell of a package in terms of power to weight ratio.
Ultimately, as the company’s founder Colin Chapman was very fond of continuously explaining, Lotus is all about power to weight and producing cars that are light and hence extremely agile.
If you’re a Chapman fan, you’d be fond of the concept that adding power makes you faster on the straights, but subtracting weight makes you faster everywhere. That’s the Exige in one statement. It’s not about power, but lightness. Simplified.
This is an outright race car that you can legally drive on the road, but don’t worry, unlike Chapman’s idea that ‘any car which holds together for a whole race is too heavy’, the Exige will do just that. It has all the major components taken care of by the Japanese, with the chassis and dynamic engineering done by the very best in the UK – a country that contributes an overwhelming number of F1 engineers to the sport.
Overall, the Exige is only for the brave. Those that seek to be different, and not just in name. It’s a car that almost needs no explaining. It’s not comparable to anything else on the market, for it offers an unparalleled driving experience that is reminiscent of the good old days, when cars were built to be fun and exhilarating, and everything else came second.